By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
I imagine most people in the therapy waiting room ask themselves this question (unless we have already come in with something obvious).
Sometimes, we don't really know. We might become anxious just thinking about it, wondering if we are going to waste a precious session of therapy, twiddling our thumbs, feeling dumb or lost, as if there is somehow a way to "fail" at therapy.
I've had many conversations with people, of all ages, from many walks of life, who have come in to sessions feeling unsure about what to say or do.
Sometimes, I start fishing - I'll ask questions, I'll look for pressure points, or get curious about things we've talked about in the past. Sometimes people are avoiding the heavy topics, and I am looking to see whether they're ready today to talk about them, and sometimes they really aren't ready. As their therapist, I am constantly looking for that medium between putting too much pressure on someone vs. being too lax in my approach.
But sometimes, we sit idly. Maybe a few tangents drift by, maybe a thought travels through our conversation, and a person may feel as though they are bouncing between topics, or talking about 'nothing' in particular. With kids, we may color or play a game in silence, with little to say in between the clicks and taps of the pieces.
In earlier times in my career, I might worry. "Oh no! I'm a terrible therapist. They don't want to talk to me, or maybe they don't trust me," I would think. But now, the thought rarely comes to mind. I learned very quickly that this wasn't the case at all.
Instead, I wait, patiently. The silence or the tears or the idle conversation begins to create a pattern. I'll notice the human in front of me, willing to spend the time in therapy, willing to be there, willing to take the risk of vulnerability and self-reflection, and I follow where their feelings go.
People have asked me, "Should I come in with something to talk about? Like, ahead of time?"
In the beginning, it might help ease your anxiety or nerves; so if it helps, do it.
As time goes on, and you and your therapist get to know each other, you may not need to think too hard to come up with things to talk about; it may not be so much about "efficiency" as it is about practicing discomfort in a safe space.
What you talk about is not as consequential as the processing of emotion and value that comes with it.