What To Tell Your Therapist

Photo by Meraki Creative Co on Unsplash

Photo by Meraki Creative Co on Unsplash

“How do I tell him/her?”

If you have ever been to therapy before, there is a possibility that the question above popped into your head at some point. If you have never been to therapy before, but are considering it or have been thinking about it, this blog post will explain the importance of addressing difficult conversations with your therapist or future therapist.

Handling expectations and finances

Just like many other things, therapy is an investment of time and money. Many people erroneously think that that their lifelong struggles can be over in just two therapy sessions. This is just not realistic for several reasons. The first one is that your therapist doesn’t know you. Maybe you talked to him or her on the phone before your first session, but he or she will have to continue to assess many variables (especially in the first few sessions) in order to get to know you. 

The second reason is that you have probably been engaging in some sort of pattern or behavior for quite some time (think dynamic with your partner for instance). Maybe you both decide to seek couples therapy because you have felt disconnected for a while or have been fighting intensely for months. One or two sessions will probably not change the way you have been relating to each other these past months. Therapy is a process and for that reason, you need to feel comfortable with whatever fee you and your therapist agreed on. Some therapists will work with you based on a fee that you can afford, while other therapists have a set fee, so it will be up to you whether or not you want to work with that therapist. Nevertheless, it is very important that you speak up if the fee is inconvenient for you. Therapists will either work with you or talk about other options (e.g. referrals).

“My therapist did not understand what I was trying to say.”

Do NOT stay quiet about this. If you feel like your therapist did not get you, let him or her know. As therapists, we are trying to figure out what is going on in your life. The reality is that we can be spot on, but we could also get it wrong. It is extremely important that you let us know if that is the case, so that we have a clearer picture of what your experience is like. You can simply say something like: “I don’t think that is what I meant, what I meant is….” or “Actually no, it is more like this…” Please correct us! I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t think that you will hurt our feelings or disrespect us by correcting us.

“My therapist said something that triggered me.”

No therapist is a divine, perfect, human being. This could happen, either early in therapy or maybe a few months later. If something that your therapist said triggered you and made you feel uncomfortable, sad, frustrated, annoyed, disappointed—whatever it is—tell him/her. If you really like and trust your therapist, explaining what happened inside of you as he/she said X, can be very powerful. I encourage you to try it before dropping therapy and leaving. It is normal that close relationships experience some sort of rupture, but repair can be possible and practicing it can turn out to be good experience. Ruptures are opportunities to strengthen a relationship. Also, examining what triggered you is part of the therapeutic process, and there is a lot that both the therapist and client can learn from that.

“I am ready to finish therapy, but I don’t know how to say it.”

Sometimes, your therapist might be the one bringing up the idea of termination; other times you might be the one thinking about it. If you had already made a decision or are contemplating it, tell your therapist. Your decision could be based on finances or on simply feeling like you are ready to move forward on your own. Whatever the reason is, it is always a good idea for both you and your therapist to be on the same page, and to have at least one “termination” session. Usually, this is where you both can talk about what you learned from the process, form each other, what shifted or changed, and things to keep in mind for the future.

Trust your gut, and if you ever want to say something but are too shy or afraid to say it, take a deep breath and try to express it. Therapists will not criticize you for opening up about your internal experience.

To schedule an appointment with Stephanie Paez, LMFT-Associate, contact stephanie@thepracticeatx.com or call (512) 910-4052.

The Practice ATX

512-861-4131

Is Social Media Messing with Your Relationship?

Pixabay/CC0

Pixabay/CC0

Social media is at our fingertips 24/7; in our homes, cars and relationships.

This is a reality that isn't going away and one that generations before us didn't have to navigate. I know I’m stating the obvious here- but social media and technology have forever changed the landscape of how we communicate, live our daily lives, and relate to one another. Whatever your social media habits might be, take a minute to think about three things: 

  1. Does the AMOUNT OF TIME spent on social media affect your relationships?
  2. How often does the CONTENT on social media impact how you view your partner?
  3. Do you use social media to distract yourself or avoid interaction with your partner?

How do your social media habits impact how you view your partner?

Social media can create unrealistic relationship expectations. Or maybe it’s not what others are doing is unrealistic - it’s just not AUTHENTIC for you or your relationship. What you see others doing or posting or tweeting is a small snap shot of their day or who they are.

If we spend enough time consuming media and other peoples lives, do we begin to believe our lives should look the same? Do we create expectations for our partners that don’t fit the uniqueness of the relationship? A lack of communication about realistic expectations breeds resentment and mistrust. So, take a minute to ask yourself if you're holding your partner accountable for something they don't know about.

Instead, what if you just talked to your partner?

