What are you supposed to feel during therapy?
Clients will often question what they are supposed to feel during therapy. Many times, a client has caught herself laughing during a session and then quickly questioning whether that is ok? And, other times, a client may become self-conscious when he finds himself crying in session, despite the tissue box intentionally set up next to the couch for that very occasion. Therapy is meant to bring out the full range of human emotions that people experience in the world outside of therapy, so it is in fact ok to have fun and also ok to have a tough time during your therapy hour. It is expected that you will feel anxious, excited, overwhelmed, angry, happy, sad and hopeful at different points throughout therapy. Ideally, therapy offers a safe space for you to process the range of human emotions without fear of judgment and with support. Not only is it ok to feel all of these feelings, but also this is one of the most valuable parts of the entire therapy process because it helps individuals learn to acknowledge their feelings, but then it also helps them learn how to deal with them too.
As a society, we tend not to focus on conversations about our feelings. When asked “how are you”, the expected response is “good” regardless of how you may actually be. In actuality, good is not even a feeling word at all. When many people first begin therapy and are asked how they feel about something, they will often respond with a thought. Madeline Weinfeld, LMSW provides an example of what this may sound like:
Therapist: How do you feel when your mom disregards your opinion and goes ahead with her own plan?
Client: Like she is unable to consider anyone but herself
The client’s response does describe a reaction to the therapist’s question, but the reply indicates a thought rather than a feeling. It is typically a lot more difficult to identify the feeling one is experiencing rather than detailing the many thoughts she is thinking.
Therapy will challenge a client to go deeper and consider the feelings that exist, and have always existed, regardless of whether or not one previously had the language to discuss them. Though it may seem elementary at first, clients quickly realize that being challenged to use feeling words is quite difficult at first. However, with time and persistence, access to these feeling words become more readily accessible and clients find they begin to identify and acknowledge their feelings as they arise throughout the week outside of the therapy space as well. Once someone is able to acknowledge his feelings, he can then implement the tools and strategies that will help him process and cope with said feelings. What one practices in the therapy room begins to happen outside of the therapy room, and that is one of the many powers of therapy.