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This article has been reviewed for accuracy by John Cottrell, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Medical Disclaimer: The information and recommendations on our site do not constitute a medical consultation. See a certified medical professional for diagnosis.
People seek out help from therapists for many reasons: to overcome a life crisis, seek relief from stress and anxiety, to gain advice for making an important career choice, and many other reasons. The therapeutic setting is a safe and non-judgmental arena where you can share your personal feelings and freely express yourself to achieve clarity and relief.
Clients are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings with a therapist. In this professional setting, clients openly express themselves in a vulnerable fashion that can provoke emotional reactions. The therapist may intentionally express emotions like anger to help the client’s healing. However, it may damage the therapeutic relationship if misused.
This article will focus on the emotional state of your therapist, particularly feelings of anger and disappointment. It will decipher the meanings behind their reactions and determine if this is good or not for the therapeutic relationship.
The Emotional State of the Therapist
Just like everyone else, therapists have feelings, too. They may even have emotional reactions to the things their clients say during a therapy session. However, a therapist is professionally trained to hold back many of their emotional responses to remain focused on their clients. The time in the therapy room is devoted to listening to you.
It is up to the therapist to create an environment where you, the paying client, can share your innermost thoughts and feelings. Even when you share uncomfortable stories and feelings, the therapist should remain professional. But there may be times when it may be appropriate for a therapist to share what they are feeling, even feelings of anger and disappointment.
As mentioned, the therapist is trained to provide a non-judgmental space where their clients can express a vulnerable side of themselves. This establishes trust between the two parties when the client can openly share what they are feeling without the fear of being judged. Therapists will use techniques like reflective listening to maintain that sense of trust. It shows that they are paying attention and invested in what you are saying.
It is the art of reconstructing what you are saying and relaying it back to you; it demonstrates that the therapist has heard and understands what you are trying to communicate. This can enhance the client/therapist relationship in a positive way. It may even open the door for the therapist to share some of their thoughts, ideas, and advice to help the client further.
During a therapy session, a client may share a story that could spur an emotional response like laughter, sadness, or anger. If there is an established trust in the therapeutic relationship, a therapist may be inclined to share that response as a form of reflective listening openly. It can also be used to further the insight of the client. For example, if the client says something that triggers an angry response, the therapist can communicate back to the client, “when you said that, I had a feeling of anger.”
By saying this, the therapist is merely stating an honest response to what was just said. They could go on to say, “have others had a similar response when you shared that story, and if so, how does that feel for you?” By doing this, the therapist is helping the client gain insight and more awareness of their statements or behaviors. The therapist thereby returns the client’s attention so they can continue to share how they are feeling.
This may be a common technique seen in a therapy session. Even though the therapist had an angry response, they know to focus on the client’s feelings to continue therapeutic engagement.
If, however, a therapist has an angry response and outwardly expresses that to the client without therapeutic purpose, it could damage the client/therapist relationship. When a therapist gets angry or expresses disappointment at what you say, this may result in diminished trust.
You may feel judged and less likely to share information with your therapist in the future. Instead of feeling empowered in the therapy session, you may feel shame. With the therapist getting angry, it could indicate personal issues the therapist has that have nothing to do with the client.
There is a term in the therapeutic setting called transference. This is when the feelings you have for one person are unknowingly redirected to another. For example, if you encounter someone who reminds you of a kind and generous family relative, you may automatically treat that person with kindness. This happens all the time, even in the therapy office.
If your therapist reminds you of a thoughtful teacher you had in school, you may react and respond to her/him just as you did with your teacher. A well-trained therapist can often spot this in the therapeutic environment, and it can offer more insight into how the client relates to certain people in their social circle.
On the other hand, countertransference is when the therapist projects feelings of someone they know onto the client. If this goes undetected, this could potentially damage the counseling relationship. If the therapist has angry feelings toward an acquaintance, upon hearing a client’s story that triggers a reaction, projects that anger into the therapeutic setting, this could cause problems if not addressed. The client’s story’s angry response may not be related directly to the client but another personal relationship.
In a therapist’s training, it is important that they address their issues; this is often done in their therapy sessions. For interpersonal professions such as counseling and psychotherapy, attending personal therapy is required. It helps the therapist-in-training to recognize any issues that could potentially interfere with future clients.
If addressed adequately, they will recognize these triggered responses when they arise in future professional settings and know how to manage them. As stated above, the angry response can be used to help the client understand their own emotions and behaviors.
What To Do if Your Therapist Expresses Anger
If your therapist, though, expresses anger that triggers shame and judgment and is not addressed, this may be a time for you to assess this professional relationship. If this should happen, you have several choices. If you feel inclined, you can address your therapist’s reaction; let them know that their angry response made you feel uncomfortable.
Ideally, this will result in a dialogue between the two of you that will help bring clarity and understanding. However, if a situation like this persists, you may be empowered to seek a referral to another therapist. It is in your best interest to have a therapist who establishes trust in the therapeutic relationship.
Another option is to consider online therapeutic platforms such as BlahTherapy, TalkSpace, BetterHelp, or other resources. This may be an opportunity for you to seek and find a reliable client/therapist matching that is convenient and affordable.
When it comes to sharing emotions within a therapeutic setting, it is important to remember that this should be a safe space for you. As the client, entering the therapeutic relationship is about your positive development and enhancement.
You should feel safe to express your true feelings even when they may trigger uncomfortable responses. Your trained therapist will remain professional in these circumstances to maintain that trusting relationship by only sharing their emotional response if the intention is to help you further.
John Cottrell, Ph.D., is a yoga instructor and certified yoga therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. He has been teaching yoga since 2000. John is originally from Oakland, California, earning his Master of Science and Ph.D. from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, California. His clinical practice led him to child and adolescent psychotherapy, drug and alcohol treatment, psychological and neuropsychological testing, and group/couples therapy. John continues his devotion to sharing health and well-being through his business, mbody. He offers private and group yoga classes, yoga therapy, workshops, retreats, written yoga articles, and a men’s yoga clothing line.