Damon Constantinides, PhD, LCSW: Each person has a different goal for themselves when they’re seeking therapy. Often this goal is related to feelings; for example wanting to feel less anxious, less sad, or more confident. In order to reach these goals, we need to be able to understand these feelings. I like to think of it as being a curious researcher. Where are these feelings coming from? How often do they show up? Are there themes in the content or the timing of the feelings?Some people don’t want to talk about their feelings because they are too painful, and others just feel like they don’t know how. In my work with people in therapy, I’ve found the process of learning to talk more openly and honestly about feelings to be both powerful and healing. Even just the process of sharing them with a therapist can make uncomfortable feelings more manageable. Sharing our feelings helps us connect to other people and this connection can help us feel less alone and more supported.
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC: In therapy, you do not HAVE to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. You get to decide what to share, how much to share, and when to share it. Ideally, you will develop a positive, trusting rapport with your therapist—one that makes you feel safe enough to share important things such as how you feel—but you truly are in control of what you want to share.There are other things you can talk about in therapy besides your feelings. You might start off sharing some of your stories and personal history. You might explore solutions to pressing issues. You can choose to keep your sessions focused on thoughts and actions rather than feelings. If you are reluctant to share your feelings, however, that is probably going to limit how much you can get out of therapy. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected, and often by exploring all of them and how they connect, we can make meaningful changes that bring us relief from things that bother us or cause us pain.
You can let your therapist know that you are reluctant to talk about your feelings. You can explore together what you might need to feel more comfortable, what boundaries would make you feel safe, and what topics you are willing to explore. In time, you might find that you are ready to share more about your feelings.
Ruth Wyatt, MA, LCSW: There really are no “have-to’s” when it comes to what you talk about in therapy. It is your time for you to talk about whatever you want. A therapist who is responsive to your needs will, to a large extent, take their lead from you. Of course, depending on their approach and training, therapists do differ in terms of their focus. A psychoanalytically-trained therapist might be interested in discussing the dynamics of your past and current relationships, or want to know something about your childhood. A cognitive-behavioral therapist might focus more on your patterns of thought and behavior, whereas a therapist trained in somatic experience or mindfulness might ask more about what you are feeling or experiencing in your body.
Many therapists work eclectically, drawing on more than one focus or approach. However, regardless of their training, I think that most therapists would agree that at some point in your work together, discussing or trying to understand your feelings can be extremely helpful in sorting out difficult situations or relationships or in meeting other goals you may have for therapy.
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