If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve had many questions about your relationship, or single life, and your future. One way to get answers to these questions is to go to therapy and receive an unbiased view of what’s happening in your life. A misnomer about therapy is that the therapist will help answer all of your burning questions and tell you what’s right versus what’s wrong. And that isn’t necessarily true. As therapists, we are here to guide, and support YOU in coming up with the best answers to your life’s questions. There will be times where, as therapists, we will be more direct, especially when it comes to your safety, if we learn of abuse in your life, etc. Below, you’ll read about common questions that as therapists we can’t necessarily give a yes or no answer to.
As a clinician that supports clients in managing life following trauma, it’s often that I get asked many questions that are not up to anyone to answer, other than the client. My role as a trauma therapist is to support you in what coping skills can be helpful for you to help manage the different feelings that come up. My role is to also support you in finding deeper meaning following the traumatic event. Here are some common questions I receive as a trauma therapist.
Commonly Asked Questions That Don’t Have a Definitive Answer In Individual Therapy
Can you get rid of my panic attacks and rid me of my anxiety?
The answer is no. This is simply not my role as a therapist. We can work on understanding what triggers the panic attack response, and we can find out how the anxiety manifests in your body, however, it is up to YOU to work on managing those symptoms. The bigger question here is, do we even want to get rid of our anxiety or our panic attacks? I would also say that the answer is no. Anxiety is there for a reason, it alerts us and lets us know that we need to pay attention. Think about it, if you are in the woods and a bear is walking towards you, we want our nervous system to panic because it’ll get us to run in another direction to safety. We don’t want to fully rid ourselves of anxiety. There is healthy anxiety and unhealthy anxiety. The previous example is an example of what healthy anxiety and panic look like. And in therapy, you can work with a counselor to identify what unhealthy anxiety looks like for you, and ways in which to manage it and cope with it so that you can be healthier.
Will the perpetrator of my traumatic experience learn their lesson?
In life and in therapy, we cannot control others and their responses. The only person we have control over is ourselves. And it’s very common and natural to want those who have wronged us to learn their lessons and be better people. In an ideal world, this would happen. But unfortunately, it is not up to us to change how others walk through life, and we must let go of trying to get people to change and focus on ourselves and how we can be better.
Should I report the perpetrator?
This is also your call, and not something that I can answer for you. The only way I would make a report is if you shared with me that there is active child or elder abuse. This also depends on the state where you live, however, if the statute of limitations has passed, I am not obligated to make a report. It is everyone’s personal decision if they want to enact law enforcement in their healing journey. Some people have chosen to do so because of their desire for legal justice. This is part of their closure. Others choose not to and find closure in other ways.
Will I ever get closure after the trauma / Will I ever be okay?
This question pulls at my heartstrings. I tell everyone that healing following a traumatic event is 100% possible. I cannot determine if you personally will get closure, I cannot tell you what that will look like, and I couldn’t answer for you if you will ever be okay. As therapists, we cannot make guarantees. I really wish we could. However, every person is different and their healing journey is different. What can I say is, if you’re committed to the process if you’re open and willing to do the recommendations we talk about in therapy, and if you do your best to stay consistent, you will likely have a higher chance of healing, feeling better, functioning well, and not as activated following the traumatic experience.
Can you please fix my kid?
My response to this question is “No, and your child is not broken.” If you’re a parent and you’re enrolling your child into therapy to have the therapist “fix” your child, I would not even waste your time in that type of therapy. As the parent, it is important that you engage and be an active participant in your child’s therapy. Your child will likely meet with the therapist once per week, however you have your child the other 6 days for 12–24 hours of the day. The therapy is really there to support you in figuring out how best to parent your child and for both parent-child needs to be met.
How fast is therapy going to be? Can I get over my problems in _X_ amount of time?
As a therapist, I really wish I could package therapy up and tell you that in 3 months everything will be swell and great. Every person is different in their journey. The way in which people process, and how each person’s brain takes in information is all different. So the answer to this question is “I don’t have an answer for how long therapy will be.” I can speak in generalities and let you know that if you do X_Y_Z, you’ll be more likely to feel better, however, there aren’t guarantees. And that’s the beauty of therapy too. It’s a risk to open yourself up to a complete stranger and talk about your deepest feelings and fears.
Typically people decide to seek therapy after years of feeling stuck, for couples, John Gottman found in his research that on average it takes a couple 6 years to sit across from a therapist. Basically, whether seeking individuals, couples, or even family therapy people have the tendency to be reactive rather than proactive. Because people tend to wait until their lives and relationships are crumbling, they often feel desperate for clear answers that they believe will restore everything back to “normal.”
