Can this therapeutic relationship be saved?
July 17, 2017 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Been seeing my therapist a long time. I don't want to quit, but there are times when I am out of things to say.

I've been going to my therapist for years and I love her. We have a nice deal worked out where I do phone sessions during my lunch hour because I can't skip out for 2 hours a week to go to in-person sessions. I live in a small town and I had a very difficult time for years finding someone I could see regularly under the circumstances--getting one that lives in the nearest big city was the closest I could do. I have ongoing recurring issues in my life that aren't going to go away any time soon or far that I need therapeutic assistance with. I have no intention of ever quitting therapy because "I'm all better now," that's just not going to happen and that is not a goal I am ever going to shoot for. I have periodic drama bombs going off in my life that I need help with and who knows when the next bomb is gonna go off.

However, when things are not going crazy on me (right now things are pretty quiet), I find myself not having much to say in therapy these days and it's really awkward. What I end up wanting to talk about is hippie-dippie angsty shit about why can't I get on with creative endeavors and why am I chickening out, stuff like that. However, both therapist and I are completely and utterly Out Of Ideas as to what to do differently there. So sometimes I just feel like I have nothing to talk about and we're both stumped and brain dead.

I suspect the first thing you want to type reading this is, "Quit and find a new therapist!" But I don't want to do that. I really like this one, I don't want to go shop around for a new one since it took me years to find one that worked for me, and I know if I quit seeing this one, I am not going to be motivated to take that much time again to find another. I don't want to get a new one "just for a change." And I've already asked--going part time/less than weekly isn't an option, and if I give up my time slot and change my mind and want to come back, I probably won't be able to get back the old slot or get a new slot that works with my job. I could do an occasional session if I really needed it, but overall I can't help but think that if I quit, THEN more drama will blow up and then where will I be?

So I don't want to quit therapy, I want to preserve it. I need ideas as to what to do/cover/talk about during weeks where I don't have much going on. What do those of you who do therapy talk about when things are temporarily going well for you? What do you work on?
posted by jenfullmoon to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
When things are going well for me, I've used therapy to make concrete plans for what I will do next time things get stressful. Lots of stepping back to reflect on how great things are right now, and how I can use this time to prepare for future stressors. I've actually found it very useful, although it doesn't feel as productive as working through something complex.

I would ditch any therapist who wouldn't let you visit on a schedule that made you comfortable, though. I've never had a therapist issue that kind of requirement and given how expensive and time-consuming therapy is, I think this stance is pretty much BS. You should always be empowered to make your own health decisions.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:48 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Also

What I end up wanting to talk about is hippie-dippie angsty shit about why can't I get on with creative endeavors and why am I chickening out, stuff like that.


These are pretty normal things to talk about in therapy? I think a lot of people struggle with these issues and it's kind of weird that your therapist has (by the sound of it) given up on trying to help you with this. It's not like you're experiencing something uncommon here.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:50 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


This is part of the natural progression of therapy - no conscientious therapist wants you to be a client forever without having made any progress. It's time to have a conversation with your therapist about where you are in life right now, and what your schedule / treatment plan should look like while this go are going well for you, as well as what will work for both of you when you hit a rough patch and need more input. She should be able to help you work through this in a way that feels fair and equitable, and doesn't leave you feeling like "if you don't pay me every week then I'll never treat you again! ".
posted by vignettist at 2:14 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Having nothing much to say is incredibly common in therapy. There's really no need to fill every single second with talking. I actually think that learning to sit with the silence is part of the therapeutic relationship; becoming comfortable with that and letting your mind drift frequently leads to insights, at least for me. Certainly it's not something you should be switching therapists over, or even saying, "Welp, I've run out of things to talk about! Better go only twice a month!" and I think your therapist is 100% correct to not switch to a less than weekly schedule just because you're not feeling especially talkative at the moment.

When I've reached periods like that, my therapist and I just chat about normal things like books or music or what have you. Again, I find that useful for the therapeutic relationship because becoming comfortable with him in general has allowed me to open up to him about the really gritty and difficult stuff.
posted by holborne at 2:15 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


When I've had calm periods, I have scaled my therapy back from weekly to biweekly. The indicator for that was basically like you've said, a few sessions where I said what was on my mind in the first 15 minutes or so and then it felt a bit like making conversation. But when I skipped a week, it felt right again and there was enough to talk about. Then the indicator for needing to meet weekly was when I felt like I hadn't had time to say all I needed in my biweekly session, or when in the off-week, I really needed it to be Thursday and then realized it wasn't till next Thursday.

