You know at a gut level that therapy is weird, but why?
Below is an example I found from a Google search that sums it up.
“Do you also feel weird whenever you visit your therapist? I’ve been seeing her for almost two years. She is great. She’s sensitive, caring, intelligent… I like her very much. She has helped me a lot but – I still feel weird, and nervous, even anxious and sometimes even afraid whenever I visit her. I don’t understand why! I believe that it has to do with deep-seated shame that I have about myself because I was abused and bullied as a child. I don’t know. I also feel terrified of her ever seeing me cry. I never did cry so far, and I don’t know why but the mere thought that I might burst into tears in front of her terrifies me! I don’t understand myself some times. Why do I feel this way when she’s such a great therapist? Plus I don’t really trust her, but I know that this has to do with the fact that I can’t trust anyone! But at the same time, I idolize her some times. I look her up on the internet trying to find her facebook account, I couldn’t find it but I found some other accounts and I keep staring at her pictures. And then I feel ashamed of myself and I stop doing that for a while… I believe that the relationship with the therapist is one of the most complicated that I have ever experienced. Does anyone else feel the same way or am I just crazy?”
Perhaps you are recoiling in horror at this person’s revelation, thinking her some kind of freak. Or, maybe you have had your own version of this experience, and feel the heat of shame rising up your neck. The truth is, if you’ve ever gotten somewhat deep into a therapy relationship, you have likely experienced something similar, even if it’s milder, or has a different quality to it. That’s because this is normal.
This example is just one version of what is called a “transference” experience. It happens to be a very strong one, though many are not. Most of the time, because of the fact that therapy does not happen very frequently or over a long period of time anymore, and is now more about “willful management” than anything else, transference experiences are usually much milder. People employ their “usual tricks” to manage their feelings, end up feeling weird anyway, and leave, often because of “finances,” or some other reasonably legitimate thing. And that’s too bad because they have missed the chance to really get to know themselves and have effortless control over their lives.
Believe it or not, transference experiences are exactly what you want to have happened in therapy if your desire is to reach the goals that have been eluding you despite work on your own. And THAT is why therapy is weird. You are expected to feel things you don’t want to feel, and then you are expected to talk about them, with someone you don’t really know and aren’t sure you trust.
Whether they know it or not, most therapists work from a model that originally included the use of “the transference” to help you. Therapy traditionally always included discussing what you thought or felt about your therapist. These days though, therapists don’t tell you that because until recent brain science caught up, (which it finally has), that model of therapy wasn’t “validated” by science, and so it was better to teach “willful management” to people and pretend the transference didn’t exist. But the transference was always happening, and it still is. (That’s why research shows that it is the relationship that is the most important element in therapy, not the type of therapy.)
No matter what kind of therapy you are in, transference experiences WILL be happening to you, but you will not necessarily be working with someone trained in using them to help you. Your transference experiences will go un-analyzed, and you may be strengthening the elements of your personality that undermine you. Proceed with caution.
Transference experiences allow you and your therapist to understand you deeply, and to help you accept ALL of yourself. Talking about anything and everything that comes from inside you, you will begin to understand and embrace your feelings, your prohibitions against them, and the ways they motivated your behavior in the past. You will be able to see clearly how they are motivating choices you face in the future, and you will have an easier time making the “right” choices because (formerly) “unacceptable” impulses (longing in the case above) won’t be motivating you from their secret hide-outs in your mind.
When your unconscious reveals itself to you with an “unacceptable” thought or feeling (that you couldn’t possibly say) while you are in therapy, think of it as a gift. You are now doing real work. You will be consciously looking at your deepest self, and that’s the whole point. Take advantage of it.
Interested in this weirdness? Give me a call. We’ll talk.
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