The Expectations of Therapists: A Client’s Point of View

There are many aspects to undergoing psychotherapy that most people do not understand, and there are many misconceptions as to what to expect from this unusual and incredibly special relationship. In this unfamiliar association between two strangers, a special bond is formed as a therapist attempts to help their client overcome emotional difficulties using their training as their guide. The expectations of the client can, however, be a hindrance to this working relationship. In this article, I will attempt to address a few of these beliefs from the point of view of a client.

The Therapist is wise and all-knowing

1

Clients often enter therapy with the idea that because a therapist is trained in helping people to navigate the maze of emotion that is inherent in most people who seek their help, they are a reservoir of information. They think their therapist can understand their problems without any explanation on their part. The expectation is that the therapist should know what the client is thinking. As a client, I had to learn that therapists are people with human flaws, emotions, and biases. My expecting my therapist to know what I was thinking and how to help me regardless of the complexities of my thought processes was unjustified and caused a great deal of distress for both she and I. It was only after she helped me to a more realistic understanding that she was only a woman, not an all-knowing seer that we were able to connect on a human level and move forward in my treatment.

Therapists should always be available

Healthy boundaries as to what a therapist will and will not accept in the way of communication between themselves and their emotionally charged client’s are important. It is something that should be spoken of at the very first appointment and reiterated throughout treatment. Such boundaries are significant to the therapist maintaining their own mental health, and to keeping the client from crossing the line from needing help to dependency. When I entered treatment, my therapist made sure I knew where she stood on personal phone calls and her privacy. She explained that while I could call her home, she would prefer that I call the clinic where she worked and allow them to relay my need to speak with her. In this way, she explained, there would be fewer chances of a mishap, as at the time she had small children. I tried to cross this boundary a few times but was reminded kindly but firmly that to do so was unwise. I also had to understand that my therapist time away from her duties was vital to her emotional health and her ability to help myself and others. Without her private time, she would have become greatly limited in her capacity as a therapist. This time included her need for vacations, which at first, I viewed with stress-filled apprehension, but later understood that those weeks were vital to my overall recovery.

My therapist will fix everything for me

This is perhaps the most pervasive error many clients make in their beliefs about a therapist. The idea that a trained mental health professional, i.e. a therapist, will know all there is to know about their client’s condition and will give them step by step instructions on how to heal, is very prevalent among clients. Setting up a therapist to be an all-seeing, all-knowing person, causes many clients to drop out of therapy when they come to the sudden realization that their therapist is not fulfilling their expectations. I have spoken to many client’s, other than myself, and have heard many of them complain about how their therapists would not give them the answers to the problems they have brought into their office. It is hard to understand that this expectation is unreasonable, as therapists, while well-trained and well-prepared, will not hand out advice to their clients. It takes time for clients to understand that the role of a therapist is not to give their opinions on how their clients should run their lives, but help their patients to seek their own answers. I can remember, in my own experience in therapy, how I thought my therapist would tell me how to heal and the disappointment I felt when she did not. After she explained to me that she did not have all the answers and that the way she lived her life might not be the way I needed to live mine, I was better prepared to allow her to help me find my own answers within myself.

Therapists are perfect people with perfect lives

2

Clients often live under the illusion that because their therapist has a successful career that they have quiet lives with no distractions or problems. This is a common misconception which can lead to clients not empathizing when their therapist must call in sick or has a personal crisis. This lack of understanding causes the client to feel resentful and may even cause them to leave treatment, believing they have been unfairly treated. I can remember feeling upset when my therapist suddenly was unavailable for my appointments for a month, I felt slighted and upset. I lacked the understanding and empathy that she was a human being who had a life and family. After I discovered, sometime later, that her mother had died and that was why she had been absent for so long, I was able to look back at my feelings and see they were unfounded. She and I discussed my reaction in-depth, and I could put into perspective the fact that she had needs too

My therapist will never leave me

This expectation is perhaps, the most unrealistic of them all. Therapists are first and foremost people. They sometimes need to move to a different state, retire, or sometimes they die. These are the facts of life that many clients, because of their understandable self-reflection in the psychotherapeutic inspection forget. My therapist decided to retire after we had worked together for many years. I took the news hard, but I realized, because of our discussions on the subject, that she needed to move on with her life. She gave me a year to adjust, and we spent many hours preparing for her departure. At the end of our last hour together, we parted company with a hug and with mutual respect and admiration.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that clients often have unrealistic expectations when entering a therapeutic alliance with a therapist. There are actions a therapist can do to help dispel these anticipations.

