As a therapist, I always ask my clients about their past experiences in therapy. If they have been in therapy before, sometimes they tell me about how helpful it has been, and what they enjoyed about working with their previous therapist. However, other times they tell me about their complaints or unanswered questions, such as “is it normal for me to direct therapy, or should they be leading?”, “they talked too much”, or “I wish they had challenged me a bit more.”
I usually gently enquire, “did you talk to them about how this?”, and typically, the response is “Ah, no…”
Like any other relationship, sometimes the relationship with your therapist needs a bit of work. This is particularly important as the relationship with your therapist is one of the biggest predictors of how much benefit you’ll get from therapy. However, we often go to therapy seeking guidance or insight, so it can feel a bit uncomfortable being the one to provide feedback to the supposed ‘mental health professional’ sitting opposite you.
However, your psychologist, while highly trained, is also human too. This means they won’t always understand things perfectly the first time around, might accidentally say something that doesn’t sit right with you, or might need to tweak their approach to ensure that they’re giving you exactly what you need. Despite how awkward it may feel, talking openly with your psychologist about how therapy is feeling for you is the best way to address any issues.
So how exactly do I give my therapist feedback?
1. Flag the conversation
When giving feedback, it is often helpful to start by flagging the conversation. It can be useful to do this at the beginning of the session when setting the agenda for what you’d like to talk about. Some suggestions on how to flag the conversation are: “would you be open to some feedback?” or “could we talk about my experience of therapy?” By flagging the conversation, your therapist will understand that something is on your mind and can create space for the conversation to take place.
2. Ask questions curiously
Therapy may feel difficult or confronting at times, and you may not always feel clear on the purpose or usefulness of certain techniques your therapist is using. For these situations, curiously asking your therapist for the rationale behind their words or actions can be really helpful. For example, sometimes sitting in silence, although uncomfortable, can be therapeutic – but not for everyone. Asking your psychologist can help you clarify whether or not you want to continue with that aspect of therapy.
3. Share your feelings
Use ‘I’ statements to explain how certain tasks, questions or therapeutic styles make you feel, and try to give clear examples of what exactly is eliciting this response. For example, ‘I feel a bit anxious when I’m asked to share how I’m feeling in my body’. Therapists usually love this kind of feedback, as it not only helps them tailor the sessions to suit you better, but it can also reveal some really helpful insights into what you’re going through!
4. Advocate for yourself
You know best what works for you, so it is okay to make a request and advocate for what you need. If there is something you think would be useful for you in therapy, let your therapist know. For example, “I think I’d feel more comfortable doing this mindfulness task facing away from each other, is that okay?”. Your therapist might ask you why for the purpose of understanding you and your needs better, but will also be cheering you on for speaking up about your needs!
5. It’s okay to mess it up!
Assertive communication, such as providing feedback, is challenging and a skill in itself. You may fear the awkwardness, hurting your therapist’s feelings, or any other array of difficult feelings or experiences. But using the therapy room as a training ground of sorts can be really helpful, and give you valuable practice for being more assertive in other relationships outside of your psychology sessions.
And remember, your psychologist doesn’t expect you to get it right the first time – no one should be expected to master any skills first time around, and this is something that both you and your therapist have in common. Psychology sessions are safe spaces to make mistakes, jumble your words, and practice being human in the process of learning new skills. We all mess up sometimes, and what better place to learn how to remedy any issues than in therapy, where you’ve got a support person at the ready!
6. It will be less effort to address the issue than to start again
You’ve gone to the effort of finding a good psychologist, which is no small task. Compare addressing your issues with them, to ghosting the clinician and having to start over again in telling your story and building a new relationship from scratch. It may seem easier to let your sessions drop off without saying anything, but it can mean more effort in the longer-term. And research has found that often talking to your therapist about your concerns can lead to the greatest insights, and can actually strengthen the therapeutic relationship and ultimately what you get out of therapy.
7. Remember that your therapist is a trained professional
To become a psychologist, your therapist has undergone years of training, which has included rigorous feedback on their approach and style. This means they are used to receiving feedback, and should welcome your thoughts as it will help them tailor their approach more effectively to your needs. Remembering that your psychologist’s number one goal is to support you, and your feedback will help them do this more effectively, can help the motivation to raise the topic in your next session.
Therapy is already challenging at times, so if there is something getting in the way of you feeling engaged, open, or productive in therapy, then it’s important to discuss it. If you have tried discussing your concerns with your psychologist, and things still haven’t improved, you might want to consider changing psychologists. At Peaceful Mind we welcome discussions about your experience of therapy, and we offer confidential follow-up telephone debriefing if you wish to discuss your experience and/or be re-matched with another psychologist in our practice or externally.
If you’re not sure if your psychologist is the right fit for you you can read more here, or if your specific concern is something you should bring up, you can read more about what makes a psychologist good here. There are a couple more tips for sharing feedback with your psychologist available here.