A Therapist’s Lessons From Her Own Therapy

Samantha Waldman, MHC

Some people might be surprised to learn that therapists often have therapists of their own, myself included. I’ve worked with a number of clinicians over the years and have been able to pick out a few common themes that have been helpful for me on a personal level, and helpful when integrating into my own work as a therapist with my clients now.

It’s okay to disagree. When I first began working with a therapist I found that I was extremely deferential to her. I saw her as an expert and felt pretty intimidated to open up when I disagreed with something that she said or felt that she might be off track. In my work as a therapist now I see how keeping these thoughts and feelings to myself likely impacted her ability to form an accurate picture of me and my life, and our overall connection to one another. Over time I’ve come to realize that therapists are people too—they are capable of making mistakes, and can sometimes read things wrong, just like anyone else. As I continued my work in therapy I became more comfortable letting my therapist know how I was really feeling and clueing her in when I disagreed. I believe this practice allows individuals to practice communication, and also see that disagreement with another person does not necessarily mean the connection will be damaged or severed. Being real with your therapist when you feel like they might be off track is hugely beneficial to the process, which leads me to the next lesson I learned…

Getting honest is essential. My first time working with a therapist was pretty much a wash— I didn’t learn much about myself, made very little progress, and stopped attending sessions around two months in. I think a huge contributor to this was because of my own apprehension in being honest with her, and myself, about what was really going on in my life and what I wanted to work on. Now as a therapist I can look at this and spot my own resistance to the process. Since I was omitting huge parts of myself and my life, my therapist wasn’t really able to offer feedback and insight that would help me grow. She only had a half-completed picture of what was really going on for me. After I decided to give therapy another go I began to realize that a therapist should never be there to judge you. Although it takes time to fully trust another person with our lives, as I continued working with her I began to feel more comfortable revealing parts of myself that I had kept from my therapist in the past. We want to know what’s happening for you— what’s really happening— so we can look at it, understand it, move forward together.

The relationship is key. Trust, connection, and caring— this is really the most important lesson I have learned from own experience in therapy, and I consider it the most essential part of my work now.  Regardless of modality, therapy style, or intervention type, the therapeutic relationships I’ve had over the course of my life that have been the most impactful and meaningful were with the therapists who I felt connected to and trusted. I found that it doesn’t really matter that my earlier therapist was CBT, my last therapist was psychodynamic, or that my current therapist is RCT— the part that helped me grow the most was feeling authentically heard and understood by them, and knowing that I mattered to them. In my work now I always let my clients matter to me and focus on building connection and understanding. If you feel that this connection is lacking with your current therapist let them know. Express what would help you feel more in tune with one another and focus on building the therapeutic relationship together.