Well-intentioned loved ones can butt in and screw up a perfectly good therapy. Or they can give needed support. Or they can lend perspective to a harmful therapy situation. How do you tell the difference?
Jane has something brewing:
"I've been talking with Sally about our sessions. She thinks exploring my past is a waste of time and that my whole problem started with my ex-boyfriend Jim. She says Freud was misogynistic bigot and no one believes in him anymore. She also thinks I have ADD and wants to know your opinion about Ritalin."
Boy, it appears Sally and I are really at odds. Our treatment plans, theoretical orientation and therapeutic techniques are diametrically opposed. Sally and I have locked horns in a bitter ideological conflict. We could debate some of these points for hours and never come to a peaceful resolution.
Wait a minute. Who is Sally? Why does she have such a say in what we talk about? And most important, how does Jane feel about our work?
Of course, Sally is Jane's friend. They've been friends for many years and Jane trusts her opinion. They share everything. Sally's been in therapy several times and majored in psychology, so Jane looks to her for advice. Sally wants to help Jane get the most out of her therapy, so she's kibitzing - looking over her shoulder, backseat driving. This well-meaning gesture can complicate and disrupt Jane's therapy.
As stated before by me and my fellow bloggers, the therapeutic alliance is extremely important for successful therapy. Jane and I working together on her issues in an atmosphere of trust and collaboration is the backbone of our work. When a Sally enters into the picture, the alliance can be undermined. Jane may start questioning our work and feel torn - to whom should she listen? Now, rather than getting down to the business of working on herself, she's sidetracked by divided loyalties.
Some of the people I've worked with report feeling awkward, annoyed and irritated when those close to them ask about their therapy. Others feel the questions convey love and interest in their life. And some clients actively solicit opinions about their therapy to help them know what their feelings about it should be, or to validate what they already feel. Therapy doesn't exist in a vacuum - it's tantalizing to talk about this hour with others during the week. If you do, you'll inevitably hear their feedback. Everyone has an opinion.
Before I dive too deep into this series, I'll state the big caveat: if something unethical or illegal is going on, please tell someone. Discuss your concerns with your therapist first, and if that doesn't resolve the issue, call your therapist's boss or licensing board and let them know what's happening. If you're not sure what's ethical and what isn't, take a look at their professional Code of Ethics. If a boundary is being violated, it's probably mentioned there.
In this brief series I'll try to address what happens at the intersection of therapy and loved ones. I hope to leave you with an understanding of what is helpful for clients to disclose to others, what isn't, and what to do about overzealous backseat drivers. I'll cover the confusing area of adolescents in therapy as well as give tips to those with loved ones in therapy.
I'll be working from one general thesis: as long as the therapy is ethical and effective, it's best to discuss conflicts or concerns directly with your therapist. Why?
In Part II I'll discuss why backseat driving happens and give real-life examples. Stay tuned.