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How can I become better at opening up to people, especially my therapist?
April 9, 2010 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Therapy is torture. If I quit, I'll feel like I've failed. If I keep going, it will just be more torture. How can I become better at opening up to people, especially my therapist? Should I be changing therapists at this point?

I've been in therapy with the same therapist for over a year now, and I still struggle immensely with finding ways to connect and talk with her. She'll ask me what I want to talk about, and I'll say that I don't know or care. When she asks me questions about my feelings about certain subjects, I'll repeatedly repeat that I don't know.

The thing is, I get so uncomfortable with therapy and with her questions (that seem to have the expectation of answers) that I really do feel like I'm blanking out and don't know the answers. Outside of therapy, I am keenly aware of my internal monologue; but once I step into that room, I just hole up somewhere and lose my ability to form words.

I've gotten a lot from therapy, but I feel like now that I'm "stabilized," I don't know how to talk to my therapist anymore. She has made sarcastic/joking comments to me about my avoidance but that doesn't help. I feel like all we do is talk around things instead of getting to the heart of them.

I have a hard time bringing up difficult or vulnerable subject matter with people in my every day life, too. I often talk around stuff with them, as well. I guess I just expected that a therapist would help me get past that.

So, my questions are still the same: How can I become better at opening up to people, especially my therapist? Should I be changing therapists at this point?

Throw-away e-mail address: mefime29@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
It might be helpful to write down some of your internal monologue or vulnerable subject matter during the week and then bring that to your therapy sessions.

Another option is to find a new therapist if you feel that you have difficulty specific to your current therapist. It's your therapy, and trust me, if you keep looking you will find someone who you do feel comfortable opening up to or who will be skilled enough to help you get past your initial difficulties.
posted by icy at 4:44 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would point out that from your description, you are probably talking around the difficulties you are having in therapy with your therapist. I would suggest that next time you go, when asked what to talk about, you say "This feels like torture, but if I quit I will feel like I have failed. I feel so uncomfortable about your questions that I really do feel like I'm blanking out and don't know the answers. I also have a hard time bringing up difficult or vulnerable subject matter with people in my every day life. I expected that you would help me get past that, and it isn't happening. What can we do about this?"

And you kill two birds with one stone. You practice bring up things that are uncomfortable, and you start the process of fixing the way therapy works for you. Good luck, it is hard work.
posted by procrastination at 4:54 AM on April 9, 2010 [12 favorites]


When you're not in therapy, and the mood strikes you, write a letter to your therapist. Say all of the things in the letter that you want to say to her. Then give her the letter. At the very least, this will highlight some of the areas that you're having problems with. If you feel better about it, try recording what you want to say, verbally.

I think, though, that you're going to need to work out why you shut down. Armchair psychiatry suggests that at some point in the past, you opened up to someone and got hurt, and that's why you're doing it. Take that with a pinch of salt, though.
posted by Solomon at 4:59 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The thing is, I get so uncomfortable with therapy and with her questions (that seem to have the expectation of answers) that I really do feel like I'm blanking out and don't know the answers.

What I'm hearing when I read this is that you think there are right answers to your therapist's questions, and you're struggling to articulate them. Instead of trying to say the things you think you should say in therapy, just talk. Talk about anything, without an agenda and without paying attention to whether or not what you're saying is what "should" be said in therapy.

It might help to journal what you're thinking and feeling and bring that into your next session, then read it aloud in front of your therapist. Or spend a session where your therapist doesn't say anything at first, just lets you riff for half the time.

Remember that you're in charge of your own therapy sessions. You may want to change therapists, but you may encounter the same issues if the problem isn't the person who's in the other chair.
posted by xingcat at 5:00 AM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Print out your post and take it to your next session. Give a copy to your therapist and ask her to help you work on these concerns. She can't do that without your assistance.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:42 AM on April 9, 2010


When she asks me questions about my feelings about certain subjects, I'll repeatedly repeat that I don't know. . .

I feel like all we do is talk around things instead of getting to the heart of them.


Changing therapists might help you, but from your description the problem is your simple refusal to engage in the talk. If you go to a new therapist, will you commit to talking?

-
posted by General Tonic at 6:24 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seconding writing down your thoughts and bringing it to your session. That way when you get the same old feelings of 'I'm in this room and I don't want to be' you can pull out what you wrote and just read.

