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Page Contents: How to open up in psychotherapy.                    


Your website points out the importance of client and therapist honesty; however, if a person has spent a lifetime avoiding and denying emotions, please advise as to how to begin “opening up.” How is the “vault” to be opened when a person doesn’t have the combination?

Well, keeping with your metaphor of the vault, the treasure in the vault, as you intuitively suggest, is your collection of denied emotions. Since denied emotions cause most psychological problems, most of the work of psychotherapy hinges on learning to recognize and express those emotions. To get at this treasure, though, it doesn’t help much if an incompetent psychotherapist just keeps asking you, “So how does that make you feel?” If you could answer that question, you wouldn’t need psychotherapy, would you?

So, continuing with your metaphor of the vault, the psychotherapist must be a sort of safecracker. Just as old safes in the past could be “cracked” by listening to the fall of the tumblers, the psychotherapist can crack the “combination” of your unconscious by listening to various aspects of your speech and language. Things such as misspoken words (“Freudian slips”), hesitations, and attempts to change the subject all give clues to your unconscious conflicts—and to the treasure of emotions that, like old silver, have been covered with tarnish.

Your job, then, is simply to speak. Your psychotherapist’s job is to listen carefully to what you say, focus in on meaningful points of your speech (crack open the conflict), and then help you articulate the emotions (clean off the tarnish).

Of course, articulating the emotions can be hard, so the psychotherapist will have to teach you as you go along. You might be asked to identify physical sensations. You might be asked to speak about images or memories that come to mind as you think about a current experience. You might be asked to speak about your dreams. All sorts of techniques could be used, but their primary intent is to lead you from that seemingly meaningless slip or hesitation into a full experience of the emotions that are hidden within it. This requires nothing of you but an honest response to whatever your psychotherapist asks of you.

You yourself, however, cannot control this process of discovery, so don’t bother trying. Encounters with the unconscious happen spontaneously and unexpectedly. So just speak about anything that comes to mind, and let your psychotherapist do his or her job of listening, noticing, and teaching.


Your psychotherapist is not supposed to be a paid friend, a nanny, or an “emotional prostitute.” Your psychotherapist’s job is to teach you what you failed to learn in childhood about emotional honesty in relationships. Click here for more information about this.


If this sounds hard, then take a deep breath, because this is only the first step of understanding the psychotherapy process. Just so you know what you’re in for, here is a summary of three main steps of psychotherapy:


To learn that you have emotions—both pleasant and unpleasant—and how to recognize and name them.


To learn that all the unpleasant and frightening emotions which you have been pushing out of awareness all your life have been secret causes for all the problems and conflicts you have been experiencing all your life. Therefore, you must examine your past very carefully so as to make a conscious, enlightened connection between your repressed emotions and your behavioral problems. This scrutiny will show you how your life, up to now, has been largely controlled by the unconscious repetition of old emotional conflicts.


Having mastered the previous step so that you can easily recognize how the problems from the past have been influenced by your emotions, you can now learn to recognize your emotions right in the present, as they occur in the moment, and then make a conscious decision to do something new, something more healthy and beneficial to your well-being than merely be controlled by the unconscious repetition of old emotional conflicts.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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