You are absolutely right, you are vulnerable in therapy. Even when your therapist works to gain your trust, as she / he should, you can only know then that the therapist will do all they can to protect you from unnecessary hurt, and help you recover when you are hurting. You can get hurt during therapy in many ways, not only by mistakes the therapist could make with you, but by remembering things you forgot or never knew, or learning to see things that happened to you in a new light that is hurtful to you to realize. You may learn and grow from these new insights and understandings but initially they may hurt. So even the best therapist taking the best care of you can not shield you entirely from being vulnerable and experiencing hurt.
Maybe the only real answer to your question is to encourage you to be brave and deal with your vulnerability head on. Definitely don’t work with a therapist unless you can trust them to be both competent and caring. Know that things that are difficult and painful initially may be the very things that set you free from old alliances that aren’t worth keeping so steadfastly. Know that learning the deeper truths of your life will make it better, and that coming upon wounds that need healing is worth the work and the time. Pick your guide carefully and then take yourself, fears and all, into the fray. How wise of you to realize your vulnerability! Keep that wisdom with you and watch for all the other things you will learn as your wisdom grows. My best to you.
I get a lot of questions about this topic.
The questions come in the form of : “How do I know if my therapist thinks I’m ever going to get better?” or “Should I tell my therapists things I am ashamed of” or “How do I tell if my therapist is about to tell me to leave?” or “How do I know if my therapist thinks I’m crazy/have a personality disorder/ finds me hard to work with?” or ” My therapist is suggesting I go to another therapist – is it because she doesn’t like me?” or “I think my problems are pathetic and I should just wise up and get over them. Is that what my therapist thinks too? How can I find out?”
Questions in this vein are all about being afraid to talk directly to the therapist about whatever is on your mind. First of all, I want to remind anyone who decides to go to therapy – us therapists are only hired help. But I also understand that when one makes themselves so vulnerable by baring so much to a therapist, while the therapist of course tells very little about themselves, it can be an uncomfortable, often one -down feeling situation. In my opinion it is part of the therapists job to let the client know that they find the client interesting and likable. I can’t open up to a therapist unless I feel accepted and OK. Since it is the young parts of ourselves that are being aired , these young parts don’t have the cover of our adult modes in the world making us all the more vulnerable. Therefor it’s all the more important to know you are liked and accepted; even parts of yourself that you don’t like very much yourself!
My suggestion is to ask tell the therapist whatever you are feeling in this area of being acceptable to the therapist. Then observe how you are responded to. If you get any of the attitude “What’s the matter with you, of course I accept you as my client or I wouldn’t be here working with you.” In other words ” What’s your problem? This must be about your family” you have got a defensive person as your therapist, an uneducated one, or somebody who has very little empathy. None of these traits make a good therapist. You have a right to look elsewhere.
I don’t think much is accomplished in therapy if you can’t talk freely. You should get a warm, positive response, full of reassurance and intelligence when you tell your therapist your feelings. I hope you do.
Sometimes clients tell me that they are afraid to change, even if the change they are talking about is something they have wanted for a long time, it’s still frightening to do. I often say things like “you don’t have to change until you are ready,” and then I tell this story:
Snakes live in the forest. They spend all day traveling over rough, uneven ground. They go over fallen branches with hard bark, sticks, rocky areas, sharp pebbles and all sorts of terrain.
Every spring the snake sheds her skin. The old skin loosens as she travels over the rough ground. The baby new skin beneath it has to get strong enough to handle the terrain before the old skin finally peels off.
It’s never the therapists job to pull the skin off a snake.
A man I work with came up with this phrase, “stuck grief.” He was referring to himself and why he was having trouble with near psychotic thinking. The “crazy” thoughts were preferable to recognizing what they symbolized: another extremely painful memory of abuse from his father. He was saying, very articulately, what was going on inside himself: stuck, or unexpressed (and surely unresolved) grief.
I realized that stuck grief was the basis for what goes on in therapy sessions including all of our histories and especially forgotten, denied or ignored incidents and realities. People avoid what brings pain, and until they have dealt with the pain and resolved it, they tend to continue what ever emotional habits maintain their avoidance Even very high functioning adults, maintain unhealthy behaviors because they are not willing to face the truth of their childhoods. Sometimes it is loss of the relationship with their families that they fear, or having to confront the imperfection of their parents. Ultimately It turns out to be an avoidance of growing up.
If someone has something that needs grieving, and they avoid the recognition and therefore the grieving, I call that stuck grief. It is accompanied by some behaviors that aren’t healthy for the person, their children, their spouse, their customers, business associates, someone. They often use an addiction to keep the pain out of their awareness, like drug or alcohol use, over working, lots of sex. It can become confusing to tell the difference between what you need with what is best for your children, and a handing down of all kinds of human distress.
Stuck grief buried within a person can become the basis for just about anything that might bring someone into therapy. This is why doing therapy takes courage, and a different kind of courage than many people are familiar with. So, if you are looking for more than a bandaid, if you really want to understand yourself and make significant change, pick your therapist, your guide, carefully.