Ideally your therapist is knowledgeable, effective, and committed to your growth and healing. But! No therapist is all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good (AKA not a god)-- notice whether their words and actions suggest otherwise. Just as the therapist should help cultivate your sense of power in life, so should they cultivate a sense of your power during sessions. They work for you.
How can you tell if your therapist respects your power as a client? It’s all about consent-seeking, which in therapy includes (1) checking for understanding, (2) providing transparency about therapeutic intentions and interventions, and (3) getting permission before intervention.
Checking for Understanding
1 - Before giving feedback, does my therapist make sure they understand what I just said?
It’s cheap to say “I hear you,” or “I get it,” and then move on to making their own point. A better practice is for them to say what they heard, and then wait to see if you think they “get it.”
2 - Does my therapist ever tell me they can “relate” to what I’m saying?
This kind of reassurance can feel really supportive, but can also be dangerous territory. They might be relating, or they might be assuming that their experience is identical to yours, and therefore that their solutions will work just as well for you. Insist that they check for understanding-- what exactly are they relating to? And do they express any humility, any sense that their “relating” might be entirely about themselves?
3 - Does my therapist respect my choice of topics and agenda items I want to focus on?
If it feels like they’re changing the subject, or taking the conversation in their own direction, name it, and ask them about their intentions. A consent-oriented therapist will keep the focus where you want it to be, or at least provide a meaningful explanation for how their proposed topic/agenda serves yours.
4 - **After the session question** -- Do I feel understood?
Transparency about their Intentions
5 - Has my therapist explained their approach to therapy and personal change, and does it appeal to me?
Like any group project, a shared plan is essential for success. If you don’t know their
process for therapy, then there’s no real way to give consent.
6 - If my therapist offers an interpretation or suggestion, do they (can they) explain how it works and why they think it will be helpful? Or does it feel like my therapist is “pulling moves” on me?
A therapist can be very helpful by offering a path towards growth and healing, and assisting with each step on the way-- but not by tricking you into that path, or leading you in a direction without explaining where it’s going.
7 - **After the session question**-- If the session felt challenging, did my therapist make it clear why these challenges were necessary?
Getting Permission Before Intervention
8 - If I share questions or doubts about what they’re saying, do they respond graciously?
You don’t owe them unconditional faith and obedience. Only trust a therapist who responds well to corrections, questions, and challenges. What does responding well look like? What it doesn’t look like-- getting defensive, attacking you, or saying “Just trust me.” What it does look like-- seeking to understand your feedback, and then integrating your feedback into what they are saying and doing.
9 - If they are persisting in their interpretations or interventions, does it still feel like a friendly and collaborative conversation, or do I feel pushed around?
It’s a good thing for your therapist to feel confident, as it can be demoralizing to work with someone too “wishy-washy.” At the same time, humility is essential-- it shouldn’t feel like you are being bullied into adopting their approach to your life.
10 - **After the session question**-- Does my therapist value “sharing power” with me in our sessions?
Doesn’t consent-oriented therapy sound nice? To have a therapist who feels powerful, but not to the detriment of your own power? I wish this for you, and encourage you not to settle for less.