Question: Dear Stacy, I go to therapy to deal with my racing and processing thoughts, because I have a ton of things going on at one time. I understand I let myself get into a loop, but I sometimes see the frustration on my therapist’s face and now I feel shut down to her. I do listen to what she says, and going to therapy is a way for me to escape and say whatever I want and feel to get it off my chest and to process it. I feel some sort of way when my therapist puts her head down, shakes her head at me, gets frustrated and tells me I need to stop! If I could stop, I wouldn’t need therapy. I don’t think I can talk to her anymore because I don’t need another person telling me to “get out of my head.” I write things down, but how I process is talking about it. What do you recommend that I do to deal with these feelings toward my therapist? –Upset in Upton
Answer: Dear Upset in Upton, I am sorry that you are experiencing these feelings toward your therapist. Building a trusting therapeutic alliance takes time and your relationship with your therapist is unique from any other relationships. In most instances, your therapist gets to know you in a very intimate way that others may not.
As a therapist myself, I can understand where you are coming from. Each one of my relationships with my clients is unique and clients work at their own pace. With that said, there are times when I myself feel frustrated with a client or their progress, but it is important to talk about it and work through it. The worst thing you can do is walk away from therapy without processing and talking through your feelings. Once this happens, you can then decide if you want to stay or find another therapist. I have had many clients just stop coming and making contact. This is not the best course of action on their part, but not everyone is fully ready to make changes in their lives.
My recommendation to you is that you evaluate the conflict you believe you are having with your therapist, so that you can address it appropriately. There could be some “Transference” happening. Simply put, Transference is when a client projects certain feelings or desires about another person onto their therapist. For example, you stated that you don’t need another person telling you to get out of your head – who is this person and are you projecting your feelings toward them onto your therapist?
According to Marissa Moore from psychcentral.com, “For example, a client’s relationship with their therapist might remind them of how their mother treated them in childhood — therefore the client responds to their therapist as they would respond to their mother. This can mean they project anger and hurt onto their therapist when really those feelings are intended for their mother.”
Research does show that in some circumstances, transference can be helpful when the therapist and client can translate those feelings to gain insight into what is happening in therapy and why those feelings are being triggered. On the other hand, transference can sometimes be hard to move past and interfere with building a genuine working relationship with your therapist. That is why is it important to talk it through.
The same research showed that there can be other reasons for conflicts with your therapist, but in order to properly react and be able to confront your therapist, you may want to try these tips from Marissa Moore from psychcentral.com. “
1. Evaluate your expectations. You may come into therapy with expectations of what it will be like, only to be pleasantly surprised that it’s not like you expected. It’s not your therapist’s job to provide advice or tell you what to do but rather to help you make your own decisions and support you in navigating through your challenges. Anger may occur if you wish your therapist would provide the answers or a “magic fix,” but that isn’t realistic. If you have questions about what to expect in therapy or your therapist’s role, it’s okay to ask them. A skilled therapist can clearly define what is within their role and scope of practice and what isn’t.
2. Bring it up in therapy. If you feel comfortable enough, one of the best methods for dealing with anger toward your therapist is to bring it up with them. Part of being in therapy is learning how to express thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, and when you’re able to do this with your therapist, it shows you that you can be assertive. Being honest about what’s happening in therapy can help you and your therapist get on the same page. For example, expressing your feelings may look like this: “I felt angry in our last session when you were pushing to discuss my childhood; I didn’t feel like I was ready to talk about that just yet.” A good therapist can hear what you’re saying and change course if necessary.
3. Ask for a referral. If you are angry at your therapist because you aren’t getting what you need out of therapy or you have been unable to establish trust with your therapist, it may be time to consider a new therapist. You can ask for a referral to a new therapist at any time. It’s your therapy, and you should get the most out of it. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for a referral, you may prefer to find a new therapist on your own. If your therapist is engaging in inappropriate or unethical behavior or you don’t feel like you’re being listened to, this is a clear sign that no longer working with them may be your best option.
4. Report your therapist to the state licensing board. There are some cases where your therapist may engage in unethical or inappropriate behavior that can cause anger. In these cases, reporting your therapist to the appropriate state licensure board is an option you may consider. Some cases that may require a report to the state licensure board include if your therapist is: trying to initiate or engage in a sexual relationship with you, practicing outside their scope of practice, misleading about their credentials, exploiting you in any way, [or] violating your confidentiality. Where you report your therapist depends on their license type and the state they’re licensed in.”
Let’s recap. Getting upset with your therapist isn’t uncommon, and the specific conflict can determine how you move forward. Common conflicts in the therapeutic relationship include transference and/or countertransference, which could eventually severe the therapeutic alliance. Remember, your therapist will trigger challenging emotions in your work together and they will challenge your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors about yourself and your perspective. If and when you come out of your sessions mainly feeling angry, addressing it with your therapist first is recommended. However, if you’re in a situation that doesn’t feel comfortable or appropriate, terminating therapy or reporting your therapist may be a better option. You can always change therapists or stop therapy if you aren’t getting what you need. Even if your current therapist isn’t working out, you can continue to seek the care you deserve. Therapy is like any relationship — it can take a few tries to find the best fit.
As Melissa Stanger from Talkspace.com states, “Bring Your Whole Self — The therapeutic hour is for you, and only you. Bringing in feelings you have from outside is only one part of the equation; feelings you have inside the room, even negative ones, are equally good material. If you’re seeing the right therapist, they’ll want to hear about it all, and they’ll still have positive regard for you when your time is up.”
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