Typically, when a person goes to therapy, they know they’ll be asked questions, but what kinds of questions? And why these?
Sometimes the questions that are asked seem odd, or vague. In this blog post, you’ll learn the why behind some of the questions we often ask.
Almost every session, I begin with this question. It is my way of entering the time together and inviting my clients to direct to what they want to address rather than follow some predetermined plan I might have for them. If therapy is truly to be client-centered, it should be client led. This may seem counterintuitive because traditionally people go to a doctor or a medical professional to get diagnosed and receive the necessary treatment to get better. Counseling does have some of these diagnostic elements and we can give some suggestions on what might be healthy skills to grow, but they are not as important as the ability of a client to be aware of themselves.
Often followed up by, “What does that feel like in your body?”, “What’s that like for you?”, or “When have you felt this before?” “What are you feeling internally/in your body as you talk about this?” “Where do you feel that?”
I ask this question for a number of reasons, but ultimately to bring into awareness and help clients tap into their internal response/feedback. Too often we rely on the “logical” answer without recognizing whether or not the life we are living, relationships we are in, and decisions we make are in alignment with our authentic self. Scanning our body for tightness, emotion, specific sensations such as a sinking gut can help provide insight into how we experience the world and provide direction for steps going forward. A therapist is not a keeper of all the right answers and does not intuitively know what is best for you. It is part of the role of a therapist to help you make decisions based on your true self, and much of that can be tapped into through noticing how our body responds.
Noticing our bodies is a form of mindfulness. Many people come into therapy because their emotions feel out of control or they feel out of touch with what they want or need. By bringing awareness to our present moment we are breaking the cycle of being controlled by emotion or controlled by external feedback and instead learn to reconcile our logic with our emotions.
We can make huge strides in therapy when we are actually digging down into the emotion instead of simply talking about it on a cognitive level. The follow-up questions are asked because most of us have never approached our own experience in this way and we have to create a new experience with our emotions to create change. This often means revisiting things from our childhood or family system.
I’m always wanting to check in on the right now, moment-to-moment feelings and sensations in the body because these tell us A LOT. These emotions, that we call core emotions, have adaptive actions embedded in them. These adaptive actions tell us what we need. For example, fear might say “run away from this person” (running away being the adaptive action) or anger right say “put up a boundary with this person” (the boundary being the adaptive action). We humans have developed a lot of different defenses that we do, either consciously or subconsciously, to keep us from feeling our core emotions and therefore we lose out on the adaptive action this emotion is telling us. Core emotions also give us information about what is important to us. Core emotions can be: fear, anger, sadness/grief, disgust, excitement, joy, sexual excitement. Defenses (anything we do to avoid emotions) can be so many things, and aren’t always bad, unless they are keeping us from feeling those core emotions chronically. Defenses can be: substance use, intellectualizing, being vague, isolating, cutting, judging ourselves. We want to get underneath our defenses and focus on the core emotions to move through them and get to that useful information. Core emotions are a great compass to help us navigate our life authentically.
*Side note: Sometimes trauma causes us to be in, for example, a constant state of fear. This fear might be telling us “all men are unsafe and will hurt you so stay away from all men.” This is a trauma response. That would cause additional anxiety and difficulties to be in this constant state of fear and continually try to avoid all men in your life. This type of fear is an indication that there may be a past wound or trauma that needs healing and is not the same as having a core emotion of fear like mentioned above.
A good therapist is a student of micro-expressions. We all learn to mask our emotions from showing up in our faces. We might even smile when we’re angry or sad. Our micro-expressions can’t be suppressed or faked. I try to avoid assuming, even though I might have some strong sense of what a client is experiencing. I’ll often ask this when I sense emotion stirring in a client or have caught some sort of micro-expression that I don’t know how to interpret. This opens the door for us to explore whatever is happening in the here and now.
Sometimes slowing down and noticing is exactly what we need to do. When we take the time to observe the data points we’re taking in (whether it be our own body, our partner’s facial expression, where the mind wandered, etc.) and then share them out loud with our therapist, it can help the subconscious become conscious. Then we get a choice about what we do with that information. I often ask this in the process of EMDR. This is a question that is asked after every reprocessing set and it gives the client the opportunity to share what they notice, no matter what the answer is. We can notice lots of things (thoughts, memories, feelings, physical sensations, physiological reactions) and asking “What do you notice?” opens the door for any number of conversations that should be safe to work through in therapy.
It is important to know that you can always process with your therapist if a question doesn’t sit right with you, or you don’t feel like answering it or digging that deep in a particular session. Feedback is welcome, as you and your therapist are creating a relationship together, and it needs to be at your pace. If you feel ready to begin your process of exploring these questions with a therapist, feel free to Contact Us. We’d be happy to help you on your journey, or connect you with someone who is a good fit for you.
The Phoenix Counseling Collective