The role of a therapist is not to heal you or your relationships, but to help you as you take charge of your own healing.
Think about it this way: You get in your car and you type on your GPS the destination you are headed to. It then calculates the fastest route to get from point A to point B. As you drive it guides you through this route. You follow it’s guidance or you choose to go your own way. Because you are at the driver’s seat and are in control of your final destination and how you get to it. The same holds true for therapy.
A member of the couple might feel hopeful and motivated for therapy, while the other feels helpless and defeated. This is not at all uncommon. Both members based on their own experiences and concerns, come with certain questions. Expecting clear and direct answers from the professional with multiple degrees and specialized trainings. They believe that with these black and white answers they will feel more certain and gain clarity over their relationship.
I get it! When you love someone immensely but feel incredibly hurt, it’s confusing to know how to move forward and what the path that lies ahead looks like. It’s only natural that you’ll want quick and simple answers.
That, however, is not the role of a couples therapist. A couples therapist is trained in the science of love. In other words, they have years and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of knowledge in the areas of communication, family systems, attachment theory, cognitive behavioral therapy, mental health, sexual wellness, and trauma. They will use their expertise to guide you and your partner through a journey of self-discovery, both as an individual and as a couple. They are just that, a guide!
Commonly Asked Questions That Don’t Have a Definitive Answer In Couples Therapy
Should we separate?
I don’t know if you should or shouldn’t, that’s a loaded question with many layers. There’s a lot that goes into a separation and it impacts many areas of our lives. All these factors need to be considered and all the layers need to be explored. My role as a couples therapist is to help you process what a separation would look like and mean for everyone involved. Also, my role is to help you see how things would look like for you and everyone involved if you chose to stay together and do nothing different versus stay together and make significant changes.
Are we having the right amount of sex?
There’s no wrong or the right amount of sex, no magic number. The needs of each person and each couple are very different. Libido fluctuates throughout our lifetime and it’s often impacted by the quality of our relationship as well as other outside factors like work stress, medications, and post-partum hormonal changes.
Instead of giving you a number like three times per week, I’d help you understand the meaning sex has for you and share it with your partner. I would help you identify barriers in your sexual life and encourage you to brainstorm ways of overcoming these. The goal would be for the two of you to feel fulfilled and empowered within the sexual realms of your relationship.
Will couples therapy work?
If I didn’t believe couples therapy worked I wouldn’t have made this my career. I most definitely would have not spent tons of money taking specialized training in evidenced-based modalities for couples.
Couples therapy works for couples who are ready to put in the work. I believe that we heal through our relationships with others, but not all relationships can be healed or are conducive to our own healing. I help you figure out where you land.
Couples therapist is most effective early on and when both partners are ready to dig deep and commit to the process. It’s also important to find a therapist trained in evidenced-based modalities like The Gottman Method and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Research shows that the biggest predictor of therapeutic success is the connection you have with your therapist. Both members need to feel therapeutic chemistry with the therapist.
Part of having a successful experience in couples therapy might be being open to your own individual therapy. This is something that I often suggest to my couples for one or both members. You or your partner might benefit from having a full hour with a therapist to just talk about some of your own issues like past trauma, panic attacks, or gambling habits. The work that you do individually will help strengthen your couple bond.
Can you tell them that I am right and they are wrong?
I get this one every single time and the answer is a hard NO. I am not here to take sides or determine who’s the “good guy” and who’s the “bad guy.” I am impartial and help you identify and voice your longings to each other in a way that the other one can hear it and understand it. I help you become a united front and act as a team. I encourage you to change your mindset from you vs I to us vs. the problem.
We hope that these responses can give clarity on what therapists CAN and CANNOT answer. We also hope that you’ll seek out therapy to gain the confidence in yourself to come up with the BEST solutions for your life. After all, you will always be the best expert for your life and your experiences. Sometimes having a helpful ear is all we need to figure out the best solutions for ourselves. Cheers!
Janet (Bayramyan) Generales is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states of California (LCSW88575) and Florida (SW16210). Working from a trauma-focused perspective, she is committed to supporting individuals and couples through their healing of past and current distressing events. She is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Havening Techniques. She is also certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Genesis Games is a bilingual (English & Spanish) Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida and Gottman Trained (Level 3) Couples Therapist. Her specialties include relationships, breakups, separations, and divorce. Genesis is passionate about helping people improve their relationships with themselves and others. She firmly believes we are only as healthy as our relationships.