We all feel judged, but never as much when your spouse is sitting next to you telling the therapist every mistake or bad decision you’ve ever made. Therefore, most clients are defensive when they come in. They want to explain to me why they did those “horrible” things or what their spouse did that was just as bad. To be totally honest, I don’t care what you did because that’s not what I’m there for. I am not the judge who is going to hand down a sentence to the worst offender. I’m too focused on other things. Here’s a list of what is going through my mind during each session.
Determine what outcomes you want:
One of the first things I do when I meet a new client or couple is to ask questions that will help me to know what they want to get out of counseling. What changes do they want? How will they know that they don’t need to come anymore? This helps me to keep them on track to obtaining their goals. It is very easy to get sidetracked and drawn off topic. It’s my job to make sure to understand where we’re headed and make sure we continue in that direction.
Identify relationship patterns:
When couples are interacting I am trying to decipher who is pursuing or withdrawing. Are they listening to what the other has to say or interrupting? Is the calm one comforting the upset one? Are they holding hands or sitting as far apart as possible? Are they respectful when they talk? All of this gives me insight into improvements that can be made within the relationship. Even if I’m seeing an individual, I want to know how they interact with their partners or family, because most of our strife in life is a result of our relationships.
Interpret what you truly mean:
On a whole, people have poor communication skills. They speak without thinking, myself included. When my clients are talking, I am listening intently and trying to identify what they really mean. Communication is a two way street. You need a transmitter and a receiver. If the transmitter isn’t clear in what they are saying, then the receiver can misinterpret the message. My job is to identify and translate the exact meaning so it can be truly understood and the transmitter can feel heard and validated.
Identify underlying emotions and triggers:
Some people have a difficult time identifying how they feel. They know what they think, but cannot identify which emotions are driving their reactions and decision-making. If you get angry because your spouse didn’t empty the dishwasher again, the actual argument usually turns to when was the last time they emptied it and who does it all the time. Couples often get sidetracked and never actually address the real issue. The real issue is that you feel hurt because it appears as though your partner doesn’t care about meeting your needs or helps to relieve your workload. You feel sad and alone. The unemptied dishwasher is just a trigger that causes an emotional reaction of an issue that has never been resolved. By identifying your emotions and triggers, we can work to resolve the real issues and move forward in your relationship.
Identify your theme:
Themes are a little more difficult to identify and explain. When people talk about their worries a theme usually emerges. Themes are broad ideas, such as, people aren’t trustworthy or the world is dangerous. Once I can identify a person’s theme, it can be addressed and resolved. This is tied to the next topic of faulty beliefs.
Identify your faulty beliefs:
When people experience trauma or encounter life’s hard knocks, they develop faulty beliefs. For example, my wheels were stolen off my car in what I considered to be a somewhat safe place. Since then, I am afraid to leave my car unsupervised due to the fear it will happen again. As you can see, my beliefs are skewed. It is very unlikely that it will ever happen again, yet I always have that thought in my head. That is a faulty belief. What therapy does is it takes that belief and disputes it so that it will change and I won’t worry about it happening again. You can see the connection between this and your theme.
Look for cognitive thinking errors:
Cognitive thinking errors are very common and we all do them from time to time. Unfortunately, they are a bad habit and keep us locked into negative thinking patterns. Here's a link to an article that explains what they are...20 Cognitive Distortions. During my sessions, I try to identify when these are keeping my clients stuck. Adjusting one’s thoughts modifies their emotions.
As you can clearly see, I am too busy analyzing what is going on in a session to be judgmental in any way or to determine who is right or wrong. My focus is on many things that my clients aren’t even aware of. As sessions continue and all of these matters are uncovered, my goal is to provide an opportunity for you to talk through your thoughts, imagine different outcomes, and to address and resolve avoided and unsettled issues. There’s really nothing to be concerned about. I’m simply thinking of ways to clarify your thoughts and feelings, so you can manage them better.