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What Not to Say to Your Therapist (According to a Therapist)

If you’ve ever been in therapy, you know that, as beneficial as it can be, it can also be really awkward. Especially if you’re not someone who’s forthcoming with their feelings, letting a stranger into the most private parts of your life and your mind can be scary. Does she think I’m crazy? Am I even anxious enough to need therapy in the first place? That’s why we checked in with Leigh McInnis, LPC, Executive Director for Newport Academy Virginia, for the things you shouldn’t say to your therapist.

It’s important to note that by “things you shouldn’t say,” we don’t mean your therapist is judging you for the work you’re doing. “In my experience, there is nothing that a client can say that I wouldn’t ‘like’ to hear,” McInnis tells us. “Provided that a client is openly communicating their perceptions, experiences, thoughts and feelings, it is all good work for therapy.She adds, though, that there are some things that clients may say that would not be great for the therapeutic process, including the three below.

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1. “I Agree With You Completely.”

McInnis tells us that saying things like “You’re so smart!,” “I agree with you completely!” or “Everything worked out perfectly because of you!” can detract from the therapy experience, since therapy should be a safe space to engage with honesty and authenticity. “Both the client and therapist play a role in creating and reinforcing this sense of safety. As a therapist, it means so much to me when a client communicates a concern about the therapy space or about my approach as a clinician—this provides an opportunity for me to adjust to better support them, it demonstrates their investment in the therapeutic process and it communicates that we’re making progress toward creating such a safe space that we can work through disagreements.” Basically, if you feel like there are things your therapist could be doing better in order to help you more, speak up.

2. “That’s What You Would Have Done, Right?”

Questions like, “You agree with me, don’t you?” or “That’s what you would have done, right?” are also counterproductive.  This directly relates back to the need for therapy to be a safe space to engage with honesty and authenticity—it goes both ways.” While your therapist’s observations may not always be easy to hear, it is important to go into the process with an openness to at least consider the possibilities of a therapist’s observations and insights. “This demands a lot of vulnerability with someone who you likely haven’t had a lot of time to build trust, but it is essential to the process of building trust,” McInnis notes.

3. “Tell Me What I Should Do.”

Therapy is intended to be empowering, McInnis stresses. “As a therapist, my hope for my clients is to feel equipped to respond to life’s challenges, even when I am not immediately available or accessible.” She adds that saying things like, “Therapy will never work for someone like me,” “I’m hopeless, this is pointless,” or “Tell me what I should do,” are actually really harmful. “While many people feel broken after experiencing traumas, hardships, disappointments or losses, this doesn’t mean that you’re broken.” Again, therapy is a two-way street. “We both have to believe that underneath that feeling of brokenness, that you are capable and resilient. The proof is in your survival, no matter the choices that were made to support you to endure during and following these challenges.” Acknowledging what you’ve been through is necessary, but to allow those experiences stop you from moving forward is a disservice to yourself. 

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