Why Do Therapists Mirror Patients🪞What You Really Need to Know

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This article has been reviewed for accuracy by John Cottrell, Ph.D. in Clinical PsychologyOpens in a new tab.. Medical Disclaimer: The information and recommendations on our site do not constitute a medical consultation. See a certified medical professional for diagnosis.

The first therapy session can be stressful for many people. Many people, in particular, are incredibly self-conscious about having all eyes on them for over an hour. So, what’s the deal with my therapist staring at me? There are several causes for this!

You may be wondering, “Why do therapists mirror patients?” In certain ways, a therapist serves as a mirror. They allow you to express yourself openly, without regard for their goal, viewpoint, or expectation. It’s as if they transform into a mirror, allowing you to notice aspects of yourself that you might not have seen if you hadn’t looked together.

The Importance of a Therapist

Therapy clients frequently comment that one of the most beneficial components of therapy is speaking to someone who is not involved in their life. Why is this the case?

Our spouses, families, friends, coworkers, and other contacts all know us in context. Our lives are inextricably interwoven. Our actions and energies affect them, and they have an impact on us. Given this interconnectedness, it is not entirely possible for someone we are linked to hearing us exclusively from our own point of view.

Regardless of how sympathetic and professional they are, they will most certainly have their own personal stake and point of view on what we are expressing. A therapist is somebody we don’t know and with whom we only have therapeutic interactions.

Therapists may provide practical advice about better regulating your emotions, such as dealing with panic attacks or coping with feelings of sadness. They will most effectively do so by presenting ideas and solutions for you to evaluate and implement what works best for you.

There are several reasons why choosing a therapist you can connect with is essential. A therapist can help you to learn vital coping skills and techniques. Your therapist can positively impact how you interact with those in your life. Your therapist can actually help you to live a happier, healthier life. Another reason for finding the therapist who works best for you is that therapy can decrease chronic stress and help to improve productivity.

Finding a therapist who helps you to understand the reasons behind your feelings, actions, emotions, and why you react to specific situations will enable you to better control all aspects of your life and, in turn, feel more complete, heard, and seen.

What Is Mirroring?

According to the American Psychological Association, mirroring, or the mirror technique is a therapist’s deliberate use of active listening, coupled with a reflection of the affect and body language of the client, to generate empathy and further the formation of the therapeutic partnership.

Studies have shown that mirroring generally leaves people with positive feelings and can even make the person performing the mirror technique seem more clear and compelling. Therapists use mirroring as a way to build rapport with clients.

How Is Mirroring Used in Therapy?

One key component of mirroring is for the therapist to reflect on how they perceive the client and what the client is revealing when necessary. Aspects of a client’s experience may be pushed aside inadvertently because they are unpleasant or discarded because they feel embarrassed or too intense. 

By being upfront and honest about what they detect in a client, a therapist can help a patient recapture and appreciate those rejected feelings, thoughts, and pieces of themself. They may also discuss their own emotional experiences if it is therapeutically beneficial.

A skilled therapist will be educated in realizing inwardly what is occurring for them, regulating it, and discerning what is therapeutically beneficial to disclose and what is more concerning them and what is happening for them right now than the link between the patient and their therapeutic objectives.

This is essential to offering a therapeutic service and distinguishes therapy from casual interaction. A non-therapeutic talk is about both of the persons engaged and their desires and interests. In contrast, therapy is about you and your needs and wants.

Mirroring is used by therapists to help show clients that the focus of the conversation is on the client. It can also aid in demonstrating understanding and compassion, which translates into validation. There is no judgment in mirroring. When a therapist uses the mirror technique, they generally do not add in their own interpretations or thoughts but instead simply reiterate the experiences and feelings of their patient.

Mirroring is a valuable tool that therapists can use to:

  • Identify and label a client’s affect (the external expression of internal feelings)
  • Uncover a patient’s hidden, defended, or buried affect
  • Diminish client defensiveness
  • Help a client develop a sense of self
  • Fulfill the dependency needs of a patient
  • Validate a client’s feelings

Why Will a Therapist Watch a Client So Intently?

First and foremost, your therapist wishes to observe your body language. The type of body language that your therapist observes will vary.

Generally, during a session, your therapist will assess how effectively you maintain eye contact if you seem apprehensive, and how you reply to awkward questions. Therapists also make eye contact to demonstrate that they are listening, which might feel strange in ordinary life because we rarely have anyone’s full attention.

This is referred to as “active listening” by therapists. Psychologists use this skill to interact with patients. It entails mirroring the clients’ body posture, nodding when they talk and repeating their words back to them. The first step is to make eye contact, which is often among the first things that you may notice!

After observing and getting to know you for a while, your therapist will most likely mirror you by matching the tempo and level at which you talk, your mannerisms, and your general tone. Again, mirroring is a way to make you feel more at ease with your therapist and enables you to feel understood, validated, and heard.

Is Mirroring Unique to Therapy?

