feelings and therapy

Anonymous said:

When I have therapy or counselling, I notice that if I deal with real emotions in a way that is good for me, that I have to drop the neurotypical act of behaviours that show I am doing polite and kind listening.

I’m still listening but just not showing it in the way people prefer. When I do this, I notice that they get very hard and uncaring, even though I do it to make counselling work for me so I can tune into myself instead of acting. Do I give up?

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure what you mean by “Do I give up?”.

If you’re asking about dealing with real emotions - I don’t think that you should give up trying to find a way to deal with your real emotions. I think that everyone can learn to deal with feelings, both feelings they’re having and feelings that other people are having. I think it’s really great that you’re working on that, and I definitely don’t think that you should give up.

Which leads to the question: What should you do about your current therapy situation? I don’t know the answer to that. I think you’re the best judge of that. Here are some considerations that might be worth thinking about:

I think that you have a lot of options. Some I see (there are probably others):

  • Trying to negotiate with your current therapy to make therapy work better for you
  • Trying to find another therapist
  • Staying with this therapist, but not expecting much out of it (or giving it time)
  • Trying a different kind of therapy
  • Deciding not to do therapy for now

Regarding working things out with your current therapist:

  • If you’re with this therapist voluntarily and could quit if you want to, trying to negotiate might be a good option
  • It might be worth telling them that you need to be able to drop attentiveness behaviors to be able to process
  • And that you want to process and deal with these feelings in a real way, and that you can’t both look attentive and do that
  • Some therapists are receptive to that kind of feedback; some aren’t
  • Therapists are human, and sometimes they misread things. Sometimes if you point it out, it helps.
  • Some therapists are not receptive to that kind of feedback, and might get really annoyed or manipulative
  • If it turns out that yours isn’t interested in meeting your need to drop affect in order to process feelings, it’s likely that they are not the right therapist for you
  • And that’s information worth having.
  • (If you’re stuck with this therapist no matter what, this might be riskier. I can’t tell you how to evaluate the risks in your particular situation, but I think it’s important to consider whether there might be some)

Not all therapists are the same:

  • It’s fairly common for people to need to look unusual in order to be able to engage with emotions in therapy
  • Working through emotions and psychological issues is hard work. Sometimes it means you can’t manage looking attentive
  • This isn’t a secret. A significant percentage of therapists expect that many clients won’t look like they’re listening when they’re processing.
  • Some therapists have the skills to handle this constructively; some don’t.
  • If you can choose who your therapist is, it might be worth trying to find a therapist who already understands this

Not all kinds of therapy are the same:

  • Not all therapy is about feelings.
  • Some kinds of therapy are about behavior, or learning specific skills.
  • If what you want from therapy is to learn to tune into yourself and deal with your feelings constructively, it’s important that you do a kind of therapy that helps with that
  • For instance, psychodynamic therapy or art therapy might work well for that. CBT probably won’t, since CBT is about behavior more than it’s about processing.
  • Just, generally speaking, it’s important to make sure that you and your therapist agree on what the goals are, and that the type of therapy they do makes sense for your goals
  • It might be worth learning more about types of therapy, and thinking through whether you’re in the kind you want to be in, or whether you might rather try a different kind

More generally regarding therapy:

There are a lot of therapy evangelists who talk about therapy like it’s the end all and be all of making progress in your life. They talk like therapy is risk free, universally helpful. They also talk like, if you’re not in therapy, you’re doomed to stagnation and that you’re essentially giving up on yourself. Real therapy is not like that. Real therapy is a set of people with a set of tools, which may or may not be helpful in given circumstances.

Real therapy is a mixed bag. Not everyone has the same experiences with it. For instance:

  • Therapy can be game-changing.
  • A lot of people find that therapy allows them to make progress dealing with problems they’ve felt completely trapped by for years.
  • Others find that therapy gives them skills or insights that dramatically improve their lives.
  • Others find therapy completely unhelpful.
  • Some people finds that it helps some, but not that much.
  • Some people are people are harmed in therapy.
  • Some people struggle to find the right therapist, but have really good experiences with therapy once they find someone who can work well with them.
  • And there are any number of other experiences.

I think there is no universal answer to “Should I work on this problem in therapy?”. I that’s always a complex personal decision. It depends on what you want and what you have access to and what you find works best for you. The answers to these questions are personal, and you’re the best judge of them.

And just, generally speaking: if therapy is not working for you, that’s a problem that you should take seriously. If you don’t feel respected, that’s a problem that’s a problem you should take seriously. Therapy is supposed to be helpful. If you’re in therapy that isn’t helping you, it means that something isn’t right and that it’s probably worth changing something.

tl;dr Therapy means a lot of different things, and people have a lot of different experiences with therapy. There are different kinds of therapy and different kinds of therapists. Sometimes therapy is a good idea and sometimes it isn’t. It’s a personal decision and sometimes it’s complicated. Whether or not therapy is your approach right now, don’t give up on yourself. You can learn and you can make progress.