Is it okay for Clients To Ask Psychotherapists Questions? A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.
With this psychology podcast being aimed at psychology students, professionals and others interested in psychology, I think today’s topic is brilliant. Because as current or future psychotherapists, it is rather hard for us to fully understand the sort of concerns and questions that our clients can have in regards to us. Of course whilst some questions are strictly off-limits because they’re inappropriate or too personal. It does beg the question, what if our clients asks us a personal question? Is it professional to answer?
That’s the focus of today’s podcast episode.
This clinical psychology episode has been sponsored by Psychology of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Is it okay for Clients To Ask Psychotherapists Questions?
As mentioned before the therapeutic relationship between us and our clients is very naturally imbalanced, because we are the experts and professionals and apparently they are the messed up ones. Of course modern clinical psychology doesn’t see them as messed up and instead sees them as people with maladaptive coping mechanisms, but this doesn’t stop wider society from believing the most outdated and damaging view.
Anyway, throughout therapy, a client shares with us their fears, concerns and joys and basically how their mind works.
However, all of this is done without us sharing or doing the same. So it’s natural for our clients to wonder about our background, opinion, approach or simply how we’re doing.
This is even more important when we consider how we’re social creatures that are built on relationships with other people, as social psychology teaches us. And of course this whole relationship idea is rather hard when our clients don’t know how personal their questions can get. Since as I spoke about in other podcast episodes and Psychology of Relationships, self-disclosure drives liking behaviour.
Therefore, the answer to Is it okay for Clients To Ask Psychotherapists Questions is very simple. The answer is simply yes.
Of course, if the question is outrageous or inappropriate then that’s a completely different matter, but as long as the questions are valid and likely relevant to the therapeutic process. Then there’s little reason not to. Unless you simply don’t want to.
Since in the therapeutic relationship, we don’t have to answer every question asked of it, but we can help explore the significance of it.
Personally, I think the idea of this exploring is just fascinating because the question had to important to the person for some person. But why? And now I can sort of understand where the misconception about psychologists analysing everything someone said comes from.
In addition, I should also note that this self-disclosure does depend on your therapeutic model too. Since if you specialise in one of the older forms of therapy, like psychodynamic or psychoanalysis. Then these approaches encourage the blank slate idea where the client projects their thoughts and feelings to the therapist without any sort of interference.
However, newer forms of psychotherapy encourage a more dynamic relationship between the client and therapist where the therapist is encouraged to some extent to get involved in self-disclosure.
Overall, the answer to is it okay for clients to ask psychotherapists questions, is mainly down to your own personality, beliefs and therapeutic model.
And remember, if you don’t want to answer a question, you seriously don’t have to.
A Common Question Therapists Are Asked:
To add a bit more depth to this episode, I want to quickly look at a common question that therapists are asked by their clients and why these questions are so critical.
Firstly, lots of clients ask different forms of this question “will you be able to understand me?”. This might sound like a strange question at first because of course most psychotherapists will be able. They have all had extensive levels of education, had plenty of work experience and have had plenty of clients over the years.
However, not everyone knows that and as humans we like to believe we’re very, very special and unique. And to be honest we actually are, since we all have different backgrounds, influences and other factors that can impact our mental health difficulties and conditions.
As a result, a client who is a single father of two young boys might ask the therapist if they have kids. Or a client who is struggling with depression or an eating disorder, they might ask if the therapist has had any experience with the condition before.
Additionally, these questions can cover a wide range of topics of concern to the client as well.
For example, clients might ask about politics, sexuality, gender, families, race and relationships and more.
Now the list above is very extensive but to different people different things are important, and I want to jump to a point about the lack of diversity within clinical psychology. Since there is a lack of male, non-white, non-middle class and non-heterosexual therapists available.
Personally, I think it’s really important to widen the diversity within clinical psychology just so regardless of whoever needs help can find something with similar experiences to themselves.
Due to as a man I might feel more comfortable talking about my difficulties with a man rather than a woman. Then a black person might feel more comfortable talking to a black person.
All of these are valid questions for the client and it helps them to understand how the therapy will work.
In terms of us as the answerers of the questions, there are a lot of different ways to respond to this question. A lot of therapists answer this directly and they will share personal details. For example, if they have kids, if you’re gay or another member of their family is, if they’ve encountered the condition before and more.
Other people will not answer this directly but will explore the reason for the question in the first place. For example, they might ask why do you ask? Or are you worried that I won’t understand your struggles? Talk to me about it,”
At the end of this clinical psychology post, I want to emphasise that a good therapist will be rather careful with self-disclosure because as I mentioned in my Red Flags post a few weeks ago. Self-disclosure is a tool and you might want to only share what is relevant to the client. If you use self-disclosure too little then you might lose a chance to connect with the client and deepen the therapeutic relationship. Used too much, self-disclosure screams into the red flags as I discussed in that episode.
So at the end of this episode, I think the takeaway is rather clear. Answering questions that the client asks you can be a great way to connect and make the client more comfortable with the therapy and it can really help them with their nerves. As well as as a few therapists have said in posts I’ve read and in lectures, it isn’t our client’s job to figure out what’s appropriate with therapy, it is our job as future or current therapists to help them find the boundaries.
And answering questions can be great a way to do it.
I really hope you have enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
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