Take a minute to talk about it. Just talking about expectations, wants, needs, and desires creates intimacy and vulnerability even though it's easier to bury our minds and attention in something else. Research is just starting to surface about how social media/technology can create problematic behaviors.

The tricky part about using your cell phone for everything is that it conveniently functions for professional and personal uses throughout your daily life; for example, you deposit checks, take business and personal phone calls, type emails, schedule appointments, buy groceries, watch videos and much much more!

So, carving out focused time to share with your partner is paramount. When my grandparents needed to discuss something in the evening, they didn't have the option to say, “Hold on one sec, I’m finishing this work bid that I need to email and then I need to deposit a check, troll on Twitter and Favor our dinner.” Choose your partner first, they deserve the uninterrupted, original version of face time.

How can you be more vulnerable with your partner? 

Break the cycle of disconnect. What works for your relationship might not work for another. Together with your partner decide what amount of social media and TV you allow in your home, your life, and in all your relationships.

Set boundaries and parameters. No phones during dinner. We take one hour an evening with no TV or phones to download (pun intended) our day. If you don't take the time to connect, then the ongoing narrative becomes one of you isn’t important enough to warrant genuine authentic interaction.

A lack of quality face time with your partner will begin to erode the foundation of connection and desire in the relationship. When your partner has something important to share or needs to explore their feelings and you glance between the TV and phone sharing vulnerable moments or feelings are no longer safe in a relationship, it becomes a legitimate fear. By not giving your attention to the person you love, you inadvertently communicate that they are not important.

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.

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The Practice ATX

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4 Ways that Listening Helps Relationship Communication

Gratisography/CC0

Gratisography/CC0

Listening is the foundation of all good relationship communication.

Many couples I work with often list “communication” as one of their struggles- listening is not as easy as we may think sometimes! Poor listening can lead to partners feeling unloved or unimportant. Good listening can lead partners to feel more connected and can minimize conflict that results from poor listening.

We all know what it feels like to be in a heated discussion and sense our partner isn’t listening. When you ask if they are listening they say, “Yes! I’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying…” Only then they quickly jump back with arguments to what you have just shared. It’s frustrating to say the least and when this frustration begins to brew so does the conflict.

How is listening different from hearing?

            Listening is a choice. Hearing is not. I can hear my husband vent to me all day long but not truly listen to what he is saying or pick up on what he needs. The whole time he is venting I could easily be thinking of many ways to disprove his points. If I am hearing to disprove and win the argument I am not listening. I am focused more on my own thoughts and feelings versus his. Listening means you focus on your partner’s thoughts and feelings. You will get a chance to respond but wait until you have a good understanding of how he or she feels and why.

How does listening work in intimate relationships?

            Effective listening takes practice, and I think we sometimes have to sort of train ourselves to shift away from simply hearing to actively listening. To help you shift into becoming a better listener here are three steps to try out to make listening more effective:

1. Listen for what's being said:

It’s often easy for people to switch into lawyer mode to try to find numerous ways to disprove what the other person is saying- to interrogate.

It may seem more natural to do this than to focus on just hearing and taking in what the other person is actually saying. Think of how your listening may change if you took more of an interviewing approach versus an interrogative one. Switch your mindset from the lawyer mentality to the curious listener. It will help put potential defensiveness and interruptions aside.

Your curiosity will keep the focus on your partner and how he or she is feeling and why. You can ask yourself why is he/she upset? What specifically happened to cause him/her to begin to share what is on his/her mind with you? What is it that he or she needs from me? While these may be questions you're internally working to find the answers to, it also doesn’t hurt to ask these same questions if you feel your partner isn’t clear. It's important to uncover all of these answers before trying to jump to solving whatever problem at hand- you may be solving for the wrong problem if you jump too soon.

2. Listen for what's not being said:

Sometimes it takes more energy to clearly communicate your needs to your partner versus just venting and exploding with emotion. It's likely there are times when the affected person shares just the surface level frustrations but may leave the depth of their concerns out.

Be curious about what they may be trying to say but unable. Body language will be helpful here. Is she crying? What do the tears mean?)Is he looking away? Does she feel safe? Does he feel ashamed? Is she fidgety? What may be causing him to feel nervous or anxious? Asking questions about what is not being said can help the other person sense your concern and attention on getting to the depth of the emotion she is experiencing. Notice again that all of your attention is on your partner.

3. Listen to what the other person is feeling.

Sometimes, your partner will tell you specifically how they're feeling, and other times they may not. When I work with couples, there are often challenges with people being able to focus inward and to express “I am feeling (insert emotion here).”

Intense emotions can cause people to be flooded with emotion, which may lead to pointing fingers and defensiveness. Notice that the pointing fingers and defensiveness may mean your partner needs more validation. Although it's still up to them to tell you what they need, you can help them by actively listening well.