That said, I wouldn't think switching therapists would be a bad idea. You may have reached your potential with your current therapist. You say you've made progress. Maybe you should look at that as evidence that your work with this person is done and to move onto other issues you need to see someone else.
posted by morganannie at 6:24 AM on April 9, 2010


Do you feel like you need to continue? I know that when I went to my old therapist 8 years ago (saw her for 3 years) that I honestly didn't have anything to say. I felt fine, things were fine, I got of meds because they weren't helping anymore, I just felt ready to live life. So I left. I was doing well for 8 years. But new baby, new challenges, marriage down the tubes made me realize I needed to see her again. I did for two months and it was different than the first time. I never progressed at all. So I decided to see someone else. So far, I did't find the right one but I don't feel that going back to my old one is the right choice either. I KNOW I need work, help, etc. so I have to continue.

The main question is, do you have anything to talk about or do you go because of schedule, routine, and maybe a slight addiction in seeing her? Maybe you really are done or at least need a break. Perhaps quit for a few months and live life. See how it goes without relying on someone to be there as a crutch (no offense; just been there).

Good luck!!
posted by stormpooper at 6:57 AM on April 9, 2010


I had the exact same problem for a long time. What you need to realize is that this problem is (probably) central to and (potentially) a major cause of your other problems. I used to think that it was the "issues" that I couldn't talk about that were causing me so much pain. But the truth is, it was the inability to discuss my feelings, to be honest about them, or even to open up in any vulnerable way, that was creating those other issues. My other issues were really a way of dealing with the pain of not being able to be share my feelings with anyone. The silence is a coping mechanism, a way to protect yourself. Perhaps you felt at some point in your life (childhood?) that you weren't allowed to be open about your feelings or that something bad would happen if you did. This behavior can really stick with you and be hard to kick, because it becomes so central to how you believe you are supposed to live your life.

If you want to have a higher quality of life and really want to feel close to people, you need to work on this. It's definitely hard to start, but once you do start you'll see that it's easy! I used to have a sense that the world would end if I really opened up, and clearly that hasn't happened since we're all still here :) What worked for me pretty well was group therapy. It's a good place to ease into talking about your issues, because you don't have to participate right away -- you can get to know and become comfortable with the other people first. You also don't feel so studied and alone. Everyone is supportive and understanding. And everyone really wants everyone else to be happy and get better.

But I also think individual therapy is indispensable. The therapist that I finally opened up with really pushed me to write in a journal through the week and to read bits of it out loud when I came in. This was very very difficult. But again, you do it the first couple of times and you learn that the world will not end. And you also learn that it's a huge, huge relief to finally say some of that stuff out loud. It really feels good. After doing this for a little while you will be able to open up to your friends more as well.

As to whether you should switch therapists . . . perhaps. If you really don't feel comfortable with her, then definitely switch. If you try out the group therapy idea you might be able to get good recommendations for someone else. But if you know deep down that she's not the problem, then really try to stick it out. Otherwise you're going to bounce from person to person and never really deal with these issues.

You're not alone! You can do this :)
posted by imalaowai at 8:05 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Therapy is not for everyone. Maybe it is not for you. I, for example, don't like to talk about my emotional self until I have sorted it out in my head. This usually involves talking to myself - literally. I talk to myself in the car and when I'm home alone, etc and thats how i sort and clarify what I'm feeling and why. I think some people prefer to write or journal, but I like to talk or make little reminder lists of what i need to figure out when I am able to talk.

You say you can listen to your inner monologue. Why don't you try quitting therapy all together and listening to yourself and sorting out your thoughts in whatever way suits you. If it works for you, great, if not then you can always go back to therapy and start anew with a different therapist.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:28 AM on April 9, 2010


> I've been in therapy with the same therapist for over a year now, and I still struggle immensely with finding ways to connect and talk with her. She'll ask me what I want to talk about

DTMF.

If after a year, she still hasn't been skillful enough to find the leverage point that would get you to open up-- and given that you've been motivated enough to attend for a year--

she's incompetent. (Or, to be charitable, let's say she's "incompatible".)

At least with you.

Find someone else.

To repeat the standard line of advice, find someone well-credentialed in NLP or CBT.

Why?

