What the hell is normal in therapy anyway?

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Therapy is hard. Therapy is exposing. Therapy is ultimately, fantastic!!

My relationship with personal therapy started when I began my Transactional Analysis training at MIP; with my innocent, already mapped out idea of how it was going to go, it actually turned out I didn’t have a clue.

This blog is to explore what it’s like being in the therapy room – from my established role as a therapist, I’m going to let you know exactly what’s expected of you, and what is normal.

How and Where do I sit?

Let’s start with how you should sit, what are your thoughts? You’ll probably encounter a chair to sit in and it may be clear which chair the therapist prefers to sit; in my office you have a sofa and I sit opposite. Bear in mind this person doesn’t know you, what kind of impression do you want to make? You want to appear normal right? So maybe it would be a good idea to sit with both feet on the floor, facing forwards; this is what I did, only there were 3 sofas to choose from. This wasn’t a problem for me though because I sat on the same sofa, in the same spot for weeks upon weeks; until she invited me to move. Knowing where I was going to sit when I walked in felt safe, I knew I wouldn’t be too close and I knew she wouldn’t be in my eye-line if I were to gaze ahead. When she asked me what it would be like to move, it was like my head imploded…’why would she want me to do that?!’ It turned out she had me sussed early days (because she was awesome), I was putting a lot of energy into being a ‘good client’ and she was confronting this in order to free up that energy for a more fruitful experience. Because I wanted to be good, I adapted and of course moved – it turned out that something seemingly trivial had a huge impact, which opened up new paths to explore. So my advice, as a former client and a current therapist – is to sit exactly how and where you want – do what makes you feel comfortable, and let the magic happen.

Are there things that are OK and not OK to say?

Language, what about how you put your thoughts and feeling across – oh the pressure… In my personal life, I swear, but I didn’t in therapy; and when I did, I apologised. I would get myself tied up in knots at the thought of trying to describe intense feelings, which at that stage, I didn’t really understand. Not being able to talk because I was holding back tears, all the while she sat and looked at me, patiently waiting. Sorry, but there is no magical advice here, other than to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with, and to be fair, to a degree, if you don’t feel comfortable to be yourself – stick with it anyway and push through that barrier! What we think is expected of us, how we think we should ‘be’ and what we think others will think of us, is a huge part of therapy and the safest way to confront these, is with a therapist who is there to facilitate just that.

When I say it out loud, it sounds daft...

OK, so how much do you share and what kind of things cross the lines of being ‘silly’ or sounding ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’?

Honestly…nothing!!

It won’t happen over-night but the aim is for you to be you and be happy in your own skin, thoughts and feelings. I felt so irrational in therapy at times, and I actually was – how I made sense of the world wasn’t how I saw it for other people; there were different rules for me and different rules for others. There were so many things in my life that didn’t marry up, I definitely felt I was going crazy at times; but putting my head space on the table was the only way I was able to unpick what it was that made them (me) that way. It is sooo normal to minimise your processes (thoughts and feelings) when you come into therapy, but hopefully your therapist will help make you aware of this and you can work on being OK with the whole you.

How are you finding my advice? Are you getting the gist of it yet? Your therapy space is somewhere you go to push through stuck or difficult areas of your life, it’s expensive as a financial commitment but also an emotional commitment too – so make the most of your investment.

Right, now you know that there is no normal, right or wrong way to be in therapy – here’s what you can expect from your therapist.

  • I’ve had discussions with clients before whereby I have defended my right to be human whilst I am also a therapist – I think and feel and have my own quirky behaviours and I use all of these in therapy. Basically, what I’m saying is that a therapist isn’t a detached entity; they will be fully present in your journey, sharing how they think about your process, and how they feel about your experience or difficulties. It’s through this relationship that you will hopefully feel the safety to push through your barriers.
  • Your therapist is a facilitator, using their training and experience to meet your needs, so it’s a good idea to know what it is you would like at the end of it all so you both have a clear goal. What a therapist isn’t, is someone who will tell you what you should do or give advice; this is for you to uncover. As your thought processes start to develop for example, new ideas and options will become available to you.
  • Therapists don’t have a magic wand, but that’s OK because you don’t need fixing, you’re not actually broken!! I know that some issues can be massively difficult to manage and you might want them gone – most clients want the change to have happened before we even meet but therapy is definitely a process and not an event. Unlike the medical world where there is an operation or a course of medication to take and the problem is gone – therapy happens gradually and the problem isn’t gone. You will uncover strengths and learn new skills; you will have the inner and outer resources to cope.