Reflections On Honesty From A Therapist's Perspective

Let me start by first saying I am always so impressed at how resilient and amazing each and every one of my clients are! I am a mental health therapist and every day I am filled with stories from all walks of lives and different perspectives. Some of them are inspiring, some of them are horrifying, and some of them- if I’m being honest are a little bit boring. Regardless of the type of story I’m told, I know that each story I am told takes courage to share.

Sharing is really, really scary!

If we’re being real here, and I hope we all are (it *is* honesty month at the Lady Project Blog after all), sharing and being vulnerable is really, really scary! Don’t believe me? Just check out any of Brene Brown’s books, talks or research. When we’re honest, we leave ourselves wide open to be judged, criticized and possibly even rejected. 

In therapy, we often tell ourselves and our clients the therapy room is a “judgment-free zone.” Though the reality is that while I and other therapists try our best to keep that commitment true, we are all human beings with our own thoughts, feelings and opinions. While I can’t promise I will never have a human reaction or judgment about something you’ve shared, I can promise I will do my best to have a real, genuine conversation about these interactions. Often with a little discussion and clarifying our experience, we can learn that being honest doesn’t have to be so scary. In fact, it can be healthy to experience these scary feelings to realize they don’t define who we are or our worth as person.

I don’t expect you to tell me everything

In the first session with a therapist, you will be asked a lot or really personal questions about all areas of your life. Some of these questions may seem totally unrelated to your reason for starting therapy, and honestly that may be true. As a therapist, it’s my job to help my clients notice any patterns or factors that seem irrelevant but could actually be contributing to your presenting problem.

The truth is, I don’t expect my clients to be totally 100% honest with me right away. While I know my clients come to me because they trust and value my expertise, there is always a growing period in the beginning of any new relationship where trust needs to develop. In therapy, we call this building a therapeutic alliance, or therapeutic rapport, with each other. My clients and I need to be able to trust each other in order to feel comfortable being honest, and that takes time. This period of time is often referred to as the Beginning Phase of Treatment. 

The process is where it’s at

Beyond that first phase of treatment, most individual therapy sessions average 45-50minutes per week. This leaves a lot of time outside the therapy room to experience life. It would be impossible to discuss everything that happens outside of the therapy room. Nor would it be beneficial to my client’s progress. The truth is that I don’t necessarily need to know everything. In therapy, the circumstances aren’t always the most important piece to the story. As a therapist, I am interested in helping my clients identify their process and how this impacts their experience of a situation or emotion that has been distressing to them. As with anything, there are of course exceptions to this rule. However, if we can build awareness, or insight, to these patterns, that is where real change and growth can occur.

The most important person to be honest with is yourself

While I would love it if all of my clients were honest with me in all of our sessions, I know that it’s more important they are real with themselves. The best I can do is provide the space, skills, and reflection to foster this type of thinking. The real work comes from my client’s being honest with themselves. The truth is, we are always with ourselves. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, how can we expect others to be honest with us? It can feel horribly uncomfortable when we start getting real with ourselves, which is why it’s also important to be gentle, kind, and loving to ourselves also. When we value ourselves, we make it easier to trust ourselves. The truth is, we all know the real reasons we feel the way we do. We may even know what to do to change. We may just need a little help learning how to implement the best changes for our lives so we can live full, meaningful, and healthy lives!