Because both these methods stress linguistic and intellectual precision, and counterintuitively, linguistic precision matters enormously when it comes to a) finding out what the actual emotional, too-scary-to-deal-with problem is; b) discovering how you are maintaining your problem; and c) changing what you do, so that you have a workable solution that you can incorporate into the behavioral repertoire of your new self-image and identity.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:42 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think you should talk to your therapist about your difficulties opening up to him/her.
posted by callmejay at 10:06 AM on April 9, 2010


A good therapeutic relationship is central to the success of your therapy. A year is a long time and if you still haven't connected with her, then it sounds as if it won't happen at all, regardless of your own difficulty to open up.

I don't open up easily. I spent months with my first therapist, not knowing what to say, not caring either, until I realised it wasn't only about me, but about him (or rather "us", how we interacted). I then found my current therapist. I've been seeing her for more than two years, and although I didn't really open up during the first year, I could feel that she understood me and that there was a good chance of achieving something with her.

I think that if you don't at least feel that it is going somewhere, then you should give yourself another chance and find another therapist. It's not a failure, just an adjustment.
posted by celine at 10:46 AM on April 9, 2010


As awkward as it is, talk to her about your inability to talk to her. You probably won't be any more successful with another therapist if you can't do this and it's probably a sign of bigger problems. Sometimes this is easier to talk about than things going on in your actual life, because it feels more peripheral, but it can lead to deeper talks about what's actually going on. Been there.
posted by Raichle at 11:06 AM on April 9, 2010


Maybe this is standard in therapy nowadays, but I've never seen "What do you want to talk about?" get anybody to open up about anything. Unless there is a "something" that the person is bursting at the seams to talk about, the answer will invariably be "I don't know." It's like "Tell me about yourself" or "Say something in French" -- those infinitely open-ended questions that immediately make the askee uncomfortable and their mind a blank, unless they have something rehearsed which kind of defeats the purpose of therapy.

From just what you've said, it sounds like your therapist is not doing of very good job of trying to get you to talk. Does she start talking, or bring up subjects of her own, or ask different kinds of questions? If all you needed were a one-sided receptacle for your inner-monologue, you could write in a diary.

I think you can tell her (or print out) what you said here and see where she goes. But I feel like the point of a therapist is to help you to open up -- even if it's like pulling teeth -- and if she's not able to do that, then your relationship with her is not working.
posted by thebazilist at 11:25 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does she start talking, or bring up subjects of her own, or ask different kinds of questions? If all you needed were a one-sided receptacle for your inner-monologue, you could write in a diary.

Not to derail, but not starting the conversation and not bringing up subjects of her own don't necessarily mean she's a bad therapist. Mine (who is anything but Freudian) doesn't initiate the conversation during our sessions; she waits for me to bring something up.

It's been a useful aspect of the therapy, in part because we talked about it. If we hadn't talked about it, I think I would have continued feeling awkward, and like I had to come up with the "right" answer, as xingcat suggests.

Nthing "talk to your therapist about this". Suggested phrasing: I get so uncomfortable with therapy and with your questions (that seem to have the expectation of answers) that I really do feel like I'm blanking out and don't know the answers. Outside of therapy, I am keenly aware of my internal monologue; but once I
step into this room, I just hole up somewhere and lose my ability to form words.


Also, this part stood out to me: She has made sarcastic/joking comments to me about my avoidance but that doesn't help.

Please say something to her about this. "That sounded very sarcastic, which is not helpful. When you get sarcastic and joke about this, I feel like you're criticizing me and telling me I'm not doing well enough to be worth your time and effort [or however you experience it]. It makes me feel even more avoidant and even less able to try to work with what's going on. Please speak directly instead of couching things in sarcasm."

Maybe she has a reason for phrasing it the way she does. Maybe she's just letting her own emotions spill over inappropriately. Either way, she should be willing to discuss it with you, I think. Not being willing to would be enough to make me start looking elsewhere.
posted by Lexica at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2010


Quick suggestion: Read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck -- his whole idea is that meaningful personal growth can only be obtained through a process of suffering. Meaningful change is never easy because it requires us to begin seeing ourselves differently.

Doubtless, you already know this idea (and likely agree with it), but Peck does a good job of really making the argument, which may make you feel more motivated to endure the torture of therapy.

Wishing you the best,
BME
posted by betamercapto at 9:32 AM on April 10, 2010


It appears you have more than enough to tell your therapist about the experience of working with her. I would suggest you read her exactly what you wrote on this page. It may be exactly what the treatment needs.
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection at 2:51 PM on May 17, 2010


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