Yes, your therapist thinks about you between sessions.
Spring break seems like the perfect time to tell you that despite popular belief, your counselor thinks about you between therapy sessions. Many people assume that a counselor only thinks about their clients during the 45-50 minutes they’re sitting on the couch across the room from them, but I promise you for almost all of us, that’s not true. In my work as a professional counselor, I personally think about my clients on a daily basis and wonder how they’re doing between our sessions. Often times the “work” you’re doing between sessions is going to be what helps you the most and I often can’t wait for you to return so we can dive into what successes you’ve had since our last meeting that we’ll be able to celebrate together- or what obstacles you’ve encountered that we can try to dissect and work through together.
It’s true too, that after we complete our work together, you go on and keep living your life- hopefully a better version of it than before we met- while I continue to think about the work we’ve done- or perhaps sometimes the work that’s been left unfinished- and wonder how you’re doing, what successes you’re having and about the challenges you may be encountering. When I find myself thinking about hurdles you might be facing between sessions or after we wrap up our work together, I am hoping with everything I have that you are overcoming and conquering those obstacles by using the tools you learned through our work.
I’m hoping if you stumble or get stuck and it sets you back that you recognize your worth, strength and resilience and that you dust yourself off and keep moving. That you trust yourself and me enough to know when it may be time to come back to therapy even if just for a session or two, to “tune up” or “reset” and get back on track.
No, your counselor isn’t perfect either.
One of the most common things I find myself saying during sessions with clients is, “I know this stuff is so much easier said than done.” It’s true- through years of education, training and experience I may intellectually or rationally know some of the best and most effective strategies to address those intrusive or repetitive thoughts you’re experiencing, be able to point you towards mindfulness strategies and techniques that can help you better manage your anxiety, or help you identify why or how that toxic relationship from your past is contributing to dysfunction in your current relationship today- but when it comes to my own life- I struggle.
I yell at my kids more than I’d like to admit, I sometimes say the “wrong thing” that unintentionally hurt the feelings of the people around me and I tend to avoid conflict and minimize my own needs and emotions even when rationally I know there are better and healthier options. My willingness to own my stuff and bring my whole flawed self to sessions is a large part of what helps my clients trust and connect with me. I would never want to see a counselor who made me feel inadequate, judged or more flawed than I already think I am and I refuse to pose as some all knowing fake perfectionist that could cause my clients to feel that way either.
Yes, sometimes your therapist might say something that pisses you off.
This one might be surprising, but your therapist’s job is not to be your best friend. Your therapist’s job is to help you figure out what’s causing you to feel stuck, anxious, alone, depressed, resentful, burnt out, [etc. etc. name your feelings] and to help you change it. To help you get unstuck, feel less depressed, feel more connected, more satisfied, fulfilled and content with the life you’re living. This means your therapist may push you a little- sometimes a lot- to consider how what you’re thinking, feeling and doing that might be contributing to the current circumstances and how you can actively make changes that will help you feel better.
A therapist friend of mine has said, “my job is to make you comfortably, uncomfortable” and I totally agree. You can come to session and expect your therapist to agree with everything you think, feel and do and continue living your life the same as before you started- or you can come to sessions open to the possibility that there might be another way- possibly a harder way (at least at first)- that will lead you towards the life you want to live instead. In this process of figuring out new and different ways of dealing with the anxiety, reactivity, postpartum depression or distress, professional burn out or whatever else is getting in your way, it’s possible your therapist offers feedback that is not feel helpful, is inaccurate, does not resonate or just plain pisses you off.
While I do everything in my power to try to remain self aware and sensitive to the fact that I can (in my flawed humanity) sometimes say something that completely misses the mark or does not sit well with my clients, it’s just not always possible to know in the moment. It’s unbelievably helpful, healing and productive when a client is able to tell me that they disagree with me or that something I said pissed them off or did not sit well with them. I’m not a mind reader (see point 2) and sometimes I just get it wrong. A good therapist should be able to own their mistake, honor your experience and help you process what and where things went wrong in order to see if it’s something that can be worked through together. If it’s not, and you or the therapist don’t believe you can recover from whatever conflict arose between you, your therapist should be willing to point you in the direction of someone else who can help.
My hope is that if I say something insensitive, inaccurate or hurtful that my clients feel safe enough to let me know I let them down and that our relationship is strong enough to withstand the tension that can surface with that type of conversation. Perhaps, practicing asserting your feelings of disappointment, anger or disconnect with your therapist will create opportunity for you to see what other relationships may benefit from that type of honesty and communication. It might also offer the imperfect human sitting across from you in the fancy counselor chair to reflect on how they can better serve you and other potential clients who come through their door by avoiding such mistakes in the future.
Anne Russey, LPC-S specializes in working with parents to address postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, adjustment to parenthood, LGBTQ+ adults and burnt out professionals. Online and in office counseling services are available. Visit www.annerusseycounseling.com/about to learn more and book your free consultation when you’re ready to get started.