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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.
If you’ve just started going to therapy or have recently switched to a new therapist, you may notice that they stare (or hold an intense gaze) at you throughout the session. This may seem strange to you or may even make you feel uncomfortable, but it is not an uncommon practice for therapists to do so. Still, you’ll want to know why your therapist is staring at you.
Your therapist stares at you because they want to show you that they are listening, make you feel awkward so you’ll talk, read your body language for hidden clues, or as a way to form a bond with you that will make you feel more comfortable telling them what is bothering you.
In this article, we will be discussing the varying reasons why your therapist may stare at you and how you can deal with this if it makes you uncomfortable. Now let’s get started!
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Why Your Therapist Stares at You
Going to your first-ever therapy session (or just your first session with a new therapist) can be very daunting for people. The thing in particular that scares people the most is that the attention will be entirely on them for the entire time. Something that may seem strange to people is how their therapist watches them during the session. So why does your therapist stare at you?
You may first notice your therapist staring at you during an in-person (or face-to-face) therapy session since you’re in the same room as them the whole time. Nonetheless, you’ll want to know why your therapist is staring at you.
Your therapist is most likely staring at you to show you that they listen to what you are saying. They learn to do something during their education in becoming a therapist and is known as “active listening.” After they spend some more time with you, they will also start to mirror you, i.e., matching your body language and the speed and manner in which you talk.
It is something they do to help their client feel seen and understood, as this is vital to help them open up about their lives and the things that are bothering them.
Another reason therapists do this is for the explicit reason of making you feel awkward or uncomfortable. You’ll feel a natural need to fill an awkward silence and will be more likely to divulge information that your therapist can use to assess what your needs might be.
Something that therapists also do when staring at you (and something we all do naturally and unconsciously) is watch your body language for extra clues as to what you might be feeling. Our body language often gives away far more about our thoughts and feelings than our words do since there isn’t something filtering how they present themselves, unlike what our brain does when we are talking.
So your therapist is staring at you, usually, your face or your hands, to see what other things they can pick up on that might help them gain a better understanding of you and your past experiences.
Lastly, your therapist may be staring at you, intending to form a bond with you. Babies do this all the time. They stare into the eyes of the people around them for long periods to feel connected to that person and play a significant developmental role in attachment and bonding.
So your therapist could merely be staring at you to try to form a bond with you that would make you more comfortable being in their presence and telling them what is on your mind.
If you use an online counseling service such as BetterHelp or Talkspace (read our comparison review here), other factors play into why your therapist seems to be staring at you.
We all know by now that many technical difficulties come along with online communication; whether it be a phone call or a video conference, something’s bound to go wrong. So perhaps the fact that your therapist seems to be staring at you may be that the internet connection isn’t very good, and their video feed has frozen.
This means that they may have already moved, but the frame you see on your screen still shows them looking at you intently.
Due to the nature of an online video conference, the interpersonal connection usually established in an in-person session is lacking. A therapist may appear to be staring so they can create a connection with you through the lens of a video camera.
Whatever the reason might be, if your therapist is staring at you makes you feel overly awkward or uncomfortable, there are always things you can do to mitigate this feeling, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
What To Do if It Makes You Uncomfortable
Now that we’ve discussed why your therapist may be staring at you let’s take a look at what you can do if their staring makes you uncomfortable or feel it isn’t helpful during your session.
The first thing you should always do if something your therapist does makes you uncomfortable is to tell them about it. Telling them that their staring is making you uncomfortable will help them understand your needs better and help them adjust their approach.
It may be that holding an intense gaze is something that they do naturally or a habit that they have developed over the years and are unaware of, and your telling them will make them aware of that fact.
You’ll be able to talk through why it makes you uncomfortable (perhaps you’ll find something important there that you need to work on with them in a future session) and how they can change their approach to help you feel more comfortable. After all, the whole point of your session is to get you to open up, and if you don’t feel comfortable, you’re a lot less likely to do so.
Don’t Look at Them
The next thing that you can do is not to look at them. Just because your therapist is looking at you doesn’t mean you have to look at them. You could find a spot on the wall behind them to look at, or if you would like to look at your therapist but find it hard to maintain eye contact, you could look at the tip of their nose or the spot between their eyebrows. They probably won’t even be able to tell the difference.
Alternatively, you may also be able to position yourself in such a way that even if your therapist does stare at you, you won’t be able to see them. This could include turning your chair 90° to face a different direction so that your line of sight doesn’t include your therapist or lying on their couch (if they have one) so that they are diagonally behind you.
Find a New Therapist
If worst comes to worst and you cannot find an approach that works for you and your therapist, you may need to find a new one. This should be your last resort, and both you and your therapist should try to come to an agreement or a compromise before you start thinking about changing therapists.
It would be best if you talked to your current therapist when changing to a new one, first of all, to let them know that you want to stop seeing them, and secondly to get their opinion on other therapists they might recommend that would be suited to your needs. You could also consult with your GP to ask which therapists they would refer you to.
If you use online therapy services, the process of changing therapists is a lot easier than with in-person therapy, and you can usually change in a matter of hours, or a few days at most. Hopefully, it won’t come to this, but if it does, you needn’t be discouraged because there are many therapists out there, and you will be able to find someone you click with.
Although the awareness surrounding mental health issues and the importance of going to therapy have increased in recent years, actually going to see a therapist can still be scary, especially when your therapist stares at you. However, we hope this article has helped you understand why your therapist stares at you and what you can do if this makes you feel uneasy.
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.