What does it matter what I feel about my therapist?
In most counselling sessions, you might expect your counsellor to be interested in your feelings. After all, it is because you of the way you are feeling that you go for counselling in the first place. But some clients are surprised when their counsellor brings attention to how they are feeling about them during and between sessions. Being asked to focus on, and talk about, the way you are feeling towards your counsellor can be difficult and, frankly, can seem a little self-obsessed – “This is not about you, you know!”
But it is, or at least it can be, about both of you. Particularly if you and your counsellor are trying to explore how your unconscious mind affects your conscious thoughts and feelings. There are many ways to unearth the patterns and experiences from within the unconscious. One of the most direct is to pay attention to what arises in the room, in the moment, when you are in therapy. The relationship you have with your therapist will reflect, sometimes in amazing detail, aspects of the relationships you have elsewhere in your life. This means that noticing the things you think and feel about the relationship between you is directly relevant.
So when your counsellor says something like “So what is going on between us here, right now?”, he or she is not looking for reassurance, or criticism, but for information for you both. Whatever it is you feel, it is worth saying, worth paying attention to. Your therapist will be doing the same with the feelings that they are having too, noticing what arises and wondering how it connects to your unconscious ways of being. Which means, of course, that it is not just the ‘nice’ feelings that need to be talked about. There may be positive aspects of ourselves which could benefit from a better awareness of respect, admiration and love, but those are probably not the feelings that are bringing you for counselling. What about when you feel annoyed, or hurt, or abandoned by your counsellor? That could be really useful to talk about. Remember, your counsellor wants to hear about those feeling too!
It is through feelings that we make real connections with each other, and it is through bringing those feelings and connections into awareness that change occurs.
Therapy based on the active role of the unconscious is known as ‘psychodynamic’. The terms ‘transference’ and ‘countertransference’ are used by therapists to refer the interplay of feelings between client and therapist which have been referred to here.
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About Matthew Haggis
I became a counsellor/psychotherapist because I came to realise that achieving what we want from life is closely related to how we feel about ourselves. Understanding how we respond to what life throws at us often requires deep exploration. My training has included person-centred, psychodynamic, transactional analysis, and existential approaches.