Releasing the past in order to find myself

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Therapy Questions

So, I met with the therapist today.  I felt positive coming out the appointment.  I had been feeling anxious and overwhelmed about it.  I still left feeling overwhelmed, but I felt less anxious. 

I'm trying to decide if she is a good fit.  I felt she listened well.  I felt she was empathetic.  I felt validated by her.  I didn't feel patronized or like she was pandering to me.  She both let me lead, and led the conversation herself. 

For those of you who've been to a therapist, here are some questions for you:

How much is appropriate for a therapist to share about herself in the first meeting?  She discussed some of her training, her journey into therapy, and the models of treatment she uses.  I did ask her several questions that prompted some of what she said.  Some of it was spontaneous (like she explained to me that she was feeling jittery, excited, this morning due to just picking up a new truck with her husband and that she wanted to take a moment to settle and calm herself.  She took a deep breathe and did settle.  And for the record, I didn't find her to be jittery.  I would imagine new therapy is difficult for the therapist too?)

She also revealed that her son is a narcissist.  While I didn't consider this a red flag, it made me suck in my breathe.  For me, narcissists are begotten by narcissists.  She spoke little of her son's father, as she seemed to be a single mother who struggled both with her own past FOO issues (some of which she briefly touched on) and financial issues.    So, as the primary caretaker, I wondered if she felt she had an responsibility in "creating" a narcissist.  I used the word culpability.  She said that she did feel she had some responsibility.  She discussed that her father was a perfectionist and verbal abuser, who passed these traits onto her.  She said that when she began to realize the effects she was having on her child, she immediately went into therapy.  (And from there, began a college career in social work and counseling.)  She also said that her son's narcissistic (and more anti-social, if you ask me) began to crop up early, around 4. 

I felt her responses were appropriate regarding her son.  I felt she actually had worked to try and help him (she spoke of the many models of treatment they tried to help him.  He was a thief and had many legal issues).  Do you all think that a woman who has a narcissist for a son will be of help in my therapy?  Or do you think that she will be unable to understand my position?

I felt some of her observations of me were spot on, her ideas for treatments seemed appropriate and tailored to what I need (decrease of anxiety, ability to manage my emotions better, and to be able to stand up for myself, live authentically, and decrease the "shoulds" I put on myself. )

Any thoughts?  Any things you would consider important to a therapist?  I actually see many similarities between my story and that of this therapist, which I think is both a good and a bad thing.  I don't know,  I guess my head is just swirling a lot. 


  1. I had a counselor who shared nothing about herself. It was all about me. I had a counselor who shared things about herself, and it wasn't long before I felt like it was more about her than me. My last counselor sparingly shared things about himself, as in over 5 years, I can count on one hand the number of personal experiences he shared. I suspect he had experience with someone who was narcissistic, but he never stated it directly. You might want to see how it goes for the next couple of visits. You always have the right to decide it simply isn't working. Your counselor is NOT your friend. You are paying them to help you, not you help them. Just a different point of view.

    1. Thank you Judy for your thoughts. I agree, she is NOT my friend, and I have no desire to even entertain that. I struggled with how to feel about it, as she didn't just offer it up (I asked directly and had told her I was very concerned about having someone with specific experience with narcissism.) I think that's just the hard part about this: I don't want to have to "try on" a bunch of therapists, I just want to get down to doing the work ;). But, I know that's how it needs to be. And she discussed that point in particular, that it was important we be a good fit. I just didn't know how to read what she was telling me: was it because she was trying to explain her experience or because she felt a moment to talk about herself (which, by the way, I made sure to offer little "back" to her if that's what she was seeking. I've made enough progress to not feel guilty about making therapy about me. :) )
      Thanks again for your thoughts, Judy.

  2. And another question, how much time (proportion wise) is spent being able to just allow me to talk versus how much time should she be offering me advice. To be honest, I really just want to tell my story for awhile. I feel like I have so much that I need to have heard by someone else who can (professionally) tell me that I'm not crazy. That my feelings about my in-laws, my perceptions about my mother are not totally off base. Am I expecting too much there? I sometimes feel I need to "prove" that it's not all me. Facts, details, stories to explain what I'm talking about. I know I can be a bit "wordy" and long winded.

    She also told me that I am a "good historian" in regards to how I relate she perceived me today. (She also said I have a "good radar for crazy"). How would you all read those statements? Are those positive statements?
    I know I sound anxious, but it's very hard for me to trust people with the experiences well. I don't share "me" well. I'm feeling very hyper vigilant about her (and not necessarily "her", but about going to therapy in general). I don't want to put trust in being open and then find out she sucks and only wants to talk about herself.

  3. Counseling is tough. My counselors did not share much information about themselves. I did have a counselor that talked about how pressured he was feeling until I quit going to him since I felt like a burden. I reacted to his personal information. As far as lengths of time, that can vary wildly. Most counselors agree that sharing your story is vital. I appreciated when my counselor would pick through my narrative and locate key points that I had some control over. I think we both agree that are families won't change. To me, a good counselor helps me understand my options for a given situation without telling me what to do. Very tricky. In my opinion, I agree with your counselor you have a "Good radar for crazy" trust yourself. What is your gut reaction. Try an experiment. First thing in the morning, ask yourself, "Is this counselor good for me?" You know what is best, you just need time to process the answer. I am going through the process of talking to several counselors. It takes time.