When people make it a point to bring something up for discussion they're doing so with the need for some type of validation. Listening for what he is feeling will help you be able to validate his emotional experience. Someone once told me “validation is not agreeing” and this is huge when it comes to listening. If my partner is angry with me for being irritable and I say, “you’re mad because you feel like I’ve been irritable all day” this does not mean I agree that I was irritable. It means I am validating that he is mad and that I have heard and validated his concern. Once those concerns are validated, the emotional flooding can subside and make room for problem solving together.

4. Multi-task

Here's the hardest part. When we listen, part of what we have to do is manage how we feel so we can put our agendas aside. It may sound weird, but we often forget that we feel upset by what our partners say to us. The key to listening well is to be aware of how you feel, even if those feelings are negative. Then, hold off speaking up about those emotions and keep listening like a curious witness to your partner. Do two things at once: listen and self-regulate.

            Listening isn't always as easy as we would like it to be and that’s because emotion is involved. It clouds our headspace. Recognizing this cloudiness in your own mind during conflict can help you focus back on your partner and what’s being said, what isn’t, and his or her emotions in need of caring for. Listening more can open up more room for connection and less room for conflict.

To schedule an appointment with Mandi Roarke, LMFT-Associate, call 512-537-0995.

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The Practice ATX

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What Does Criticism do to A Relationship?

Image by mrdonduck on  Flickr

Image by mrdonduck on Flickr

Criticism is a not-so-silent destroyer of relationships: relationships with your partner, friends and family or even with yourself. Destroyer is a pretty bold way of describing what criticism can do to relationships but in my work with individuals, couples, and families, I have yet to see a positive outcome from criticism.

Some people may think if they don’t share criticism with their partner that nothing will ever change for the better in their relationship. This is when the meaning of criticism versus feedback gets mixed up.

Why is criticism destructive?

Criticism is when you are clearly showing your disapproval of something or someone due to perceived faults or wrongdoing. I think of it as when someone just wants to pick apart a person or a situation with a tone of “I’m picking you apart because I disapprove…”

Maybe it is due to anger, insecurity, sadness, loss of hope, or a tendency to always be critical of one’s own self and others. People who are more critical in their relationships have often been surrounded by criticism their entire lives (their upbringing, friendships or work group). Criticism becomes the way in which they try to give what they think is feedback to others.

There's really no such thing as constructive criticism. We don't have different parts of our brains that take things personally and parts of our brains that don't. We have one brain. That brain goes with us to our business meetings, when we have sex and when we argue. So basically, that means everything is personal. Positive feedback, offered compassionately and carefully is much better, especially intimate relationships.

What's the difference between criticism and feedback?

            Feedback feels different. Even the word feels better to me- less attacking. Feedback is different from criticism in that you’re offering information about reactions you have to someone or something. And I think you may naturally be more compassionate with feedback because it is you offering your feelings versus pointing fingers immediately to someone or something else.  

To give good feedback, you have to turn inward and asking yourself what it is you need (maybe more of the same or something different) and then express this to your partner, or friend, colleague, or family member. It’s vulnerable.

How do I overcome criticism?

I struggle to recognize when criticism isn’t destructive. Maybe you can relate: I’m most critical of myself when my relationship and my surroundings aren’t the way I want them. It can be a vicious cycle when you pick yourself apart for not meeting expectations, and nothing else in your life seems to be going right either. Beating yourself and your relationship(s) up doesn’t feel good to anyone, and self-esteem and relational strength can suffer. So any time criticism starts knocking on my door I have to tell it to go away and focus inward on what I need- feedback.

Maybe this feedback is just for myself. Like, “Hey Mandi, you’re doing good enough. You got this.” Maybe all I really need is to recognize what I am doing versus what I’m not. Maybe offer myself a little compassion.

In my work I look for where more compassion is needed. It may be some clients need more self-compassion and others need more compassion from the people they love. Sometimes people get into a rut where the world seems really negative and they’re only aware of when things go wrong.  And sometimes, after years of history and experiences, the tone of a relationship has evolved into just a critical one.

Criticism can become the default to how one communicates with him/herself but also with his/her partner. It’s like an infection in the relationship that has now taken over and the fever isn’t fighting it, but feedback can.

So, look inward for some feedback.

Ask yourself: What is it that you are feeling? What is it that you need- from yourself or from others? What is a realistic expectation for yourself and others? This inner dialogue can help you slow down a rapid-fire critical response to a more compassionate one.

Ask your partner the same questions and ask your partner to do the same. Look inward some feedback. Criticism can go away now.

To schedule an appointment with Mandi Roarke, LMFT-Associate, call 512-537-0995.

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The Practice ATX

512-861-4131