Spoiler alert: Yes, you should still go.
(compiled scenario to protect confidentiality):
I was having one of those days where it just felt like everything was fine. Nothing really happened since my last session, and I didn’t really have anything important to talk about today. Nothing was pressing, and I didn’t understand why I should go to therapy today if there was nothing I needed to get off my chest or talk about.
But then I remembered that therapy isn’t supposed to be only for the days or weeks when there’s an overflow of stress, anxiety, or other stuff going on. I understood that therapy is a deeper process than only dealing with the surface emotions. So even with nothing prepared to talk about, and not knowing what the point really was today, I decided to drag myself into therapy anyway.
At first, I just sat there for a couple of minutes and didn’t really say anything except for a couple of comments about the weather or something like that. I was nervous that we were going to sit awkwardly in silence for the next 45 minutes — which was part of the reason I almost didn’t come in when I had nothing to talk about. But then, after sitting there for a couple of minutes, I just went ahead and said it to my therapist: “I really have nothing to talk about today.” After that moment, it turned into one of the deepest and most valuable sessions I’ve ever had (so far).
It can be quite common for the days where nothing is emotionally or mentally prepared prior to the session to end up being some of the deepest and most enlightening sessions. This doesn’t diminish the benefits of the sessions where the topics of conversation and emotions are at the ready, as much as it speaks to the benefits of therapy even when it doesn’t feel needed that day.
It’s easy to think that because there is no stress or major issue to talk about on the day of a session that it must mean that there is actually nothing to talk about or happening at all. However, when the layer of stress and emotional activation is removed, it actually allows the space for a new layer of depth to open up and emerge. It can be tempting to underestimate the power and influence of what sits below the surface because it’s generally not fully in our conscious minds. And some might think, “Well, if I’m not thinking about it consciously, then it doesn’t matter, right?”
Unfortunately, no, it’s not as simple as this.
The stuff that sits below the surface is often most responsible for creating and reinforcing the cognitive and emotional patterns and struggles that we find ourselves dealing with in daily life. While on one level therapy serves the purpose of reducing the layer of emotional activation when it’s overflowing, which can provide its own sense of relief — getting into the layer(s) below the surface is often where the more in-depth and longer-term changes start to happen.
When the emotional overflow layer is removed, this is when it becomes more readily possible to reflect on, engage with, and understand ourselves. As the conversations start to move into the deeper layers of oneself, the underlying parts that people are often looking to improve really start to emerge more here. For example, it’s one thing to temporarily make the surface layer of anxiety go away until it returns next time; it’s another to understand on a deeper level why these patterns of anxiety keep returning as they do and to change these patterns longer term.
These deeper, more unconscious parts of ourselves are generally what drives our mental and emotional life experiences — why we emotionally respond the way we do to situations in life, why we think about things in the way we do, why we may be caught in a pattern of emotional or relational struggling, etc. And while it’s not always easy to engage with the deeper parts of ourselves and change these patterns, summoning the courage to get to know what we carry with us can often lead to some of the most gratifying and healing parts of the therapy process.
I will add here to bear in mind that simply starting a session with nothing to say doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to leave the session in awe, enlightened, or suddenly changed or healed. This wouldn’t be a realistic approach and would likely lead to disappointment. So be careful not to fall into the trap of expecting great epiphanies or keeping one eye on what the “big” result will be in a session.
The overall message is that even when it seems on the surface like there’s nothing to say that day, if you keep an open mind and remain curious about yourself, there is likely to be a greater benefit of showing up to therapy that day.