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How to Give Your Therapist Feedback

Like any other relationship, that between a patient and a therapist is rarely if ever perfect; it can sometimes take a little while for someone to decide if a given therapist is a good fit for them. But how does someone make that decision? And how can they work with the therapist to build a strong and healthy bond based on openness and collaboration?

It often starts with a willingness to offer candid feedback to one’s therapist. While being upfront may make some feel uncomfortable, it is still crucial for patients to make their true feelings known. Otherwise, the patient’s needs may not be met, and the therapist may be none the wiser; after all, they’re only human.

Here are some ways patients can give their therapists valuable feedback that should help both parties create a stronger and healthier therapy experience.

1. Be direct about concerns.

According to a 2015 study in Counseling Psychology, nearly 72.6% of patients admitted to lying about their therapy experience, including pretending to agree with their therapist’s suggestions and shrouding their opinions. They may offer a “feedback sandwich,” which masks negative feedback with compliments.

These small distortions can negatively impact treatment, because they paint an inaccurate picture of what the patient does and does not find helpful. Instead, patients should be direct in admitting when a therapist’s words or candor made them upset, or if aspects of the therapy are not resonating with them.

2. Analyze the therapist’s response.

Good therapists are receptive to feedback, and are committed to creating a constructive, mutually respectful environment for the patient. When a good therapist says or does something that the patient responds negatively to, they will usually react apologetically, and build the incident into something constructive for future sessions.

Therapists are, of course, only human, and may not always respond to criticism perfectly. However, if a therapist frequently reacts to criticism in an unprofessional manner, it may be time to find a different therapist.

3. Collaborate to create a solution.

Therapists that subscribe to the client-centered model of therapy — wherein the therapeutic relationship itself is a focal point — may see feedback as an opportunity to strengthen that relationship. By acknowledging the patient’s feelings and starting an honest dialogue about the treatment, they invite patients to share more, particularly if the patient’s negative feelings are rooted in past experiences.

4. Check in.

The act of giving feedback may also be viewed as an opportunity to check in on the patient’s improvement. Therapists and patients can work together to track progress and communicate more effectively in the future. Patients can use phrases like “I’d like to revisit my progress in a few weeks,” or “can I let you know if I feel misunderstood?” Likewise, therapists can encourage feedback in such a way that helps patients feel seen and heard, which will go a long way toward making their treatment effective in the long term.

This post was adapted from the article “How to Give Your Therapist Feedback,” originally written by Juli Fraga and Hilary Jacobs Hendel, and published 1 August 2019 in the New York Times. The full article can be found here.

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