enENG    FR     中文资料
enENG    FR     中文资料

That Moment When You Don’t Like Your Therapist

November 19, 2020
By Maeve O’Leary-Barrett, PhD, Psychologist

You’ve been building up to going to therapy for a while. It feels scary, and you’re apprehensive about sharing parts of you that you don’t fully understand or feel comfortable with. The first couple of sessions go OK; your therapist seems to understand you and it feels good. But then, over the next couple of sessions, you start to get the feeling that they don’t really get it. They may offer an interpretation of your experience that feels off, or you may start to get annoyed by the way that they ask you to take the lead in sessions, when you don’t know where to start. You may even worry that they’re judging you. Your partner has a totally different experience in their therapy sessions and tells you how much they love their therapist. They suggest that you probably haven’t found the right fit and that maybe you should try someone else.

This is what we psychologists call an alliance rupture. An alliance rupture is basically any moment of tension or breakdown in the bond between the client and the therapist (Safran & Muran, 2006). It covers a whole range: anything from a minor misunderstanding, a concern that you are not on the same page as your therapist, to a more open strain in your relationship. And the first point that I want to make is these experiences are very common (more on that later). It’s understandable that you might worry that this means that your therapist doesn’t get you, that you might have an urge to switch to someone else, and to get as far away from those awkward encounters as you can. However, before doing so, here are some ideas to consider.

First of all, alliance ruptures are inevitable in therapy, and are incredibly common. Studies have shown that clients will report having an alliance rupture with their therapist in anything from 20-40% of sessions, and therapists and observers actually describe the rate of ruptures as being much higher (40-75% of sessions; Muran et al., 2009). The discrepancy in rating shows us that sometimes one person in the room will pick up on something that the other person hasn’t noticed yet.  

These high rates of ruptures can be explained by the fact they are simply part of the therapy process. Therapy involves dealing with things that are hard. The “path of least resistance” approach doesn’t work here; you need to spend time going through the messy stuff. You might sometimes feel more sad/angry/you name it than you did before coming to therapy, and you will probably feel stuck, scared and uncertain about the process at some point. 

Dealing with alliance ruptures is important. If you don’t, you will likely have a negative experience of therapy, or stop going (Safran & Muran, 2006). For therapy to work, you need to trust that your therapist gets you and is on your side, and that you can explore it with them whenever you feel differently. In fact, the bond with your therapist is the best predictor of how successful your therapy experience will be, no matter the specific type of treatment or issue that you are addressing (e.g., Safran, Muran, & Eubanks-Carter, 2011).

So, here is my challenge to you:

  • If you feel misunderstood or frustrated in therapy, bring it up, no matter how minor the feeling. If your therapist brings it up first, try to express what the issue is, even if it feels uncomfortable for you. This is one of the few relationships in your life where you do not need to worry about the therapist taking it personally. It is your therapist’s job to act in your best interests. Bonus, repairing the alliance with your therapist is related to having good outcomes in therapy (Safran, Muran, & Eubanks-Carter, 2011).
  • Try to acknowledge your part of the dynamic. The therapist will hopefully do the same. For instance, I know that I can sometimes deliver a message to a client in a way that can be too blunt. (This can happen more when I’m feeling tired, for example. It’s something I need to keep working on). I need to own this if a client feels taken aback or hurt by my delivery, so that they can hear me take responsibility when I make a mistake.
  • Ask yourself: “Does this feel familiar?” The relationship with your therapist can be a “snapshot” of your relationships in real life. If you tend to worry that people judge you in real life, this feeling will come up with your therapist at some point, too. And once you’ve noticed some of the same patterns in therapy, it’s an opportunity to try to work through them.
  • Dealing with relationship issues is an important life skill. We will all face difficult moments with other people at some point, and we may even be aware of some of the stuff we have to work on. Dealing with relationship issues with your therapist is a great starting point. For example, for someone who would like to work on being more assertive, it will be a big challenge to tell their therapist that they felt hurt by something that was said. But it is also an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity to receive support in how to mend a relationship after a bump in the road.

 

references

Muran JC, Safran JD, Gorman BS, Samstag LW, Eubanks-Carter C, Winston A. The relationship of early alliance ruptures and their resolution to process and outcome in three time-limited psychotherapies for personality disorders. Psychotherapy (Chic). 2009 Jun;46(2):233-48. doi: 10.1037/a0016085. PMID: 22122620.

Safran JD, Muran JC. Has the concept of the therapeutic alliance outlived its usefulness? Psychotherapy (Chic). 2006 Fall;43(3):286-91. doi: 10.1037/0033-3204.43.3.286. PMID: 22122099.

Safran JD, Muran JC, Eubanks-Carter C. Repairing alliance ruptures. Psychotherapy (Chic). 2011 Mar;48(1):80-7. doi: 10.1037/a0022140. PMID: 21401278.

 

About the author

Maeve O'Leary-Barrett received her PhD in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!