What It Means When Your Therapist Checks the Clock

Dr. Samantha Morel May 29th, 2024

Therapy is a unique and deeply personal journey, and every aspect of the experience can be subject to interpretation. One small, but often noticed, action is when a therapist checks the clock during a session. This seemingly minor gesture can evoke various thoughts and feelings in clients. From my perspective, understanding why this happens can provide clarity and enhance the therapeutic relationship.

The Structure of a Therapy Session

When you walk into a therapy session, it’s typically scheduled to last between 45 to 50 minutes. This set time frame helps create a consistent and predictable environment, which can be incredibly reassuring. Knowing the session’s boundaries helps both you and your therapist set clear expectations and establish a safe, reliable space for your conversations. By sticking to this schedule, your therapist ensures that you get the focused attention and time you need to address your concerns effectively.

Ensuring Fairness and Boundaries

I know when I check the clock during sessions, it helps me keep the session on track, which is crucial for effective therapy. This way, each client receives their allotted time, fostering a sense of fairness and respect. It also prevents sessions from feeling rushed or dragging on, maintaining a balanced and effective therapeutic environment.

For the therapist, managing time well is important to avoid running over and encroaching on another client’s session or personal time. Therapists often have back-to-back appointments, and respecting the time limits helps maintain a smooth workflow. If a session runs over, it can delay subsequent appointments and cause unnecessary stress. Effective time management ensures focused, attentive care for each client.

Time Management and Focus

Returning to the point about checking the clock for effective therapy, your therapist uses time to help pace your session. This is particularly important when you’re dealing with complex or emotionally charged topics that need careful navigation. By keeping an eye on the time, your therapist can make sure they address your concerns thoroughly within the session, giving you the support you need without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. This helps ensure that significant issues are covered, while also leaving room for other topics you might want to discuss.

Sometimes, your therapist needs to decide whether to explore a topic in depth right away or save it for a future session. This involves considering how you’re feeling at the moment and how urgent the issue is. For example, let’s say you’re talking about something really intense or distressing, your therapist might spend more time helping you process those emotions. On the other hand, if the session is almost over, they might suggest continuing the discussion next time to give it the full attention it deserves.

Planning for Closure

Effective therapy often involves preparing you for the end of the session, making sure the transition from your time together with your therapist to your daily life is smooth and supportive. When your therapist glances at the clock, it’s to help manage the time needed to bring your session to a thoughtful and gentle close. By being mindful of the time, your therapist can plan your final moments to review what you’ve discussed, highlight key insights, and reinforce the progress you’ve made. This way, you leave the session feeling a sense of completion and accomplishment, knowing that your concerns have been acknowledged and addressed.

We, therapists, also use this time to set goals for our next session, giving you a clear roadmap for continued progress and focus. Summarizing key points and establishing objectives for future sessions helps you feel organized and prepared for your ongoing therapeutic journey. It’s fundamental to me that you leave each session feeling heard and understood. By having time to thoughtfully conclude our session, I can ensure you don’t feel abruptly cut off and can lead into a transition for our next appointment.

Managing Emotional Regulation

As a therapist, I am human too, and sometimes I experience my own emotional responses to my clients’ stories, a phenomenon known as countertransference. This happens when my own feelings and experiences are triggered by the issues they share, which can potentially influence my reactions and interactions. Managing these emotions is a key part of my professional responsibility, ensuring that my personal feelings do not interfere with your therapeutic process.

One subtle yet effective method I use to manage these emotions is checking the clock. This simple action gives me a momentary pause to regain my composure and refocus on them. This brief check-in helps me maintain my presence and attention, ensuring I can continue to provide you with my full support and empathy.

What It Doesn’t Mean

As a client, you might sometimes worry that when I glance at the clock, it means I’m bored, disinterested, or eager for the session to end. These concerns are completely understandable, especially when you’re in a vulnerable state during therapy and may be sensitive to any perceived signals from me. However, it’s important to recognize that these interpretations are usually based on misperceptions rather than my actual intentions. From my perspective, these fears are typically unfounded and can be alleviated through open communication and understanding.

Communicating with Your Therapist

I want you to know that as a trained professional, I am deeply committed to providing you with the best care possible. When I check the clock, it’s a practical step to ensure our session runs smoothly and stays within the allotted time frame. This helps me deliver structured and effective therapy, making sure we address important issues without feeling rushed or fragmented.

If you ever feel uneasy about my actions, please feel free to bring it up!  Addressing these feelings openly can really benefit our therapeutic process. I appreciate your honesty, as it gives me the opportunity to clarify my actions and intentions. This conversation can help dispel any misunderstandings and show you that clock-checking is simply a practical tool for managing our time, not a sign of disinterest. When our therapy process is transparent and supportive, it enhances the overall effectiveness of our work together and promotes a more trusting and open relationship between us.

Wrap Up

When a therapist checks the clock, it’s primarily for effective time management to ensure the session runs smoothly and meets your needs. Understanding this can help explain the therapeutic process and contribute to a more comfortable and productive therapy experience.

If you have any concerns about this or any other aspect of your therapy, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your therapist (especially if that happens to be me!). Your comfort and understanding are vital to the success of your therapeutic journey. I am always here to support you and ensure you receive the highest quality care. To understand more from your therapist’s point of view, check out my blog on What Your Therapist Wishes They Could Tell You

Stay well, 

Dr. M

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Samantha Morel, Ph.D.

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