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The relationship with your therapist: A tool for insight

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

“The subtleties of a person’s interpersonal history live on in current relationships and color the therapeutic connection.” -Nancy McWilliams

Therapy is a place for us to talk about and understand the range of our thoughts, feelings, fantasies, expectations and fears. This is a tremendous task! What adds to an already difficult task is talking about the range of thoughts and feelings that surface towards your therapist. Having a variety of feelings towards your therapist is perfectly normal and can be a pivotal part to your therapy process. In fact, there is even a term used by therapists to understand this phenomenon called transference. Transference can involve any emotion (ex. anger, disappointment, attraction or loving feelings, envy, curiosity, care, etc.) or relational dynamic (ex. fear of letting your therapist down/wanting to please your therapist, difficulty trusting or depending on your therapist, idealizing or devaluing your therapist, feeling disconnected/alone in the relationship, care-taking your therapist, yearning for closeness, etc.) These feelings and dynamics within the therapeutic relationship are important to your process and are harnessed within “deeper” or more insight-oriented therapies to help you understand your relational patterns.

Talking about ourselves in therapy is inherently vulnerable, but I believe that talking about the way you feel towards your therapist or the ways it feels to be in a relationship with them takes another dose of courage. Although it can feel shaky and uncomfortable to bring these feelings into the therapy room, it’s a key part of your healing. Here’s why:

Being open and vulnerable

This is an integral part of therapy. First and foremost, it helps you become "practiced" or more comfortable with being vulnerable and open with others. Additionally, it allows you and your therapist to better understand you. When we try to shut off or disavow parts of ourselves then we are creating roadblocks to this process.

Data on how you relate to others

Oftentimes we rely on describing our interpersonal relationships to our therapists to give them insight into our relational patterns, however the ways you relate in the therapy room can be another reliable source of data to reflect on. People often have a recurrent nature in relating to others or “repetitive dramas.” These recurrent interpersonal themes can shed light on your experience of interpersonal concepts such as dependency, intimacy, and power. Many of these “repetitive dramas” are benign or adaptive, however some of these patterns may be exactly what brings someone to psychotherapy.

It can be an opportunity to heal and grow from past relational experiences in a relationship that is safe

By letting these dynamics arise in therapy, you have the opportunity to "work through" them. "Working through" allows you to gain insight and self-awareness that can help propel you to make the changes that allow for healthier connections. Additionally, when these feelings are met with curiosity, rather than being denied, dismissed or judged, it can be a deeply healing experience.

Although it may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, using the relationship with your therapist can help deepen your understanding of yourself. Your therapist should join in and guide your curiosity to help you gain insight into how you relate to others and where these patterns stem from.

- Catherine Comiskey, LCSW

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