Therapy Eye Contact in Therapy, Part I

Why can't I look at my therapist?

Posted February 13, 2012 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina


The quickest way to make your comfortable face-to-confront conversation awkward? Have an thorough discussion around eye call. Happens every time. Even in treatment.

You are watching: Why does my therapist stare at me

I open up the dusty mailbag as soon as aacquire to tackle a topic that appears to have reached epidemic prosections. Last summer I was bombarded with repursuits to talk about eye call in treatment. Apparently, gazes are dropping at a staggering rate. Many disguised and distorted letters from unidentifiable and probably fictional readers looked something choose this:


I uncover it very difficult to look my therapist in the eye. Why is this and also what have the right to I perform about it?

The worry is rather widespread and also appears in many kind of forms. Some clients panic at the assumed of looking their therapist in the eye, which is most likely a trouble external the room too, For others, eye avoidance is certain to the therapy office or to specific moments in session. It may be hard to look up when talking about sex, for instance. Either means, it"s a difficulty that can cause the client to feel disassociated from the therapist and dcheck out or even quit treatment. Therapy doesn"t always make you feel better, however it"s not meant to make you feel more isolated. Why does this happen?


Let"s testimonial the fundamentals of eye call. It"s been well-known by mothers for millennia and also by researchers for decades that a powerful developmental moment occurs once infant and also mother (or main caregiver) organize quiet, intimate eye contact via one another. It"s understood to be a major component of attachment and also bonding. A kid staring into mom"s eyes is solidifying the link, receiving mirroring and also building a feeling of safety and defense. It"s additionally intense. Even attention-loving babies have to sometimes rotate away from the intensity of eye contact to relax a tiny (check out p. 13 of this article). From the very beginning we both crave and also fear the power of this link.


When age and experience add more self- and also other-awareness, the stakes acquire also higher. The eyes send and get so much information it deserve to feel overwhelming. Parents desire youngsters to look them in the eye to detect lies. We attempt to catch the eye of potential love interests. We get beat up for looking at someone the wrong method. Many type of would say that eye contact is wright here the terror and thrill of intimacy happens. For those who experience deep guilt, shame or stress and anxiety, eye contact feels dangerous—if you deserve to view deep inside you"ll definitely refuse me.


Now take someone with any of these fears right into therapy, wright here the custom is to sit facing one an additional and location the client"s life under a microscopic lense, focusing on the problems. Still wonder why some uncover eye call in treatment challenging?

Unfortunately, it"s challenging to find a lot concept or study on the topic. Psychotherapists are taught to note eye contact among many various other actions as soon as conducting an assessment, however statistics regarding when and also how eye contact is made in session and also what"s taken into consideration "normal" are difficult to discover (other than stuff choose this). Perhaps a therapy researcher will uncover this post and share their treasure trove of fascinating, pertinent short articles.


Beyond treatment, we uncover plenty of researches and also opinions on eye contact. As you might imagine, human being via social stress and anxiety, mood disorders and also autism spectrum disorders are regularly challenged in this location. A recent examine from British cognitive psychologist Dr. Peter Hills discovered that sad people tfinish to stop eye contact while happy people actively seek it out. He says that there"s a cycle here: avoiding eye contact leads to social isolation, which boosts depression, which leads to negative eye call.


I contacted Dr. Hills to get his perspective on the power and difficulty of eye contact, and also he was kind to share his thoughtful response:

At leastern in Western societies, the eyes are the a lot of useful visual attribute. They carry out cues for eactivity, age and gaze (which is beneficial for common communication, theory of mind, and also learning). They additionally carry out exceptionally diagnostic cues for identity. Due to the sheer volume of indevelopment that deserve to be conveyed by the eyes, they are the a lot of fixated upon visual attribute and possibly it describes why (evolutionary speaking) they are in the middle of the face (in the vertical axis). The eyes are the home windows to the soul and also in this instance it is bereason of the information they convey. Potentially, eyes are hard to procedure bereason they convey so a lot indevelopment and reason cognitive overpack. Alternatively, world may stop eye-call to prevent reflecting this indevelopment to civilization.


Interelaxing stuff. As is implied, the cultural standards for eye contact vary fairly a bit. We Westerners suppose and also give plenty of direct eye call, but global it might be seen as disrespectful, flirtatious or even hostile. Making some eye contact might be the typical, however not everyone can carry out it. Even via their therapist.


Back to Fictional Reader"s question about why it may be hard to look a therapist in the eyes. Some possible root causes array from guilt, shame, tension, low self-esteem, shyness, previous abuse, depression or autistic spectrum disorders to varying social standards and cognitive overfill. To oversimplify: If the eyes are the window to the soul, and you don"t feel specifically safe showing your soul, you"ll draw the blinds.


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All reasonable possibilities, but as a therapist I"m inclined to check out the client"s endure of a symptom prior to spreading my vote. I"d want to probe about with some questions. Why withorganize your eyes? What was eye call prefer in your family? What are you afrhelp could happen? Are you concerned around what you will certainly watch, or what your eyes will show? What execute you obtain by not making eye contact? What does looking into another"s eyes mean to you? Was tbelow a time as soon as eye contact was comfortable? When did it change? What happened the last time you did look? What would it feel prefer to be seen, below with me now?


We"re not done via this yet: Part II: What to perform around it.


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About the Author


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Ryan Howes, Ph.D.

See more: You Mean Why Is There A Pancake In The Silverware Drawer ? You Mean, Why

, is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, The golden state.