Ever wonder what your therapist is thinking as you pour out your most private thoughts? Read on to get the scoop on what’s actually going through their mind and what you should be looking out for when searching for a provider.
Because it usually happens behind closed doors, therapy has long been shrouded in veil of mystery. In fact, many of the developers of traditional therapy considered this to be foundational to how therapy worked. They thought we needed to have a stark division between patient and therapist, where the patient could unload on to the therapist without ever really knowing what the therapist thought or felt.
Modern therapy has come a long way
We recognize now that the healing power of therapy comes not from mystery, but from knowing and being known. Transformation requires vulnerability and trust, which can only truly be built from a place of mutual respect.
Still, there are certain things that you may not realize that your therapist is thinking. Here are some of the most common thoughts that run through my own mind as a psychologist.
I hate that this is happening to you
It may seem like my ability to remain calm and focused while you’re telling me the most challenging truths means I am immune to feeling all that suckiness. But I actually care deeply about what happens to you and wish that I could change it. Fortunately for both of us, I’ve learned that I can’t. I can hold space for the messiness of it all and walk alongside as you navigate it, hopefully sharing some strategies along the way. But I can’t take it away and I hate that.
I wish you would have come in sooner
So often I’m told by people I see that they know they should have sought support earlier.
Just like that achy shoulder, we all tend to put off even the things that we know would help us feel better. I hate that so many barriers existed to us connecting earlier in your experience: stigma about seeking help, financial constraints, difficulty finding time, and lack of access to care. But I’m so glad that you’re sitting with me now. It’s time.
You are so much more than a diagnosis
I want you to know that even if what you’re experiencing falls into one of our fancy diagnostic categories from the manual, I don’t see you as a page in a book. I know that your experience of these symptoms are as unique as your fingerprint and that I have to — and want to — understand what they have meant for you.
Why can’t you see what a badass you are?!
You are literally doing all the things, and yet can’t see your own worth! I’ll admit, I can get frustrated by this paradox. But that frustration is most often directed to our screwed up culture that has convinced us that it’s never enough or to your early experiences where you learned to always doubt yourself. Even though I know that this work takes time, I still want to wave a magic wand to let you see yourself through my eyes.
I love you, but I don’t want to see you forever
I so look forward to our time together each week, but I also recognize that if I’m doing my job well, at some point you may not need me. Our time together could involve just a few sessions or even a few years of work, but at some point I know that you’ll be free of what initially burdened you and ready to walk without me. I feel conflicted at times by this because I want to see all the amazing things you will do, but I have to trust that you’ll carry our work with you in your heart.
If you’re in therapy and wondering what your therapist is thinking, ask! No therapist should hesitate to offer their genuine reflections. That’s what makes it such a powerful relationship. You deserve to understand the perspective of your provider, and more than likely they are excited to share.
If you’re considering therapy, seek out a provider that won’t leave you wondering. The key is to find someone with whom you can have real, transparent conversations and share your full self. That often takes time, but it’s worth the effort to experience the freedom that therapy can provide.
Dr. Ashley Solomon is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Galia Collaborative, an organization that helps purpose-driven women elevate their impact and mental wellness through therapy, coaching, and content. She blends her scientific acumen, her warm style, and her real-life wisdom to help people during challenge points in their lives. She's committed to busting the stigma of mental health and helping people heal, grow, and lead.