What Happens in Therapy – Part 2: Therapist Behavior Explained
By Liz Wallenstein, LMHC
Many people get their picture of what therapy is like from TV and movies. Though some of the therapy clichés you see are true; they often are not seen in the proper context and therefore misunderstood. Here’s some things therapists have become known to do, and WHY they do them:
1. Therapists answer questions with questions
Therapists want clients to ask and say anything that comes up for them in session- they depend on it to do good work. Yet therapists are also well known for not answering questions directly, rather responding by asking a question on the question! They do this because a client’s questions and comments become valuable tools for gaining insight. Exploring what prompted the question usually proves more helpful than any answer the therapist could have given.
However, there are times when a therapist will answer, or share their answer after the client has shared theirs, if they feel it will be helpful.
2. Therapists will reveal little to no personal information about themselves
It’s natural for a client to want to know about the person they are opening up to, but most therapists will reveal little to no personal information about themselves (such as if they have children or their religious background). Therapists feel this information is not relevant since therapists don’t counsel based on their own experience, or treat all people who share a characteristic the same. The job of a therapist is to get to know you as an individual and help you from your own values and beliefs. Also, knowing personal information about your therapist can actually harm the therapy because it can influence what you share with them or not.
However if you want to know if a therapist has experience working with a specific problem, or has knowledge of a certain lifestyle or culture, a therapist should answer that more directly.
3. Therapists have strict rules
Many therapists adhere to strong boundaries such as meeting the same time every week, starting and stopping on time (even if you are late), little or no physical contact, not accepting favors or substantial gifts, and not discussing anything outside of session – including through phone, email or text. Many therapists have policies regarding absences and cancellations, and payment.
The relationship to your therapist is one of the closest relationships you will have, so these boundaries help keep the relationship professional so therapy can be most effective. Developing too much of a personal relationship can cause the therapist to lose objectivity. Also, since your therapist is concerned with your wellness, they don’t want to enable unhealthy behaviors like chronic lateness, by protecting you from the negative consequences you would face in most other settings.
The boundaries also help illuminate areas of growth for a client. For example, a client who keeps asking to cancel or reschedule their session can expect their therapist to want to look at this tendency more closely with them. It’s not about disobeying the rules; it’s about exploring what this tendency communicates about how the client manages their daily life, and recognizing the ways these decisions are impacting their mood and outcomes.
4. Therapists are secretive
Therapists are ethically bound not to reveal to anyone whom they are treating in their practice. Even in instances where the client wants the therapist to speak to someone like a former therapist, family member, or doctor, the therapist requires written permission from the client in order to do so. They are also required to keep everything a client tells them strictly private (with the exception of something that puts the client or others in danger). If the therapist ever wants to consult with another about a case, or reference a case in their writing, they are required to cover up any identifying information so the client’s identity remains anonymous. A therapist needs to keep all client information in a locked or password protected place. If a client runs into their therapist outside of the office, the therapist will not acknowledge the client unless the client acknowledges the therapist first, so as not to identify the person as a client in public.
It’s important to note that therapists go to great lengths to keep client information secret so that clients feel safe enough to reveal anything to their therapists, and fully utilize the therapy. The privacy restrictions should never be confused as a need to keep therapy secret because it’s embarrassing or shameful to be in therapy. Therapists view therapy as a normal part of personal growth and wellness, not that there’s something wrong with you.
If you’re in the Brooklyn NY area and want to schedule a consultation session with me, Liz Wallenstein, to see if therapy could be helpful to you, please call me at 917-727-3549 or visit the Contact page of my website: www.LizWallensteinTherapy.com.
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This article was written from the perspective of a psychodynamic therapist.
Liz Wallenstein, LMHC, is in private practice in Brooklyn, NY. To learn more about therapy, or to receive a free copy of her special report “How Therapy Can Change YOUR Life, for the Better!” visit www.LizWallensteinTherapy.com.