by Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
You may already do this, and you may be comfortable with correcting your therapist. If so, I encourage you to be aware of your friends, in case they might need to hear it: it's okay to correct your therapist. But how do you know it's something you need to hear vs. something that your therapist doesn't understand?
Wait, first, why would I correct my therapist?
Your therapist is human. We will make mistakes. We will say things that might not be accurate to how you feel. Or, we will forget details and you'll need to remind us. It's also possible that as you might notice patterns or something that doesn't feel right, especially as you become more self-aware and emotionally grow.
It's easy to assume that because you're coming to them for help that your therapist has authority or answers or knows things that you don't.
I'll cover a few important notes for you to take into your sessions and how to address the human interaction going on in the room.
Relationship comes first.
A good therapist knows that the key to lasting change in a therapeutic space starts with the relationship. Before any techniques, before any magical interventions, the first thing that happens is trust and connection. You are first and foremost a human being too, and you need to feel understood and allowed to feel your emotions, however they are. We therapists call this "holding the space". We are here to witness, to observe, and to hold you in non-judgmental or unconditional positive regard.
Once you have a safe relationship, it will be easier to take risks if you haven't been comfortable correcting people in your life. I do my best to remind my clients that they are welcome to give me feedback and if something isn't working for them, that it's my job to be flexible, understand where they're coming from, and adjust accordingly. Different therapists have different styles of working through conflict and things 'not working'. I would encourage everyone to know their therapist's unique style and reflect on two things:
Does it help you think differently about situations, problems, or people?
When you take actions, are they widening the belief you have in what is possible?
If you answer yes to either one, give some time for the other. If you answer 'no' to both, then perhaps taking some time to observe your therapeutic relationship with this context in mind and even possibly asking your therapist to clarify your goals and their style is really important and empowering to you.
Are you your 'whole' self in therapy?
This is another important question to consider as you may want to correct your therapist if the answer is 'no'. Obviously, it's a therapy room and there are only so many things that can happen within an hour, so if you're a dancer and you can't dance in the room--I imagine you may not feel like your 'full' self!
However, if you have been noticing that you're holding back or there are things you're afraid to bring up in therapy, it's good to ask yourself what is underneath.
In the areas of race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, body image, substance use, etc.: do I feel accepted by my therapist? Do I feel like they can understand what I'm talking about?
Is my therapist responsive and empathetic when I talk about something important to me? Can they tell when I feel strongly about something?
Am I hesitating to bring this up because of my feelings of shame or embarrassment?
Am I ready to talk about this yet? It's possible that I need to give myself more time to bring this up.
This might not qualify fully as a "correction", but it can be a sign that perhaps your therapist has missed mentioning a feeling that you've been feeling or forgot something important to you.
I'm afraid that I might make things awkward if I correct them.
This is such a legitimate and worthy feeling to address. And I want to share the power of what is possible when we take the chance on awkward conversations.
I have had a few very important, stand-out moments with my clients and they have always, always, always occurred when both of us were the most vulnerable.
My clients have been working on boundary setting in their lives, and it can be easy to talk about setting boundaries with other people who aren't there. Some of the most powerful conversations I've ever had with my clients were when they set boundaries with me; they spoke kindly and addressed the gratitude they have for the work we have done, AND they also told me straight up that I missed something important to them and it hurt them. Of course, my heart felt heavy at first, and then I thanked them and recognized that the boundaries they set are not only for others in their lives, but in our very room too. I made the (re-)commitment to listening deeply, to being more aware of their needs in the room, and to recognizing my humanity in the room.
This did two things: 1) it empowered my clients to know that when they voice their needs, the person receiving it can hear them and change their behavior; and 2) it actually strengthened our trust and gave us even more room to grow.
So, how do I know if it's something I didn't want to hear, not a correction I need to give my therapist?
It's tricky to make a general statement about this question. My instinct tells me that if you feel resistance to something your therapist has challenged you with, name it. Tell them, "when you say that, I feel annoyed" or "scared" or "there's a voice in my mind that's like 'no, I don't wanna do that'" and give yourself the chance to process that in the room. If it's your experience, it's real and honest. It doesn't mean that every feeling means that your therapist is "wrong" but it can give you both information that helps guide your conversations.
Also, another strategy is simply to let something sit with you after session is over and feel how you feel. If you find that the initial feeling shifts and you start noticing that it changes and gives you a different way of looking at the situation - your therapist may have been onto something that you didn't realize before.
Sometimes you find that through your conversations and taking a chance on trusting them, you realize that your therapist isn't the right fit for you. This is normal and okay. Sometimes even a therapist you have had for a while has been a good fit for a season, but you grow and you need different strategies, style, and insight. This is absolutely part of the process.
If you are in therapy, you deserve to be with someone who can give you the help that you need. By correcting them or finding the best fit for you, it will empower you to make choices that are most aligned with who you are and what you want for your life.