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Receiving Feedback: How to Be Good at it + What Gets in the Way

holding hand out - Receiving Feedback: How to Be Good At It + What Gets in the Way

One of the characteristics of clients who are most successful in therapy is their ability to be open to feedback.   So we want to share what this looks like and what naturally gets in the way, so you can also be successful in therapy, whether that is with one of our therapists or elsewhere. 

How to Be Good at Receiving Feedback in Therapy

First and foremost, make sure you have a level of trust established with your therapist.  

One of the first things you work on in therapy is creating trust with your therapist; it’s an important piece of the foundation you have to build to ensure that you get what you need out of this investment.   

You can start the process of building trust when you are looking for a therapist.  Do your research and make sure you believe in the framework they work from and that your philosophy on healing and personal growth are aligned.  

See how you feel when you interact with your therapist to set up the first meeting.  Are you comfortable talking with them?  

There’s more information about this in our blog postsHow to Find a Therapist’  and  ‘Are you Getting the Most You Can out of Therapy?that may be helpful during this stage.

If your therapist isn’t one of the people you are willing to receive feedback from, it’s important to evaluate why.   Are you having a hard time receiving feedback in general or are you not fully trusting of your therapist’s reflections?  If the latter is true, it’s possible that there is a misalignment between you and the therapist.  

Make a conscious decision to be open to seeing things you haven’t previously seen about yourself.  

If your guard is up and you aren’t open to feedback, you may be preventing yourself from moving forward; and if you have taken the steps to begin therapy your goal is to move forward. So make a conscious choice to really consider questions and reflections your therapist offers, even if you don’t like it.  Maybe especially if you don’t like it.

Share openly, even the stuff that is hard to share  

Try sharing smaller things at first while you are still building trust if you feel like you need to,  so you can  see how your therapist responds.  Make sharing openly  a priority so you can begin to develop a therapeutic relationship from the beginning.  

Therapists are intuitive, but if you are holding something back, you have more than likely developed some great strategies to keep stuff hidden from people.  And although they may be good at their job, a therapist will not be able to read your mind.  They want to believe you, not be suspicious of whether or not you are being honest.  So just be forthcoming, even if it’s hard.  You will be saving you and your therapist time by bringing it forward as soon as you feel comfortable.  

Another way to address the hard stuff is to talk about what makes it hard for you to share it with people

 You don’t even have to identify what the hard thing is yet, just talk about why it’s hard for you to even talk about xyz or hard for you to be open.  

For example, you may say to your therapist, ‘I feel sensitive about criticism or people judging me and this sometimes stops me from really getting vulnerable.”  Work through that in therapy first, that will help your therapist know how to give you feedback or reflections in a way you can receive. 

It may be easier said than done, but ultimately, you have to trust the process.  

If you have made a choice to participate in therapy then you are looking for help, and in order to help you your therapist must give you feedback. 

 “Knowing where you stand – and what you need – is essential. And the therapeutic alliance, which is built on professional expertise and your own earnest, active participation in the process, calls for both trusting the process and speaking up if it’s not quite right for you.”  (Reflect | The impact of feedback on your therapy experience, September 4, 2019)

Once you develop trust with your therapist, extend that trust to the overall process.  Deep down you know that it will be beneficial to help you heal, learn and grow.  

What Gets in the Way of Receiving Feedback

It’s pretty normal for things to get in the way of receiving feedback. If you have had a  bad experience in your early life with a critical caregiver or authority figure, receiving feedback can be hard because it’s natural for your defenses to be activated in a situation where you might receive feedback.

You may be the kind of person that tries really hard to get it right.  And that’s OK!  But trying really hard to get it right doesn’t mean you will always get it right.  Part of getting things right is being willing to make mistakes so that you can learn.  Getting reflections back will illuminate blindspots which is very helpful.  

Being open to this is actually more effective at helping you get it right than protecting yourself against feedback is. We know this isn’t as easy as it sounds, being receptive isn’t always a logical process.  However, you can approach this with awareness so you can see defenses when they pop up and work with them. 

The more we practice breathing through those emotions, confronting untrue thoughts and being willing to see ourselves as clearly as possible, the more we can leverage the quality feedback we receive to grow, be better and do better. 

There is a flip side to this, which is taking in too much feedback, being open to feedback from unhelpful sources and taking on too much responsibility.  We will talk about this in detail  in our next post.   You don’t want to miss it so stay tuned.    

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