Why do we edit our own stories…in therapy?
Yes, I’ve been there. I’ve sat on the therapy couch and shared a carefully curated selection of my life story. I’ve taken my time getting to the parts that feel the most shameful, ugly, embarrassing or secretive. I have edited my own life, even though I know that I’m omitting the pieces of my story that are the reason I sought out therapy in the first place. Why oh why do I do that? Apparently, I’m not the only one!
Perhaps you have heard the phrase “therapeutic relationship.” It refers to the relationship that develops between the therapist and the client throughout the process of therapy. Therapy truly is a relationship, and you absolutely need to find a therapist with whom you can forge a good relationship. A good therapeutic relationship is not the same as a good friendship. Sometimes your therapist might be someone you can imagine being friends with, but just as often you’ll find the right therapist would not necessarily be in your friend group. In a therapist you need someone you can respect, work with, be honest with, and most of all a person you can trust. A person you can trust to hear the parts of you that you are most ashamed of, most confused by, and want desperately to hide from the world. A person who can point out your strengths and also your challenges, struggles and weaknesses, and who can call you out when you are getting pulled back into the muck just as well as they can shine the light on your progress and your successes. A person that cares about you as a person now, and cares about the person you are working to become.
Can friendships serve this purpose? Sometimes. In fact I often say that in a perfect world we simply wouldn’t need therapists because friends and family members would play this role. As the world is, though, friends and families have their own needs, agendas and perspectives. Sometimes they will be there for you as the perfect sounding board, but there are times that friends and family simply cannot step into this role for you.
But I digress – let me circle back to why we might edit our story. I believe that it often has to do with that little word back there in the middle of the second paragraph. Trust. 5 letters that carry the weight of the world. Of course, there may be other reasons we omit, edit, or flat out lie in therapy (controlling our own story, experimenting with creating a new version of ourselves, habit…name your own motivation here: ______), but trust is likely one of the foundational reasons.
While at first glance it may seem silly to spend time getting to the heart of your story in therapy, in truth it may indicates healthy boundaries and reasonable decision making. After all, you are offering this person some of the most vulnerable parts of who you are. Do you trust them? Will they hold those parts gently, care for them lovingly? Or will they scoff, tease, dismiss or otherwise belittle those fragile parts? Does this therapist understand what it takes for you to walk through that door and share those secret parts? Or will they find them silly and not worth their time?
Yes, we edit our stories…until we trust. And then the real work begins.
When you begin therapy, give yourself time to build that trust with your therapist, but not too much time (after all, it is your time and money – don’t waste it!). If after a few sessions you still do not feel the trust build between you and your therapist, you have a few choices: 1) spend some thinking about whether you are putting up boundaries that are keeping you from developing that trust, and whether you can make a change that might lead to a difference; 2) bring it up with your therapist and see if it leads to a helpful conversation about how things might improve; 3) decline further sessions and find another therapist.
Ultimately, though, keep in mind that we are all human and that we naturally connect (or don’t connect) with certain people. This is true in therapy the same way it’s true in the office, at school, in life, at social events, and so forth. If you don’t connect with your therapist, don’t worry – some other therapist out there will be a better match for you.
Wishing you all the best finding your perfect therapy match!