In short, I'd ask your therapist about flexing the schedule a little bit.
posted by aimedwander at 3:00 PM on July 17


If you think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it makes sense that you only get the self-actualization stuff (the hippie-dippy why can't I get on with creative endeavors and why am I chickening out stuff) when the more basic problems are under control. So, now, while you have a bit of space in your life, this is a perfect time to be asking those questions.

I'm like you in times when outside forces make my life chaotic and I really need the support of my long-term therapist and other times when things are more mellow. (Eventually I switched to every other week which is working well, but I understand that is not an option) Anyway, sometimes I think my therapist is too easy on me - she seen in such distress that even when I'm stronger and I can take it, she hesitates to push and so we end up on more superficial level and the kind of deep change that you need to block yourself doesn't happen. (Although to be honest, I'm too chicken to share this theory with her). So, the question is "Why are you chickening out?" Really explore the fear, get to know it, where it came from, why it is there, what it is protecting you from etc etc.

One last thought, if you want to ramp out the intensity of your counseling, you might want to an in-person session once in a while - maybe just once, maybe once a month or every couple months. It is different being live with a person in the same room and it may reinvigorate the relationship in ways that could help you go deeper.
posted by metahawk at 4:10 PM on July 17


I would ditch any therapist who wouldn't let you visit on a schedule that made you comfortable, though. I've never had a therapist issue that kind of requirement

I wouldn't assume ill-intent from a therapist that won't hold an unpaid slot open. Where I am waitlists for therapists are generally two or three years so "holding" that spot has a negative result for the therapist (loss of income) and the larger community (other people on the wait list). Some therapists I know that are either government funded or part of a larger practice would not be allowed to have unbilled time for several weeks, let alone months.

This might be a good time to stretch your comfort level, challenge yourself to do something you normally would not consider during the drama bombs, because you have support during the scary parts. I understand some drama bombs are totally out of your control, but you might also want to look at the root causes of the drama bombs and what alternatives you have to reacting to the bomb or what part you may play in the dynamic.

Congrats on so much progress in therapy! Go you!
posted by saucysault at 4:50 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


This might be a good time to stretch your comfort level, challenge yourself to do something you normally would not consider during the drama bombs, because you have support during the scary parts. I understand some drama bombs are totally out of your control, but you might also want to look at the root causes of the drama bombs and what alternatives you have to reacting to the bomb or what part you may play in the dynamic.

I came in here to say this, and saucysault said it way better than I ever could. I think you should ask your therapist to start working you towards being able to ride out all future situations that crop up without having the need for them to be dramatic, and finding out the reasons for why they are becoming dramatic and working on that.
posted by nanook at 5:27 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I think you should ask your therapist to start working you towards being able to ride out all future situations that crop up without having the need for them to be dramatic, and finding out the reasons for why they are becoming dramatic and working on that.

Agreed. What you're experiencing is actually a good sign -- it means you're ready to take some new steps in terms of self-reliance and self-care. It doesn't mean you never have to work with your therapist ever again; it just means that you may not need weekly appointments with your therapist for the foreseeable future, because you have been developing the capacity to better steer yourself through rough spots in the future.

As for feeling angsty over your creative projects: consider working with a coach who specializes in creative pursuits for those specific concerns. Therapy and coaching can overlap in certain ways, but they're also quite different (and therefore useful in very different ways) in that a coach's role is to help you develop inspiration, practical strategies, etc. for setting and fulfilling your creative goals. I once read something that the difference between a therapist and a coach is that the therapist asks "why?" and the coach asks "how?" They're both valuable questions, but when it comes to your creative desires, maybe you're just more in the how place than the why place these days.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 8:40 PM on July 17


why can't I get on with creative endeavors and why am I chickening out, stuff like that.

Funny, "why am I chickening out of scary things where I can fail" was one of the central things I worked through on my "first round" of therapy. I feel like I'm almost on the opposite end of the therapy spectrum from you, I've always gone in with a specific, life-encompassing goal, and would sometimes get sidetracked by daily shit cropping up. (So I'm really just adding a vote to people's "stretch yourself" suggestion.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:27 PM on July 18


Was there a point in your life, before your therapist, that things happened and were dramatic and awful, and you sort of limped your way out of it? Can you talk about what was going on then, and what coping skills did you use (and NOT use), and does that event in your life impact you in any way now? For me, nothing really terrible was happening in my life at the time, but I was still having some trouble coping with minor things. We looked at how did I develop those coping skills and what was going on in my life at that point. Using your language, is there a pattern to your drama bombs? I like what the above commenters said about using this time to examine the drama and come up with ways to lessen its impact on your life.
posted by catwoman429 at 2:26 PM on July 18


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