So what happens in therapy if you have nothing to say? Or, maybe you are considering therapy and don’t think you have anything to say when you get there?
It might be comforting to know that this happens all the time. Then again, it might not be. Remember, therapy is often a gray area of awareness. It isn’t really meant to be all black and white and incredibly tidy. Human emotions do not fit into boxes. Despite some very strange attempts.
What this definitely doesn’t mean is that you have nothing to say in therapy, whether you are at home considering therapy or sitting across from your therapist who is staring back at you patiently.
It is very natural to hesitate before jumping into something that may cause us emotional pain. Think fight or flight response. Opening up about deeper, emotional issues with a therapist (or anyone) is potentially exposing you to pain. And as people, we don’t really like that. We avoid it whenever possible.
So, continuing the theme of direct communication, talk to your therapist about how you might be worried, scared even, to proceed, to talk about the X, the Y or the Z of your personal history.
It is absolute therapy gold when you choose to talk to your counselor about what you hesitate to share in session. It allows both of you to talk about your relationship. The therapist and client relationship. If you don’t feel safe, then now is the time to say so. If you are not sure what your therapist might think if you go deeper into your issues, then now is the time to tell them. They will listen and they will support you.
Being honest and open in therapy is hard. It is natural to hold back some information. But being honest about why you are holding back those same issues, will really bring about a positive and healthy conversation between you and your therapist.
Now, one big reason a person may seek out therapy to begin with could be the very issue of trust. As in, do they trust anyone in their life/is trust too scary for them/is trust something they lost in a relationship/do they even trust themselves/etc. So opening up to a stranger, even if that stranger is a therapist, can be very difficult. The good news is that therapists expect clients to have some difficulty with trust. The best therapists can even joke about it to some extent. It’s such a paradoxical intention. An untrusting person goes to therapy to talk about their issues with trust to a total stranger who they have no trust in (yet). Good times.
You have to start somewhere though. And good counselors know that you can’t force or push too hard when it comes to the therapeutic relationship. A counselor can wait, or bring it up gently, and if you the client don’t want to talk about it, then it waits until you are ready. But at least you and the therapist were able to bring up the elephant in the room and push it aside for the time being.
Another reason you might find it difficult to talk honestly with your counselor is the idea of transference.
What makes transference a difficult topic by itself is that if you ask 5 counselors for a definition of transference, you might get 5 different definitions depending on that therapist’s theoretical orientation. So what is it? I would define transference as: the unconscious emotional need or dynamic a client can (but not always) project onto their therapist. Now what does that really mean in English? Transference is like the Island of Misfit Toys, but for emotions. These are the emotions you don’t want to deal with anymore, the communication patterns you would rather not think about, the relational dynamics you would rather forget existed, reactions that you may have outgrown but are still very protective of, so you push them all out of your conscious mind. Ironically, all of those abandoned emotions directly affect the way you relate to other human beings, most importantly you (and they are the best part of the cartoon/story of your life—because they literally can save the day).
Transference is the explanation for why your friend—you know the one—always picks the wrong kind of partner. They express their frustrations, anger, etc. and when they finally break it off, they find someone who is nearly exactly the same person (emotionally speaking).
Transference is the psychological explanation for the old wives’ tale saying that men marry their mothers and women marry their fathers. Transference can be both unconscious and conscious. We can experience our own transference in some situations, and be blissfully ignorant of it in others. Transference is a topic that can get needlessly complicated if you allow it. So, let’s not make that mistake here.
It is absolutely appropriate to bring up transference with your counselor in session. Most counselors would consider this therapeutic gold. Why do you think therapists love to ask the question: “What are you feeling right now?” Because it might be transference. Or it might just be really important for dozens of other reasons.
The bottom line—if I can find one today—is that if you experience a powerful emotion while in therapy, despite what you think is or isn’t going on in session, the work is to stay with that emotion and see where it takes you. That’s how we become more self aware. And less of a misfit.