Improving Your Relationship With Your Therapist by Giving Feedback
Research has shown that giving your therapist feedback can significantly increase the effectiveness of therapy. It’s good to give feedback to your therapist whether you’ve just begun seeing them or they’re a therapist you’ve been working with for a long time.
If you’re just beginning, it’s good to establish practices that work for you early. If it’s someone you’ve been seeing for a while, it’s all the more worthwhile to preserve the relationship you’ve built by keeping it open and honest about what works for you.
What to Share with Your Therapist
Your therapist may already have a time and method for you to give feedback. If not, here are some things to ask yourself that might lead to productive topics to bring up with your therapist.
- How do you feel about the progress of your therapy, and the issues you initially came to therapy to address?
- How do you feel about the therapist’s performance? (e.g., Do they listen well? Do they explain themselves clearly? Do they arrive to your appointments on time?)
- How do you feel about your relationship to your therapist? (e.g. Do you feel comfortable and safe sharing? Do you feel judged? How do you deal with disagreements?)
- What’s next? How will you both address the issues brought up?
Giving feedback can be tough, especially if it’s negative. Here are a few steps that might help to make it easier.
Remember that you’re paying for your therapy. You’re the client, and so, in a sense, you’re the boss. You’re probably paying a significant amount for therapy, and you have the right to expect your therapist to fit their practices to your particular needs.
Gather your thoughts ahead of time. If you’re nervous about giving feedback to your therapist, especially negative feedback, it may help to write down your thoughts beforehand. Write down your concerns, what you’d like to have change, and any questions you have. Be as specific as possible.
Don’t be accusatory. Therapists are people too, and emotionally vulnerable like the rest of us. No one likes to be accused or blamed, and it isn’t a path to a productive conversation.
Try to use “I” statements, and talk about what is or isn’t working for you, rather than what the therapist is doing wrong.
For example, “I feel like I haven’t been making the progress I want to lately” or “Sometimes I don’t feel heard when I disagree with you.” While not necessarily easy to hear, these are likely a lot easier to respond constructively to than “You haven’t been helping me” or “You’re not listening to me.”
Be open to what your therapist says. Try to hear what your therapist has to say in response to your feedback. You’ve both created the relationship; you may be responsible for some negative aspects, too.
Giving feedback isn’t a contest to be won, or an opportunity to reassert yourself as the boss; it’s a process of mutual listening with the goal of improving the process of therapy.
Try to remember that you and your therapist are on the same team. You both want your well-being to improve. Giving feedback is about communicating honestly and openly about the best way for that to happen.
What if my relationship with my therapist is really going downhill?
If a once-positive relationship with a therapist has soured, and giving feedback hasn’t helped, you may wish to consider consultation. This is when you and your therapist invite another therapist to sit in on your sessions. This therapist can provide a neutral viewpoint and fresh perspectives, working towards a position you can both feel good about.
It may be tempting to simply abandon a soured relationship with a therapist, but there are good reasons to put some effort into salvaging it, if the relationship was good before. You’ve both put time and effort into developing an understanding of your unique situation, and built up a relationship and rapport that will take time to build with a new therapist.
If you don’t see improvement after feedback or consultation, you should certainly find a new therapist. Sometimes therapists aren’t the right fit any more, even if they were at one time.
Therapists are evolving and changing people with their own issues; if you and your therapist really just no longer match well, it may be time to move on.