By Jennifer Hu
If you’re like me, you have probably wondered about this before. What do people actually talk about or do during their session with their therapist? Are you supposed to talk about your problems? Your childhood? Can you bring your journal to session? Is your therapist supposed to ask you questions or can you ask them questions? Can you show your therapist a funny meme?
The correct answer is all of the above! There is no right or wrong way to do therapy. At the end of the day, it is your hour, and you have a say in how your session goes. So if that means you talk about something your roommate or partner did, or about something that’s stressing you out, that’s perfectly fine. If you don’t have much on your mind and want your therapist to help lead the session, that’s also perfectly fine – just let your therapist know.
As someone who has sat on both sides of the couch, here are some insights on what might take place during a typical therapy session:
Point out themes they notice in what you share
Your therapist might point out certain words or phrases that they hear you say or repeat. This can help you to become more aware of how you talk to yourself or how you feel about a challenge you’re going through. Sometimes we get stuck in a loop or way of talking to ourselves and we don’t notice how self critical we are or how hard we are being on ourselves. The way we talk about our experiences and our lives can also shed light on how we feel and think about our problems. Hearing the words or phrases we use repeated back to us by someone else can help us hear our thoughts in a different way, which can promote a clearer understanding of ourselves.
Therapists are kind of like mirrors. We reflect back what we’ve heard to help you see yourself more clearly and to help you find solutions on your own. Sometimes, it takes hearing our own words repeated back to us to be able to see our stories and our struggles in a different light. Therapists can help you to notice what’s working and what is not. We are here to help you look at your life from another perspective and to reflect on your experiences. We might point out patterns in your behavior and help you to notice things that you may not have noticed, in an encouraging and kind way.
Help you put your experiences to words
There’s something powerful about putting our experiences to words and sharing our stories. Putting our experiences to words can be healing in and of itself. We go through life experiencing all kinds of high and lows. Some experiences are too painful to put into words. Some experiences happened so long ago that we never really had the opportunity to talk to anyone about what we went through. Sometimes, the words are hard to find. Your therapist might help you to find the words to use to describe your experiences and how you feel about them, whether past or present. Sometimes, the work is in finding the words together. Your therapist will ask clarifying questions to make sure they understand what you mean. If what your therapist reflects back to you doesn’t sound accurate, you can let them know. Most therapists will welcome the feedback and will be receptive to hearing how you would word your story.
Help you identify what your values are and how you can align your life with your values
Something I enjoy asking my clients is what would make their day or week most meaningful. My goal is to help you reflect on your life and gain clarity on your values. Everyone has a different definition of what is meaningful and what matters most to them. Therapy is about focusing on you and what matters most to you. I’m here to help guide you towards what would be most aligned with your values, and letting go of what’s standing in the way.
Share from our own experiences
Sometimes we grow and heal from knowing that we’re not alone and that someone else has also gone through something similar. It can be healing and therapeutic to know that your therapist is a real person too, and they have gone through their own challenges and struggles. If we decide that it can be helpful to share our experiences and our stories, we will gladly do so.
Provide encouragement and validation
Our job as therapists is to provide you with support and validation, no matter what you’re going through. I am here to hold space for your circumstances without judgment. I’m on your team, and I’m here to see you thrive. I believe that you have answers, resilience, and strength inside to get through what you’re going through. A huge part of therapy is building our therapeutic relationship, which simply entails getting to know one another and building trust between therapist and client.
Provide information about mental health topics
Therapists provide educational information about mental health as it relates to what you’re going through. Some topics that we might talk about are how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected and impact one another. Other topics might include the symptoms of depression, attachment styles, or the stages of grief. We share information about mental health topics with you to empower you with knowledge.
At the end of the day, I see therapy as a place to learn about yourself, reflect on your experiences, and to make meaning of your experiences. If you have any questions about different types of therapy or a therapist’s particular style, feel free to reach out to our team to get connected and start your journey!
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