What should I talk about in counselling? Part 3 of 3, Is your therapist trustworthy and genuine?

Is your therapist genuine and trustworthy?

Ensuring you feel in your gut that your therapist is trustworthy and genuine is final blog in this 3 part in this series entitled “What should I talk about in counselling?” In part 2, I discussed how to ensure you feel safe and comfortable with your therapist/counsellor, and how those feelings impact the question of what should you talk about in counselling. This blog discusses two other very important elements of any successful therapeutic endeavour, (and which help alleviate worries for those entering counselling about what they should talk about), and that is the inner feeling that your therapist can be trusted with the things that are important to you, and that they are genuine in and about themselves in the therapeutic relationship with you – and not just “doing” therapy on you.

For this blog, let’s start with the idea of a therapist being “genuine”. Among therapists, being genuine is a phrase that causes a bit of minor controversy. This controversy is due to the way that different therapists receive training across a range of very different methodologies (or modalities). The modality of any given therapist depends upon where they did their training, how long they’ve been working in the field (as some modalities kind of come and go), and upon what  way of working best suits the personality of that specific therapist.

What is important to understand as someone approaching a therapeutic endeavour, is that different modalities place the therapist in different roles within the therapeutic relationship. This difference in role affects how they see themselves in relation to you, the client, and what their job is as your therapist. For those who have trained in classic psychodynamic modalities, the therapist sees themselves as somewhat of an expert at helping you bring out into the open unconscious thoughts, traumas or other factors from your past that lie quietly within you and are currently hidden from your overt awareness. The term for this process is “making the unconscious, conscious”. In doing this, the idea is that these things will no longer affect you in the manner that they have, and they will no longer push you into thinking, feeling or behaving in the ways that brought you into therapy in the first place (think back to the idea of the presenting problem). This means that much of the psychodynamic therapist’s efforts are geared towards working to figure you out, so they can find these currently hidden things within you.

In these efforts it is crucial that the psychodynamic therapist keep themselves largely hidden from you. In fact, it is actually a requirement that they are as opaque as possible so that none of their “stuff” interferes with the process of bringing these unconscious things out into open awareness. It is these efforts that create the image of the silent, stoic therapist with a clipboard who says little and reveals nothing of themselves.

By contrast, other modalities place the relationship between the therapist and the client firmly at the center of all that happens in a therapeutic endeavour. I am of this type. It is my opinion that being present and genuine to the greatest degree possible (whilst not making any given session about me), is absolutely critical in helping clients find a way through the maze of whatever is going on for them that brought them into counselling in the first place. Being present, being whole, and being genuine in the therapist/client relationship are the things that, in my opinion, make possible the last important feeling – that of feeling that your therapist is trustworthy.

If you reveal something to your therapist and get very little back in terms of feedback, then it is difficult to know whether that piece of information has been taken seriously, is being held as important to you, is not being ridiculed in any way nor being used as information fodder in that therapist’s efforts to work out your hidden depths. No, it is important (in my deep professional and personal opinion) that you need to be able to clearly see the human entirety of the therapist you’ve chosen to trust. It is in having the full human experience with a trained professional, that experience of knowing they are genuine whilst at the same time feeling safe and comfortable in that therapist’s presence, that enable the things you ultimately wish to talk about to simply come out – safely and at your own pace.

Once these feelings are established, it is my experience that those who come into therapy unsure of what to say or of how to proceed suddenly find themselves speaking freely and openly about things they never dreamed they would speak of. Topics that have always held dread to even consider suddenly become discussions that are achievable with tremendous personal benefit.