It’s one of the most important questions in therapy. It’s stereotypical. Sometimes, it’s disruptive. It can lead to anxiety and self-examination.
And it’s not going away.
Your therapist asking you what you’re feeling is a staple of most forms of counseling, and for good reason.
What you do with the question can begin to free you.
Yes, we all know therapy is about feelings. Before any of us stepped into a therapist’s office, we probably saw a cartoon, TV show, or movie in which a therapist asked the person sitting across from them: “How does that make you feel?”
Few people come to therapy with the stated goal: “I want to better understand and connect with my feelings.” For everyone else, it may not seem productive to be asked each week about what they’re feeling. All they know is they want to feel better!
A common response to the feelings question is frustration and annoyance. Especially if it occurs during a the telling of an event or a story from the past. If you’re focused on something from the weekend or from work, the feelings question may disrupt your flow.
Well-timed, the question can lead to breakthroughs regarding unhelpful patterns, difficult feelings, and negative interpersonal relationships.
Of course, it could be an ill-timed question by the therapist. Maybe it would be more helpful if they waited a bit longer to move you toward reflection. Maybe not, though. Perhaps the question is coming from the therapist’s sense that there are feelings you may be unaware of.
Well-timed, the question can lead to breakthroughs regarding unhelpful patterns, difficult feelings, and negative interpersonal relationships. It can reconnect you with any feelings you may be trying to avoid by overthinking the situation.
So, yes, the question may be an attempt to interrupt and go deeper. But if it’s making you angry, tell your counselor. That’s important information too.
This Is Not a Test
A common response to the feelings question is anxiety or, worse, a sense you’re doing something wrong if you’re not sure what the feeling is. Suddenly, it may feel like you’re being “quizzed” or tested.
This, too, is important information to bring up. The intention is (hopefully!) not to make you feel like a failure. You’re in therapy to learn about yourself and how to better understand your feelings. You’re not expected to know all the answers, let alone anticipate questions. Speak up if you sense pressure to perform or expectation from your counselor.
Remember that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. You may not be aware you’re having a feeling because you don’t tend to stop and check in with yourself. If the feelings question comes up, it’s a chance to do that.
And maybe you’re having zero feelings in that moment. Again, good information.
The Feelings Layer Isn’t the Only Layer
Becoming more aware of how you’re feeling at any given moment is not the only aspect of emotional well-being, but it’s an important layer to explore. Knowing your feelings may help you understand your actions better. It can inform your future choices.
Becoming aware of your feelings may help you feel less helpless. It may help you feel more in control.
Perhaps best of all, knowing your feelings gives them less control over you.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, LCSW, therapist in Brooklyn, New York
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.