Is it OK to disagree with my therapist?
Absolutely. Yes, yes and yes! As a psychotherapist/counsellor, the very idea of a client disagreeing with me is enormously positive, reassuring and very welcome. As a person, I feel very much the same way. As a psychotherapist/counsellor, disagreement signifies so many different and positive things.
Firstly, disagreement highlights that the client has some self-will/psycho drive at work. It can mean that they are not seeking advice or direction. Neither of which I am comfortable with as someone who has qualified in person centred therapy.
Secondly, disagreement signifies to me that the client is not totally passive and perhaps resigned to the situation they are trying to deal with. They have not “given up”.
Thirdly, it shows to me that the client is thinking about life and their issues. This does not mean I will agree but I will question how much my agreement, or not, matters.
Fourth, it allows the client and myself to explore what is the reasoning/feeling behind the disagreeing. Is the client disagreeing perhaps a presentation of a deeper view they hold? The disagreeing, I see, as providing an opportunity to find out what is going on at a more fundamental level. To paraphrase Carl Jung “If the unconscious is not brought into the conscious then it will rule and we will call it fate”.
When we are able to peel back the layers, the disagreement can be seen in multiple ways eg. is it that the client is never listened to? Or, are they so insecure as to need to disagree in order to maintain control? Is it symptomatic of having a rigid view that makes something necessary to be disagreed with? Is disagreeing something that makes them feel uncomfortable? All of these and many more reasons offer me, as a psychotherapist/counsellor, lots of potentially rewarding lines of enquiry.
On a personal level, I welcome disagreement from a client. Like all people, I have an ego. My ego can easily get oversized and being challenged by someone, when they disagree, gives me a chance to check if, in this situation, my ego needs to be reduced.
Following on from this, a disagreement can help me to check just whose frame of reference I am coming from. Something fundamental to person centred therapy is to come from the client's frame of reference. Plainly put - am I so convinced that I am right that I have imposed and domineered with my views on an issue? I sincerely hope it has not!
If disagreement can be viewed as a difference then surely it benefits me to consider the difference. To view it as equally valid and important is so important. Difference speaks to diversity and I do feel that diversity is a strength. A strength in a relationship and in society in general.
So if the disagreement is about something as mundane as who sits where, or more profoundly a question of what I feel to be right and the client feels to be right, disagreement provides wonderful opportunities.
A part of disagreement that is different from what I have written already is how we deal with disagreement.
I am sure we have all been in situations where we have disagreed with someone and subsequently “gone head to head” with that person. Only to get angry and inflexible. This might be because of us feeling demeaned, dismissed or just not listened to. I hope we can agree that the outcome of this type of disagreement is rarely positive and can lead us to be defensive, destructive and hurt. However, as a psychotherapist I am obliged, and willing, to see it differently.
When faced with disagreement I am mindful to ask myself questions. Questions such as:
- Why is this person disagreeing with me?
- What is my role in the disagreement?
- What has the client seen/heard that brings out the disagreement?
- What is it that is causing the client to disagree?
- What does it mean for the client to disagree with me?
- Am I being seen as a person from the client's life?
- Is this how the client is in everyday life?
As a psychotherapist/counsellor all of these questions are so very useful. When I begin a session with a client I always try to keep a fresh outlook. An outlook not contaminated by the previous session or the fact that I woke up late and have had to go about the day in a rushed and hurried way. By ensuring this way of being, I am able to view disagreement not as a challenge but more as an opportunity.
We are taught about the power imbalance in the therapeutic relationship and as a therapist, I must always try to reduce it as much as possible. Disagreement can provide a good way of achieving this. So be the disagreement about where to sit, who said what or even how we hear/interpret the other, disagreement is a positive thing.
Lastly - please always disagree with the therapist if you feel it to be necessary. Be prepared to speak your truth and, just as importantly, be prepared to listen.