The Importance of Trust in Therapy

Rhonda Alton-TracyTherapy process

picture of two peoples hands holding clasped

Trust In Therapy

Ideally, trust begins to develop at birth when the people who care for us are loving and attentive and our basic needs are met. We can live at ease, knowing that our world is safe, and feel free to grow and explore.

As children, when we are dependent on people who are not consistently loving and attentive, it can set up a state of confusion within us. We are forced to trust people who are not entirely trustworthy. This can undermine our ability to trust our perceptions as well as the world around us.

Pseudo Trust

We may also develop pseudo-trust in ourselves when we are rewarded for adopting a version of ourselves that is acceptable to them rather than what feels true to us. We may be applauded by our caregivers for dominating or controlling other people, for example. This may boost a veneer of self-esteem while leaving us internally isolated and alienated.

When Trust is Shaken

Even with a supportive and trustworthy upbringing that fosters genuine trust, trauma, betrayals, grief, loss, and other difficulties can enter our lives at some point. These experiences, too,  can shake our sense of ease, safety, and trust in the world. Our habitual reactions can also bewilder us and disrupt our trust in ourselves. We may act in ways that are confusing to us and others. Disrupted trust might display itself in our intimate relationships. We may become confused about what and who to let into our lives and what it is safe to let out about ourselves and our feelings.

Since trust is so pivotal to how our personalities form and how we encounter the world, it is no wonder that broken or distorted trust underlies many of the issues people bring to therapy. Therapists are mindful that therapy is a practice of fostering trust and they embody this in many ways.

2 Ways Trust Develops in Therapy

One way therapists nurture trust is by being predictable. If I say I will do something, I do it.

When I start our session on time and end the session on time, clients know what they can expect from me. They know that I will keep my commitments to them. They know that they can count on me to be generously, warmly, and unwaveringly present to them during our time together.

Trust is also fostered by honesty. As a therapist, I am committed to being real and transparent. Our focus in session is on you and the issues that feel vital to you. I am your ally and as we learn to trust each other, we are collaborators in your well-being. This relationship of trust becomes more durable as we communicate how we affect each other and work through any communication glitches, fluidly weaving repairs when necessary.

Impact of Trust in Therapy

When trust is alive and present in therapy, relaxation can flourish. Honestly flows freely. We can settle into our bodies and feel our emotions. From this relaxed place, we can be willing accomplices in finding our way forward in life. Supported by this relationship of trust, you can widen your circle of trusted others and wisely discern what and whom you will trust by paying attention to your own embodied perceptions.

Trust is an issue for human beings from cradle to grave. It impacts how we see ourselves and our relationship to the world of other humans. Broken trust underlies many of the issues that people find difficult. For this reason, trust is a primary issue in therapy, and restoring trust in ourselves and others is central. The number one issue for me as a therapist is cultivating my trustworthiness as a matrix for healing.

Final Thought From Adam Phillips

I recently listened to Adam Phillips talk about the healing power of therapy and his words align with my experience:

“I think what is curative is different for each person, in actuality. I think what makes a difference is talking to somebody you like, who you believe is on your side, who is genuinely attentive and genuinely wants to hear what you’ve got to say, and, involuntarily finds themself thinking about it and saying interesting things back. And I don’t mean it’s a continually interesting conversation, but it’s felt to be worth having. And that’s what works.”

-Adam Phillips, On the Couch: Adam Phillips and Daphne Merkin 92Y Plus