Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be awkward and uncomfortable, even downright scary at times, but it's an important part of therapy. You can teach and train yourself to be more open in the safety of your therapy sessions.
By Dr Mohamed Zaki • 1st April 2020
Photo by Dimitar Belchev
Dr Mohamed Zaki
Head of Research
Starting therapy can be an exciting opportunity to address long-standing issues, fears and concerns but it can also be accompanied with a fair amount of trepidation and anxiety. Frequently, some of that anxiety is about opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable with someone who is effectively a stranger. Many people find this aspect of therapy quite challenging, particularly if they’re only just starting out or during the first few sessions with a new therapist.
Opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a process.
It’s entirely natural to feel some degree of apprehension about sharing your raw thoughts and emotions with anyone, let alone someone you’re only just beginning to get to know. We all tend to build defences to avoid feelings of rejection, disapproval and/or indifference. This sense of vulnerability or avoidance of vulnerability can sometimes be felt even more acutely among LGBTQ+ persons. The diminishing yet persistent presence of homophobia, prejudice and ignorance about LGBTQ+ persons and issues means that many members of our community feel more guarded. It can be very difficult to push against the knee-jerk reaction to retreat into our comfort zones but, going into therapy, it’s important to remember that.
Therapists are trained to provide a compassionate, empathetic and non-judgmental ear and will do their best to give you the support you need and to enhance your mental and emotional wellbeing, but they can only address issues that you communicate openly and honestly to them. They can only help and advise you to the extent that you’re willing to let them in.
While therapy is a collaborative, relational exercise, you are firmly in control of what, how and when you choose to share certain experiences, feelings and ideas. It’s important to remember that, above all, your therapist will want you to feel safe and comfortable in your sessions and will respect your boundaries.
You should communicate your feelings of anxiety and/or discomfort to your therapist. Your therapist will only learn what makes you uncomfortable or what issues you would prefer not to discuss at certain points of time if you verbalize and communicate it clearly to them. In many cases, opening up about your discomfort with the process or aspects of your therapy can open up further avenues of discussion.
Therapists understand that, as with all relationships, people just don't gel sometimes
While initially it can be hard to feel like you're making progress, at some point you may feel as though something's not right with the type of therapy and/or the therapist you've chosen. You can consider an alternative style of therapy or an alternative therapist if after a period of time you find that you are still unable to honestly share your thoughts and feelings with your therapist. Therapists understand that, as with all relationships, people just don’t gel sometimes. If you have an honest conversation with your therapist about this they can often offer a referral and/or suggest a different style of therapy.
Opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a process; it involves a continuous and active effort to remain open, but it will get easier with time and as you build a greater level of trust with your therapist. It’s also okay if you are unable to open up to the same extent during all sessions or on all days, these fluctuations are part of the process and therapists are trained to respond to them.