How to prepare for your therapy session

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"I didn't prepare anything to talk about today." "I don't know what I am going to talk about today."

How often have I heard this? How often have I said it?

While these words mean something different every time in every person, often I hear in them shades of self-criticism and judgement.

I am one of those people who is pretty good at preparing.  I create deadlines, schedules, and detailed plans. These are important to me. They allow me to stave off the humiliation that comes from being unprepared.  They help me hold myself together and keep pushing forward.  They present the image of someone who is just fine, thank-you.

My planning, organizing, goal setting, and calendar management also support my delusion that I have it all figured out. And if I have it all figured out, nothing can happen to veer me from my path. This is good because to veer from my path might involve loss, shame, attack or humiliation and I don't want to feel those things.

But the veering is also life. Life as in all of the emotions and experiences of being a person. Life as in the creativity of writing and speaking and moving as we are. All my (our) planning can foreclose that.

And when my clients and I chide ourselves for lack of preparation in therapy, or make a preliminary disclaimer as if to say "I am not responsible for what happens next - I didn't prepare"... I know we are missing something in that moment.

How does one prepare for therapy?  I don't think lists and plans help much here.  Seth Godin's words are appropriate (read the full post here):

"We are unprepared to do something for the first time, always.

We are unprepared to create a new kind of beauty, to connect with another human in a way that we’ve never connected before.

We are unprepared for our first bestseller, or for a massive failure unlike any we’ve ever seen before. We are unprepared to fall in love, and to be loved.

We are unprepared for the reaction when we surprise and delight someone, and unprepared, we must be unprepared, for the next breakthrough.

We've been so terrified into the importance of preparation, it's spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared."

If therapy is about change, the best thing we can do is be unprepared.

As I finish this piece of writing I am thinking about the next thing I have to do today, and of the readers who will come to this piece in the days ahead.  As these things pass through my mind, my heart says:

Let me be unprepared. Let me be unprepared for you.

Originally Published on

Alison Crosthwait