11 Questions You've Wanted to Ask Your Shrink, Answered
New to the talking cure? Psychiatrist Jeffery Smith, MD, author of How We Heal and Grow, offers advice to help you settle into your sessions.
What do I talk about?
Just start talking. Your unconscious mind is focused on one spot—usually an emotional place—like a cursor on a computer screen. If you come in with a fixed agenda, you may miss what the cursor is pointing to. And you should lay everything out on the table, even if it's painful or embarrassing.
Are you just going to blame my mother?
Therapy isn't about blaming parents. It's about forgiving them for being human and accepting the burden of running our own messy lives. Of course, forgiveness happens only after you get through some healthy anger.
Can I tell you if you have salad in your teeth?
You should definitely tell the therapist what you're feeling or thinking about her—that's where the emotional cursor is pointing. For instance, if you were embarrassed for her, that would bring out a whole world of feelings and say a lot about you.
What if I lie to you?
That's valuable grist for the mill. If you've lied to avoid uncomfortable feelings, talk about it. You can get to some very important material. All the ways we skitter away from emotional discomfort—addiction, dissociation, running from intimacy—those are the things that get us in trouble in the first place.
Am I boring you?
Rarely. Even if you're talking about the same things every week, I'm always hoping we'll find a new angle on it. If I'm bored, it means I'm disengaged, and I'll bring it up. I might say something like "The feelings you're having aren't really coming through, and I can't put my finger on why." When we talk about it, we're working together and I become engaged again.
Can't we resolve my issues faster?
Everybody's different. It may take quite a long time to work through trauma, and that can be difficult. But ideally, I'd like to see some measurable progress each month. If you feel things are stagnant, bring it up. Is there something you're doing unconsciously that's leaving you stuck?
Can we ever really resolve my issues?
Yes, but it may be like grieving for a lost loved one. The pain may never be gone completely, but you can get to a point where those feelings no longer take up all your energy and prevent you from being able to do other things in life.
Why can't I ask about your personal life?
You can ask anything. If you're curious, there's probably a deeper reason. Therapists do reserve the right to not answer, which goes back to Freud's idea that we should be blank slates. Of course, total objectivity is impossible—you're two people in a relationship. But it's a one-way relationship about your emotional needs. The more you know about me, the more likely you are to worry about my feelings.
What if I'm attracted to you?
This happens a lot in therapy. Often it's about trying to resolve issues from childhood—for instance, you may be longing for the nurturing you didn't get when you were young. Your therapist should maintain strict boundaries so you can talk about your feelings without turning the discussion into a flirtation.
Do you think about me between sessions?
People do pop into my mind. I just got a voice mail from somebody I haven't seen in two years. The funny thing is, I'd been thinking about her on the way to the office.
Do you care about me?
A social worker friend once told me, "It's the love that gets people better." When I say "love," I'm talking about the empathic connection we have with our patients. But there's a difference between caring and fixing. I'm not going to solve your problems, but I'll help you go through the pain.