Steer Me, Guide Me: Practice the Tough Stuff with Your Therapist

Recently, I experienced one of the more powerful, important conversations a therapist can have with a client. Deep in the middle of an intense exploration, my client asked me what they should do. This is a trick question to be explored – there are no good answers that leave the client empowered and independent. I offered some thoughts on the matter, some paths to insight, some probing questions, some potential considerations. Quickly, my client responded, “That’s not what I’m looking for. That’s not what I need.”

What magical words. What a delight to hear someone identify so crisply that what I’m offering is not what they are looking for. “What I want is validation that I’m doing the right thing and it doesn’t make me a bad person. I don’t want practical steps right now.” I was struck with gratitude and honored by their explicit need. And, I said so.

I also pointed out if nothing else is accomplished, the client’s capacity to steer our therapy where they wanted it to go, to guide me away from what isn’t helpful and towards what is, serves as a powerful measure of their growth and accomplishment.

Nothing in therapy is more basic and central to the work than the trusting, connected relationship between therapist and client. When a client is empowered to speak up and explicitly shape the course of therapy, it truly begins to become the life-shifting relationship it is meant to be. Little is more honoring and meaningful than when this experience emerges with compassion. If ever you struggle to discuss a concern about your therapist with your therapist, I encourage you to dig deep and remember: the things that are hardest to say are often the most important to say. The tough conversations with your therapist provide practice in a safe, supportive environment so you’ll be better prepared when you need to have difficult conversations with loved ones, friends or colleagues outside the sanctuary of the therapist’s office.