Everything is connected.
Perhaps you have heard your therapist say this after you began talking about something you dismissed as tangential or irrelevant. The thing is, there really isn’t any such thing as irrelevancy in therapy.
When you allow yourself to talk about that strand of an idea, that fleeting thought, or even that object on your therapist’s shelf that caught your eye, the potential is there for you and your therapist to move into a deeper space—one that may very well be connected to what it was that brought you to therapy in the first place.
We call the thing that brings us to therapy the “presenting problem/issue.” Effective therapy doesn’t lose sight of this, but rather allows space for other things you discuss to provide valuable insight that may be quite relevant to the presenting issue. No matter what you’re talking about, there is a good chance it will lead us back to what is causing you difficulty. This is an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the issue and perhaps identify a path to relief.
How Something Off-Topic Can Be Anything But
Once, during a therapy session, an offhand comment about a detail I remembered from another session prompted a question about my memory. “This is off-topic,” the man said, but he noticed that I don’t take notes … so how could I have remembered that? I didn’t think it was such a feat, so I asked him about himself—did people usually remember things he said? This led to a deep discussion about his parents forgetting his birthday when he was very young. Something he thought was “off-topic” was, in fact, connected to what he was more actively exploring in therapy.
Unsure of the benefit, people in therapy are often reluctant to talk about things they believe are unrelated to why they’re there, but let’s take a look at some important issues that can come up because you’ve been brave enough to travel down that rabbit hole with your therapist:
- Worried your therapist wants to keep you in therapy? Maybe it’s time to talk about concerns about becoming dependent.
- Think you’re forcing a topic? Perhaps you’re connecting to how much you prefer to have things planned out before you speak. Letting go of control (just a little bit) could be fruitful for you.
- Not sure what you want to say is important or “therapy worthy”? Let’s talk about self-criticism and whether you tend to judge yourself.
Deepening Self-Understanding in Therapy
Some people may be skeptical about all this. I get it. If I went to my doctor for a sore throat and instead the topic turned to my gallbladder, I’d be skeptical too. I’d wonder if the doctor was trying to order up a test I didn’t need or, worse, didn’t know what they were doing. Maybe my skepticism would be justified. But maybe not.
On one hand, I’m talking about trusting your therapist, but more than that, I’m talking about trusting yourself.
The brain, though, is a bit more mysterious. Past events—“big T” and “little t” traumas—get stored in different parts of us, different ideas. We don’t always know up front the way in, so we learn to trust our core self. We trust the part of us that has an association with a topic and we dive in. Or dip our toes in, at least.
On one hand, I’m talking about trusting your therapist, but more than that, I’m talking about trusting yourself. Trust the part of you that says, “Examine this memory for a moment, would you? Take a look at this story or why this particular feeling is popping up.”
Therapy supports our growing awareness of ourselves. It helps us become more connected with us—which, by the way, goes a long way toward having better connections with others.
It really is all connected. You are a pretty fascinating being. When we get down to it, we all are. And if we follow our humanness in whatever direction it leads us, there is a wealth of freedom and self-understanding to be realized.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, MSW, LCSW, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor
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