  4. Jessie, I felt a few possible 'flags' in what you described, but don't know if that's meaningful or not. Someone who discloses significant details of her own life at the first meeting with a new client, I don't know how to feel about that. My therapist didn't do that. I learned very little about her private life during the two years we met back in the late 1980s. When I asked her questions point blank, she'd answer, honestly and briefly. She really made space for me to begin to tell my life stories, my issues. The most important thing in my opinion is that you feel truly listened to, respectfully heard, and empathetically witnessed. Maybe she is someone who thinks that disclosing a few details will make her more trustworthy. But I don't know. I had a few 'ping-y' feelings reading this, but if you're soliciting opinions, what I might do is see her another time or two and if she's still "sharing" then I'd probably look elsewhere. FWIW!

  5. Hi Jessie,
    I started therapy in July - first time ever. I had a hard time figuring out if she was a good fit after the first session. I read some stuff online where by the first session one would 'just know' if it was a good fit. I didn't have an answer after the first session and I believe it is okay not to.

    To answer your questions: I believe each therapist has his/her boundary on sharing. Mine immediately said that this was my time and she wouldn't be talking about herself. That was her boundary. However, I think a therapist can share if it doesn't infringe on your time and it is a way to guide you. Personally, I feel that this is my time (I feel weird even writing it) because my past has been about doing for others, giving too much and then I get resentful and behave inappropriately and disproportionately. Not a healthy cycle, so for me, this has to be a boundary - I don't want to hear her story if it isn't in an effort to help/guide me. Then, it is a matter of what is your own personal boundary on how much you are willing to listen to of her story.

    Most therapists come with their own stories, something I read about in the Cleese/Skynner book (ty Kara) - therapists have dealt with their own trauma and why they can help us and empathize. I think it is a good sign she could empathize and validate how you feel. As long as her story/trauma doesn't prevent her from doing her job and she isn't using her patients as a way to heal those past wounds. Imo, another couple of sessions would reveal that and your instincts will tell you.

    I think what you write above in the comment about wanting someone to hear your story is actually how I am approaching therapy. I need someone to hear me and see what is going on and then help me understand it. I also need someone who doesn't give me a solution on a platter but guides me to the solutions that are right for me. I did tell my therapist this because I do believe that will help me in therapy. What you wrote in the first paragraph is an important element to therapy - your expectations. I don't believe that you are expecting too much because in any relationship those kind of expectations need to be discussed for mutual understanding and to determine if it works for all involved.

    I can relate to being 'wordy'. My therapist lets me speak and then every once in a while she will say something and it will be an eye-opener but this only came after she began to understand and hear my story. It wasn't evident after the first couple sessions, it is actually only now that she is adding some stuff after understanding more of the details.
    The other thing is that I prioritized my needs, something Lady Nyo (poet/blogger) said to me. Right now, my priority is anger and the upcoming holidays that I am feeling anxious about. So from now until December that will be what I share.

    I did have some 'negative' aspects to the way my therapist handles the sessions. There is no order or routine to it. I am free to come in and talk about whatever I need. This felt so unbelievably uncomfortable the first few sessions. It still is uncomfortable but I realize that it did something for me. In order to be heard I need to decide what it is I want to be heard about - what am I really trying to say and want from the therapy. It was subtle and it is 'forcing' me to look at what I need and want. That is not natural when living with abuse.

    I think asking these kind of questions are helpful and you bring up many of the same concerns I had from the first session. Since my sessions are relatively 'new' I haven't opened up to her completely. I slowly reveal more and pick one or two things for each session - it is my boundary because I am not 100% sure we are a fit. The only answer I have today (after 2 months) is that she has added insight and challenged me in a way that has increased an understanding of myself and the pink flags I had in the beginning haven't turned to red yet. xxTR

  6. Hi, I found your site through Gladys. Sorry, you don't know me, but I have been a lurker :)

    But how is her reputation among the other therapists? I found that to be a good way of telling. I once had an excellent therapist that I think was very pivitol in helping me awaken to the fact my mother is a narcissist. And she didn't try to do that, it just happened. Her reputation was stellar among the community and everyone looked up to her.

    On the other hand I once had an MN friend who got weeded out quickly, (she was not my therapist, but a friend). She put out 5 bullying complaints against other therapists, created a ruckus. She was just a parasite and everyone knew it. This I found out from others.

    So in my experience, its their reputation.

    The good therapist I had did talk somewhat of her life. It was balanced and I didn't feel off about it. I would just go with how I feel about it.

  7. I'm going to comment first and then read the other comments. I used to work in a county funded clinic that mainly dealt with ADHD children, possible learning disabilities and sexually abused children. I worked with over 20 different therapists. The majority of them had some sort of abuse in their life which is why those chose their profession. Also, a majority of them were never healed from their past and it was so obvious. I think your therapist is one of those. She had no business telling you about her personal past. Her son being a narcissist too would be a huge red flag to me. Since she didn't share much about the father, how did her child become one? I would ask that question because you have a lot of knowledge in this area. It makes me wonder if her son was exposed to her father or other family members for long periods of time for him to become one. Another thing I noticed while working in a clinical community is that the therapists that became therapists after having other careers were much more in tune with helping people become healthy. They didn't bring their own "baggage" into the mix that they had not ever fully gotten over. I don't know if that makes sense but those types were much more in tune with reality. I have been to therapy and I've also quit therapists too. The therapists that I have seen never shared anything personal other than their education and what types of clinics they worked in when they started. Anyway, I hope that helps and good luck! - Kel Ann

  8. She shouldn't be telling you anything about her life, it's not your problem. Coaches are trained to relate to their clients and tell snippets of their life experiences. Therapist are trained to listen. This is your time and money to explore you!!!! Not to be upstaged by her problems regardless of how relatable and comfortable it all seems. The times I've grown my most is when it's been my most uncomfortable. Besides isn't part of the problem with N parents and family members that we never get to really focus and take care of ourselves because their issues are more important? Even if you asked her questions she had the choice in how she responded.