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Why You Should Disagree With Your Therapist

Why You Should Disagree With Your Therapist

By ​Lindsay Boeckl

“I think this type of therapy isn’t working for me. I’ve found I’m responding well to the methods in Mind Over Mood and I’ve decided I’m going to switch to a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist,” I said.
“I can do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy if you like,” she said.
“Last week you told me CBT would be a waste of my time and that I didn’t need it,” I replied.
“I can do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy if you like,” she said again in a new, cool tone.

This conversation took place a few weeks after I had a panic attack for my entire therapy session. It took a lot of courage for me to decide to fire my therapist, and now she wasn’t even letting me.

We ping-ponged back and forth for the last 10 minutes of my session, my aforementioned courage waning. A few days later, I had to do the final clean break over text.

Deciding to go to therapy at all can be hard for many people. The accessibility and ability to afford a therapist is a whole other blog post for the another day. When you do make it to therapy, there is a general misconception that you talk, they listen, they give advice or counsel, and then you’ll magically be fixed. However, (as one of my good friends always says to me) progress isn’t linear when it comes to mental health. I have found that disagreeing with my therapist has been key to moving on that non-linear path towards “better.” Three reasons I find disagreeing with your therapist is essential are:

  1. It can help determine if you’re seeing the correct therapist
  2. It can help you learn to become more assertive in a safe environment
  3. It can address underlying issues you may not have even realized yourself

After my text break up with my therapist, I did start seeing a CBT specialist, Rebecca. During our first session, I explained the messy break with my last therapist. Rebecca explained to me that all doctors, not just therapists, technically work for you. She told me if I felt uncomfortable with any course of treatment to express that and we could find a different course together. And that, was when I knew I was with the right therapist for me.

I have always fallen under Grethchin Rubin’s “Obliger” category. Her simplest definition of an Obliger is “Meets outer expectations / Resists inner expectations” (enter, anxiety). There are a slew of traumas and experiences that made me an Obliger, and it took a long time of working through them until I was ready to stop being one. From allowing work to rule my life, to not leaving a party when I was tired because my friends didn’t want to, I spent a lot of time not listening to the needs of my body and mind.

Rebecca and I started in baby steps.

“Show up late to your next session,” she told me.
“Like, a few minutes late?” I inquired. She laughed.
“Five to ten minutes late, and you can’t feel sorry for it,” she said.

Even this simple exercise at the beginning was hard for me. I showed up exactly five minutes late, only because I waited in my car for five minutes.

“Do I need to start showing up five minutes late to everything now? That’s what I’m picking up from this lesson,” I said.
“Of course not! You have to live your life. I’m just wanted to show you that when you do show up five minutes late I will still be here and we will still meet,” she said.

It was a small disagreement, but from then on I started challenging her advice and instructions more and more. It didn’t take long before I started standing up for myself at work as well. I realized that questioning or disagreeing with people helped clarify where they were coming from more than start confrontation.

I found that having that safe space with Rebecca to question led to very consequential changes in my Obliger tendencies that has bled over to many aspects of my life.

Not all disagreements were that tame.

One session she asked me, “You do realize you’re a good friend, right?”
Another week she would say, “You do realize you’re a good daughter, right?”

“You do realize you’re a good employee, right?”
“You do realize you’re a good person, right?”

It was the “good person” comment that finally made me disagree with her. I listed all of the roles she’d assured me I was good at filling above, and told her I didn’t believe I fit the bill for any of them. Together we retraced my steps to when I’d began feeling these inadequacies, and found a pretty obvious trigger point for when I began developing depression. I was so good at hiding it from myself that I didn’t see it. From there, we were able to apply CBT tactics to begin poking holes in my depressive thinking. While it’s not gone, it’s moving towards “better.”

I could have very easily continued to say, you’re right Rebecca, I am a good [insert role here].” But by lying to her, I was lying to myself. I am thankful every day that I decided to disagree with her and begin to be more mindful of my unkind thinking towards myself.

Not all therapists are great, and not all great therapists are good for you. If you’re seeing a therapist that you don’t feel safe disagreeing with them, take a moment to do some therapist shopping. I waiting to break up with my previous therapist until I had found Rebecca, some people may be better off seeing no one while they do some soul searching, whatever path you take don’t stop disagreeing. Don’t stop questioning. Progress isn’t linear, there will be ups and downs in therapy, but there is always the prospect of moving towards “better.”

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