The experience of not feeling understood, or feeling misunderstood in therapy is not uncommon. It may be felt in the first or early sessions or later on. Sometimes we may find that we are not well matched with our therapist or counsellor and that the chemistry is not working. But before settling for that explanation it might be worth considering some other possibilities.
In therapy or counselling we are together with another human being - the practitioner - and during our sessions we interact with each other. We relate to them and have a sense of them relating to us. Depending on the practitioner's training, way of working and personal style, they can relate to us in a number of ways, ranging from not saying very much at all to being more involved.
Because it is a meeting of two human beings, we will find that whatever issues we may have in relating with others outside of the therapy session, will sooner or later be played out in the way we feel towards our therapist. For example, we may:
- find it difficult to trust
- be afraid of being let down
- feel easily ridiculed or embarrassed
- have a tendency to question our own judgment
- feel others are more powerful then we are
- want others to take responsibility for our life and sort out our problems
- find it difficult to negotiate and let others know what we need from them
- feel alienated and not understood.
In the counselling or therapy setting, these issues may show up as finding it difficult to trust the practitioner. We may fear they will be judgmental and may not keep professional boundaries or respect the confidence we place in them.
We may get impatient, especially when s/he does not tell us what to do, and we may think they sit on the fence and pocket our hard earned money without giving much in return. We may find it difficult or near impossible to talk about our difficulties for fear of not being taken seriously. We may fear the other just puts on a face during the session, but deep down does not like us very much. We may find it difficult to ask for a change to our appointment, for fear of letting the other down, or not looking committed to counselling or therapy.
We may be angry and disappointed with out therapist or counsellor, but cannot get ourselves to say so. Instead we may play out old patterns - carrying on and pretending that everything is ok. We may choose not to go back and cut the other off without explanation, or we may try to please the other. We may also try to make the other angry with us, so they abandon us and stop working with us, and then we can 'blame' them.
If you do not feel understood by your therapist or counsellor, then it may be a good opportunity to explore with them what might be going on. Now you may find that hard, especially if you think 'they are the problem'. I am not talking about who is 'right' or 'wrong' or who is or is not the problem - I am talking about the fact that you are noticing something about the way you feel, and how you relate to the other and how you can handle that.
And you have choices; either fall back into your pattern/s, which may have served you well in the past, or use the therapy/ counselling setting to try out something new and develop another way of coping with relational difficulties. Talk about it with the other and try to understand what may be at the bottom of the discomfort you feel.
This might not be easy and you'll need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but you may find that this is only temporary. Your sessions can become a reflective and practical rehearsal ground for trying out different ways of dealing with difficult situations in your life, which have found their way into the therapy room.
Alternatively you may find that even talking about it does not help shake off the feeling that the two of you are not well matched. Then you remain with the choice of ending your therapy or counselling - hopefully in a way that will make it a useful experience and helpful for finding support elsewhere, if that is what you want.
Psychotherapist, MA, Reg. MBACP (Accred)