John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

What it's like to be in Therapy

A few years back, I taught a graduate class in group therapy. One of the exercises I had the students do was to break into small groups and complete the following exercise: “Each of you will have five minutes to talk about yourself. While one member is talking, the other members must listen intently. What you talk about is entirely up to you, but you must talk for the entire time and the other members of the group must listen with respect and without comment.” After the exercise was completed, we’d come back to the class and talk about what happened.

What most students discovered was that five minutes of talking about yourself is actually harder than it sounds. They’d start out strong, talking the usual biographical identifiers like what program they were in, whether they were married or not, where they were from, what their goals were in pursing a graduate studies, and so forth. But they tended to exhaust this public-self information fairly quickly. Then they had to decide what to reveal about their private-self. Mind you, I put no stipulation on what they talked about. That was entirely their call.

The point of the lesson was to get the student-therapists to reflect on what their future clients might be experiencing when they came to therapy for the first time. The first-time client is faced with trying to figure not just what to say, but how much to say, and how to say it. It’s not unusual for people think about going to therapy for a while before they actually get themselves to that first appointment. After all, maybe the problem will go away, or maybe they’ll be able to resolve it on their own. If they finally decide that therapy is what they need, they’ve generally had some time to rehearse what they’re going to say--at least for those opening few minutes. After that, they’re not sure what to expect.

Here’s the thing: therapy is all about the private self. What you think about and feel; what want and need from others; how your react; and more. If therapy is to be life-changing, we must plunge into the deep waters of your subjective world. This is where real change happens.

Therapy is not about one person giving advice to another. Rather, it’s about one person inviting another person to make contact with their truest, deepest, most private self. When this happens, you forge an inner strength. You become clearer about who you are and about what you need to do make your life better.

Related post: Will Therapy Help?

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