  1. Speak frankly and freely with the client about what they can and cannot expect to receive from their visits from the beginning and often.
  2. Set firm boundaries with explanations as to why they are important.
  3. A therapist should never assume that their client understands the rules of therapy, even after dealing with the same client for months or even years. Repeating to the client their expectations of their client’s conduct should be repeated as often as possible to avoid misunderstandings.
  4. Therapists should allow the client to see their humanity. They need to understand that you have a life outside of the office, and real problems to solve daily, just like all other humans. This does not include self-disclosure that is inappropriate or unethical.
  5. Give clients plenty of preparation for upcoming events such as vacations or retirement.

With open and honest discussions about these faulty yet common expectations, many of the pitfalls that clients fall into can be avoided.

Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care. ~ Jerry Cantrell

Reference

Davis SJ. The expectations of therapists: a client’s point of view. MOJ Addict Med Ther. 2017;4(1):209–210. DOI: 10.15406/mojamt.2017.04.00068

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Expectations of Therapists: A Client’s Point of View

  1. Very well written and important information. I know I have struggled at times wanting to depend too much on my therapist. I am pretty good at setting my own boundaries but the desire to cross those creeps in when life gets hard. It is so important to remember therapists are human too. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had therapy, yesterday, and was extremely scattered. Shared about being angry with a clergy person that made a joke at the end of a sermon about Jeffrey Epstein and “Conspiracy Theories” which was out of place with the rest of his sermon and really stuck out! This clergy person knows that I have DID and was Sex Trafficked as a child and has never commentated about any of it as if I made it all about, DID and all! I avoid him like the plague and consider him to be quite ignorant with no empathy except for the normal thing such as one having a death or illness in the family. Of course, I should remember that he is in his mid 40s – i.e. young!

    My therapist just listened and did not comment and I understand that!

    What my therapist shared with me later has me feeling helpless and responsible to do something with no one to talk to about; He shared that someone in his family is dying and their death may come after our next session in two weeks. he said that he may or may not share it with me. My little ones began crying several times and am not sure what he said to them, but I am left with much anxiety about it and a feeling that I should do something about it, but not knowing what to do.
    I did share this with an older and wiser clergy person, but they did not understand and did not understand how to talk with me or more specifically – US! I realized, then, that no matter how caring, wise and kind an individual is, when interacting with a Multiple, they are clueless! He was of no help!!! He is too Normal!!!

    Thank you, Shirley, for posting this article! I have been seeing the same therapist on and off since 1990 and I/We also consider him a friend as he does Us!! I live in added anxiety about his state of affairs, in addition to my normal daily anxieties.

    Like

    1. Oh, honey, I’m sorry you are going through this.

      Unfortunately, your therapist is only human and he probably feels he shouldn’t burden you with any of the details. He may be seen as a friend, but he is a therapist first.

      When my therapist’s mother died, I wasn’t told for around three months. I knew she seemed sadder and a little aloof for quite some time and that she had suddenly disappeared from her office for around two weeks, but it was around Christmas time and I just thought she took an extended amount of time off to be with her new grandson. When she did tell me, I was shocked that she hadn’t disclosed this sooner, but I also understood that she needed to grieve in private and considered it unprofessional to allow me to help her. She made the choice to leave me out and although it stung to understand that, I knew she did what she needed to do to keep the boundaries between friendship and the therapeutic alliance intact. She only told me about her mother’s death because I point blank asked her. I had done an online search for obituaries in my area and her mother was listed.

      Therapists are supposed to refuse our help in their private matters, and although it hurts, that is the way things are done. Let yourself off the hook sweetie, because your therapist is brave and professional enough to keep his private life private and respect that choice. You can take a condolence card with you to your next visit and say you are sorry for his loss but do not push it past that so that your therapist won’t need to push back and hurt both you and him.

      Thank you for reading my blog and commenting on it. I really do appreciate every comment I receive! Shirley

      Like

Thank you for commenting! Shirley

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s