Mirroring is not a technique that is solely unique to therapy. However, mirroring in other situations is not done with intent or with years of training and experience.

Mirroring in a non-therapy setting, such as a social setting, is unconscious behavior. Mirroring is a social phenomenon in which people imitate another person’s posture, gestures, and words.

It’s frequently an unconscious activity — we’re not cognizant of the fact that we’re doing it — but it’s an indication that people are in tune with one another.

When two people mirror each other, it implies that they are at ease, trusting, and friendly with one another.

Long-term friends and love couples are especially sensitive to one another. If you ever travel to a crowded public place, such as a beach, market, or busy street, you’ll notice that couples often mimic one another while they communicate. It’s part of our basic character as social beings.

Mirroring can be viewed as a sort of position-taking or empathy in numerous ways. Previous psychological study has shown that our bodies speak volumes about how we are feeling and thinking.

So, by mimicking another person’s postures and nonverbal cues, we can better understand what they are feeling from their point of view. (This is exactly what your therapist uses mirroring for!)

It’s not fair to say that people just want to see themselves reflected back to them; there’s more to it. Mirroring demonstrates a desire to understand and connect with others.

Mirroring is commonly related to types of nonverbal behavior, such as stances, mannerisms, facial gestures, or breathing. But we also echo back spoken language and words.

We often convey that we comprehend them by reciting back what individuals say. In a restaurant, a server who rehashes a customer’s order is more likely to recall it than someone who simply says, “Okay, got it!”

When we mirror other people’s statements (whether audibly or mentally), our minds perform a fast mental check to determine if what we hear makes perfect sense and that we comprehend it.

At its most fundamental, all mirroring serves as a means of better understanding the people with whom we interact.

Can You Practice Mirroring for Social Situations?

Of course, you can practice mirroring! How do you think your therapist is so proficient at it?

While mirroring is generally an unconscious activity, we can take steps to make it more organic for us.

Therapists are quite skilled at mirroring, as evidenced by our discussion above. They don’t have to think about it because they’re used to connecting with people and making genuine interactions; that’s what it takes to thrive in the world of therapy, where understanding people and gaining trust is essential on a daily basis.

However, therapists receive intense instruction in nonverbal cues and mirroring to become as proficient as they are. It is a technique they had to hone and intentionally practice before it became second nature. Therapists have undergone rigorous training with other professionals to ensure that mirroring is a crucial tool in their treatment arsenal.

Fortunately, the good news is that you can train yourself to become far more proficient at mirroring. Here are some helpful hints to take your subconscious mirroring to a conscious level:

Keep An Eye Out for Mirroring in Other People’s Interactions

I said it previously, but being able to spot mirroring from a distance will help you realize it in your own interactions. Try films and television shows if you can’t find a natural location.

Keep An Eye Out for Mirroring in Your Own Encounters

When you notice yourself (or another person) adopting the same posture, repeating key phrases, or assuming similar hand gestures, become more aware. Mirroring can be observed in practically any interaction to some extent. You simply need to pay more attention to it.

Practice Modest Types of Mirroring Regularly

In your encounters, just concentrate on one component of mirroring. If you’re sitting, simply imitate the person’s posture or hand position (crossed/uncrossed, open/closed stance, etc.). Think like a therapist: “What does this indicate to me about what the person is feeling or thinking?” you could ask. It’s worth remembering that mirroring is about understanding and connection, not merely imitation for the sake of imitation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Deviate from Mirroring

Attempting to mimic everything all of the time will come across as unnatural and odd. Don’t be ashamed to do your own thing while allowing the other person to do theirs. You don’t have to be physically in sync with someone to connect with them. It’s only one of the tools at your disposal.

Follow these fundamental rules, but don’t overdo them. Mirroring is a powerful component in communication, but it can backfire if you overthink it. Don’t think about mirroring too much if it prevents you from connecting to people and having a genuine conversation.

What If Someone Isn’t Mirroring?

Mirroring expresses ease, trust, and rapport. Individuals who aren’t mirroring one other may be having some form of dispute or aren’t in sync.

If one person’s posture says “I’m upset!” but the other person’s posture says “I’m joyful!” there is most certainly a miscommunication between the two. Their emotions and thinking aren’t in sync, and they’re probably not communicating correctly.

The main idea of mirroring is to comprehend others and communicate with them on a personal level. Being capable of mirroring a person is the same as being able to listen to a person (though it is a different type of listening).

Final Thoughts

Undertaking therapy can be an unusual experience, and some of the feelings are unfamiliar for many people. It is uncommon to have someone give us their undivided attention in our fast-paced world. Because this is such a unique feeling, it might be unsettling. If you’ve discovered the proper match, you’ll eventually feel more at ease with your therapist, even if they appear to be staring at you.

At its best, therapy serves as an accurate, revealing mirror, allowing you to gaze with loving eyes and obtain fresh ideas and information. This will enable you to have the necessary talks with others in your life, secure in your own perspective, views, and needs.

Why Do Therapists Mirror Patients🪞What You Really Need to Know

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.


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