Have you ever received counseling services and felt as if you were misunderstood or taken in a direction in which you did not want to go? Perhaps you felt that you had to speak about something because your counselor asked? Or, maybe you have been considering speaking to a mental health professional, but are afraid that it will just be you sitting on a couch being told what is wrong with you?
If you have experienced any of those scenarios, I apologize on behalf of the profession, because counseling services do not need to be that way.
In commemoration of the anniversary of women’s right to vote, I would like to share some information about how to speak up for your rights in a counseling relationship.
Psychotherapy’s history is rooted in colonizing practices that labeled those seeking treatment as uncontrollable and unable to advocate for themselves– especially women. This notion even carried through modern views of mental health. The Hysteria diagnosis, which was a blanket diagnosis for “emotional excessiveness” typically with women, was only dropped from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual in 1980!
Fortunately, we live in a time where there are many mental health practitioners who believe that people seeking treatment have the right to advocate for themselves and should celebrate that. However, the therapist can sometimes miscommunicate that. That, combined with the client’s ideas about therapy going into it, may lead to one of those scenarios mentioned earlier.
So, if you are considering seeking out mental health services, especially during these uncertain times, here are some actions you can take if something does not fit for you.
Correct language or just say no:
If you are speaking with your counselor about an experience, they may try to relay back what you said or summarize to see if they understood you. Sometimes what they relay back might not match what you had intended to communicate or maybe they used language that just doesn’t fit for you. If that happens, you are more than allowed to tell them they missed what you said.
You are allowed to say that different language fits better or clarify what you meant. This can avoid you heading in a direction with your therapist in which you did not want to go. Also, telling your counselor that something doesn’t fit for you, can balance the power in the room and can help refocus the session back to you.
By telling someone in power no when you need to, you can be saying yes to yourself and what you need in the space. This practice can also have wonderful ripple effects in your life in moments where speaking up might be difficult.
Focus on strengths:
Many counseling practices include a strength-based approach, which is exactly what it sounds like. In a strength-based setting, the therapist will work with you to focus on what it is you do right and what your strengths are, rather than things that might be inherently wrong with you.
So, if you find that your counselor is not focusing on what you do right, or honing in on your strengths, you are more than allowed to ask for that. Also, if the therapist shares back with you that they do not really do that and you want a strength-based approach, then jump to the next tip. :)
Find someone new:
Whether it is halfway through the first session, or five years in, you are ALWAYS allowed to find a new mental health practitioner. You can share with your counselor that the therapeutic relationship is not working for you and you can find someone new. Mental health workers are there for you and it is their job to aid in what you need. Much like with any relationship, if it doesn’t mesh well, then you can seek out someone with whom you fit better.
No matter where you are in your mental health journey, know that this will always be true: your story is important and deserves a space worthy of hearing and processing it.