Posted on May 26, 2020
Before starting therapy sessions, you might be wondering what to talk about. Check out this list of potential topics to help break the ice with a new therapist.
Working with a therapist is much like any other relationship. It’s exciting at first. You have so much to talk about it. You’re making breakthroughs left and right. You look forward to seeing them. But after two or three months things will start to slow down. You get comfortable. The conversation doesn’t flow as easily. You stop really knowing what to talk about in therapy.
This is totally normal. It’s even common to feel this way from the get-go. Revealing your inner monologue to a stranger once a week does not come naturally for most people. In fact, having nothing to talk about isn’t a sign that there’s something wrong with you or the therapy itself; it’s an opportunity to explore some uncharted emotional territory. Because of this, you might find the sessions that started with nothing to talk about in psychotherapy end up being the most enlightening and productive.
This ebb and flow can be attributed to the way psychodynamic therapy is structured. Therapy sessions are typically scheduled weekly, rather than “as needed” because treatment is most effective when it’s not about crisis management. Talk therapy is most successful when you do the work slowly, and put out small fires as they arise, instead of waiting until you need the fire department.
Because most people are propelled by a crisis, or a recognition that there’s an unsustainable pattern in their lives, there is usually a lot to talk about at the onset. This usually involves the challenges that brought you into treatment and the history that gives context to what you’re dealing with. But what do you do when you arrive for your scheduled session without anything to talk about in therapy? Read on for our tips that will help you find things to talk about in therapy.
You might feel like you have nothing to talk about in therapy because you’re feeling good. If you think this, you might wonder what is therapy for? Many people think that talk therapy is only for solving problems or when you’re feeling poorly. What do you do when things are going great? This is an opportunity to focus on what made this week different. Did you avoid triggers, or did you cope with them in a new way? Did you try something your therapist suggested and find it to be helpful? Maybe a lingering issue at work or with a partner finally resolved themselves. It’s just as important to discuss your strengths as much as your weaknesses, and figure out how to make these positive actions a pattern.
It might sound a little silly, but use your difficulty in finding something to talk about as a starting point. Chances are the lack of words isn’t because there isn’t much on your mind, or that nothing has happened. Use your session to pinpoint why you feel blocked. It could just be that you’re in fact overloaded or distracted. If that’s the case, a few moments of mindfulness and focus on breathwork can potentially open the floodgates.
The issue could also be that you’re protecting yourself. Maybe you were able to open up in your last session. Sometimes when you’ve shared a lot, it can be hard to sit with that vulnerability. Maybe you’re feeling embarrassed or ashamed. It could be worth telling your therapist that it feels awkward now that they know so much more about you. A good therapist will validate these feelings and support you in expressing them.
As mentioned earlier, your relationship with your therapist is like any other. It’s possible that you’re upset with them. Check-in with yourself. How are you feeling about your therapist? Did they say something at your last session that made you feel judged or misunderstood? If you realize you’re experiencing negative feelings towards them, say something. It’s not personal; you have a professional working relationship. If your therapist handles it poorly, it might be a sign to move on to a new therapist. Then again, if they express curiosity, apologize, and own what they’ve done wrong, it can be very healing to work through the conflict together. Just remember that finding the right therapist is important in receiving effective treatment. It may take a few sessions to find out, so remain patient.
If it’s been a while, it might be worthwhile to visit the reasons you’re in counseling and the goals you’re trying to achieve. If you’ve been coming in for a while and feel like you don’t have much to say, it can be helpful to review that list. When your therapist goes through it with you, you may realize that you’ve made great progress on your goals, and it’s time to start thinking about a break from psychodynamic therapy. You may also discover that you never really touched on something you identified as important when you started individual therapy. Revisiting the list might also prompt you to add something new.
People panic at the realization that they don’t have anything to talk about in psychotherapy and can resort to talking about minor issues or experiences to fill the time or please their therapist. Other times it’s about wanting to justify the time and expense of an individual therapy session. It can also be coming from a fear that if they say, “I don’t have much to talk about,” their therapist will declare them ready to “graduate” and the client will lose the stability of that relationship.
But there’s a lot to be done when there’s nothing immediately pressing, as mentioned above. Or, put otherwise, there’s a lot to talk about when there’s nothing to talk about. If you’ve found the right therapist, this won’t be an issue and you’ll be able to reap the benefits of therapy as you open up about your life. If you haven’t yet or are looking to switch things up, try using a qualified therapy matching service like Advekit.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.