What Do I Say?

One of the most common sources of anxiety that clients feel has to do with feeling like one doesn’t know what to say.  Oftentimes clients worry that they are supposed to have a list of things to go over.  They will mentally prepare for the session in order to make sure they have sufficient things to say.  Some people worry that they will forget the things that they wanted to go over, so they’ll make a list.  

While there is nothing wrong with preparing by thinking of some of the things you might want to discuss, it is certainly not necessary.  I have often encouraged my clients not to prepare before coming, particularly when it seemed to be a source of anxiety.  I would remind them that there is nothing wrong with coming in without having gone over things beforehand.  The psychodynamic approach to therapy, in fact, is more focused on letting your mind go where the unconscious mind takes it.  In other words, what is below the surface will guide you where you need to go.  That in itself can be a little unsettling, but your unconscious mind has a lot of things it wants to get at.  Preparing can potentially stall that.  It might even be a defense mechanism to prevent you from going where your unconscious mind wants you to go.  And yet you might not be conscious of that either!

That is not to say that you should not think about the things that are discussed in therapy in between sessions.  The time in between can be very productive through reflection.  And certainly, there are likely to be things that you want to discuss in a subsequent session that occurred to you in the interim.  There are insights, questions, and observations that you are bound to want to go over.  

But you shouldn’t worry that you’re not going to have anything or enough to say.  The therapist is there to help you with that.  He is trained to be patient, to give you time to reflect, and to help you feel comfortable taking your time, even if there are silent pauses in between.  That’s oftentimes the hardest thing–the awkward silent pause.  We all fear this in conversation with people we have just met or whom we don’t know very well.  It can definitely happen in therapy too.  Therapists have to get used to it early in their careers.  It’s a commonly talked about thing in training—how to be comfortable when there is silence and not automatically try to jump in there and get things going.  It’s ok to take your time and let yourself think.  Your therapist will understand and give you that space.  It might even become a regular phenomenon that gives you some sense of peace.  After all, a lot of us don’t necessarily have a lot of silence in our lives or in our heads.  Sitting with someone who doesn’t require you to say something can be therapeutic in its own way.  

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