As we work to empower clients to get the most out of their therapy, we start by taking a look at the framework of the relationship. Long-held myths and misconceptions often leave clients feeling unnecessarily confined in what they say, ask, or do in sessions. Let's straighten this out.
In the spirit of collaboration, I'll propose some ideas and if you have ideas for changes or additions, please let me know!
10 Rules for the empowered client in therapy:
1. Clients can ask any question they want.
Too many clients censor themselves because they believe it is impolite or against protocol to ask the therapist questions. This censorship restricts the authentic communication in the session. You might not always get the answer you were looking for, but you might learn something about therapy or about yourself in the process.
2. Clients can talk about anything they want.
It's your time, your session, your life. You're paying the bill, so you can talk about anything you want. To get the most out of your therapy, have a clear idea of what you'd like to cover before the session.
3. "Odd" thoughts are allowed & encouraged.
The apparently random thoughts or memories that we keep to ourselves in the rest of our life are absolutely fair game for therapy sessions. In fact, they can be among the most illuminating material you cover.
4. Clients can take their own notes.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings between sessions has proven invaluable for many people. It greatly improves the flow and continuity of sessions.
5. Clients get to take the whole hour.
Most therapy "hours" are 45 or 50 minutes, giving the therapist time to write notes, return phone calls and attend to personal business before the next session. Show up for your session 10 minutes early to collect your thoughts and plan what you'd like to talk about in the session.
6. Issues between client and therapist take top priority.
Problems within the relationship need to be addressed first because all other work will be impacted. Don't wait for the therapist to bring it up, he may not even be aware there is a problem.
7. Clients choose how they want to be helped.
Are you looking for feedback? Someone to sit with you as you think out loud? Wisdom, advice, professional opinion? A companion as you face some difficult emotions? Fine, all are welcome in therapy - just tell the therapist how you want to be helped with your issue of the day.
8. Clients and therapists team up against obstacles.
Problems arise all the time in therapy. That's the nature of the work. Try to remember it's you and your therapist teamed up against the problem, not you vs. the therapist. If it feels like the latter, be sure to talk about it (point 6).
9. Clients don't need to take care of the therapist.
The pleasantries of the outside world aren't necessary in therapy. Christmas cards, "how was your weekend?", sugar-coating difficult material, and avoiding conflict are not needed. Therapy is one place that is all about you. You pay plenty for this time - let the therapist meet her social needs on her own time.
10. Clients can ask for a status report at any time.
You're always entitled to know where you stand. Are you reaching your goals, engaging in the process sufficiently, or getting caught by an obstacle? Feel free to ask. Better yet, give your own opinion and collaborate on the status report with your therapist.