What is therapy really like?
Therapy should be like having a good conversation with a friend. The atmosphere should be relaxed and comfortable and a safe place where you can feel like you can let your guard down and truly be vulnerable with your therapist. The therapist’s job is to provide this relaxing atmosphere and allow you to feel comfortable and safe so that you can get at the heart of what is going on. A word of caution… if your therapist is too much like your friend that is not helpful either. Therapy should be a place where you can go to get the help you need and actually find some answers that you have been seeking for a while. If your therapist is not helping you reach those goals then the therapist is truly not doing their job. The short answer is, Therapy is what you make it and should be a place to address the problems that you are considering attending therapy in the first place. For some people therapy is a place to dump all the garbage of the day, week or even years to an unbiased third-party person. By simply being able to dump their garbage they are able to process the stresses in their life in a different way and actually feel better when leaving. For other people therapy is a place to get answers. Some people have been carrying a struggle for so long by themselves and simply do not have the understanding, language and tools to deal with it by themselves. Therapy for them is a place for growth and understanding and a place to become equipped to better manage their struggles. For others therapy is not their choice. Their families, friends, and even the court systems have identified a change that needs to be made and the person is unwilling to admit that they need to change it or actually does not have the awareness that therapy is necessary.
Another way of answering the question is by addressing what therapy is not. Therapy is not a place where you are going to go lay on a couch and a strange man with a pipe is going to be asking you about your relationship with your mother. It is not a place where you are going to be forced to talk about your childhood or a series of questions that seem to end with how does that make you feel? Therapy is a resource, that when used effectively, can and should be tailor fit to exactly what you want and need it to be. If your experience is anything different than this YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM TO CHOSE TO STOP OR FIND ANOTHER THERAPIST.
Who really needs therapy?
The short answer is everyone! One of my biggest frustrations with being in the field of psychology is that there is still the Taboo surrounding therapy or counseling. People are afraid to admit to their friends and family that they are seeing a therapist. They hide it like it is shameful or somehow sinful, or that they are somehow less of a person because they need help. This is particularly true for men. Therapy is a resource and not some admission of a personal defect that should be hidden at all costs. People can and should attend therapy for any number of reasons and there is no right or wrong time to start therapy. The only wrong thing is to not attend because of fear or what others will think. Your courage or personal experience and by spreading the word is the only way to destigmatize the unfortunate stigma that still remains around mental health.
What should expect from the first session?
The first session is used by you and the therapist as an opportunity to get to know each other to see if the match is a good fit. The first session is not like any other session in therapy. The therapist may describe their experiences, schooling credentials and specialties. They may even share some more personal information, if applicable to your personal experience. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about your therapist or the therapy experience, so come with your questions ready. Additionally, the therapist will ask a series of questions meant to gain understanding for the reason why you are attending therapy. The therapist generally asks questions pertaining to symptoms, length of time you have been struggling, family history, medical conditions, substance use, relationships as well as how the present struggle is impacting other areas of your life. The first session generally takes about an hour to complete. I often have clients complain that they “spill their guts” and then are left to pick up the pieces at the end of the session. This is not the intent of the session and I generally apologize in advance to the clients that I see. This information being asked about is meant to give the therapist a fuller idea of the situation surrounding the struggle so that in future sessions you two will be able to work with each other to either find some answers or gain the necessary insights to move forward.
What if I do not like my therapist?
It is not uncommon for the client to feel like the therapist is not a good fit. Do not feel like you have to stay with a therapist you do not like. You have every right to change therapists at any time. It does not do either of you any good to stay in a therapeutic relationship that is not meeting your needs. The therapist will not take it personally and chances are the therapist is thinking/ feeling the same way. The therapist should be able to provide you with a list of referrals to other trusted therapists that would be better able to meet your needs. There are any number of reasons why the therapist is not a good fit. It could be lack of expertise in a problem, you do not feel comfortable with them, world view or insights given. The important thing is that you say something.
How much “say” do I have in the process?
As the client you have complete control over your therapy experience. From what is talked about to where each specific session goes. The therapist may have ideas and suggestions based on their experience and expertise in the area, but ultimately you get to choose if you go there or not. As a therapist, our main motivation is to help and serve so the suggestions, questions and challenges are in your best interest, but once again it is up to you to engage on that personal level.
Can I fire my therapist?
Short answer, yes! Similar to the previous answer is the client has the final say in the therapy process. There are many different styles and techniques that a therapist can use in their approach with clients. Not every therapist style or technique is going to blend well with what a client is looking for. So, if you find yourself saying “this is not working for me”, that is okay. Just do not give up on therapy, just keep looking for a therapist that better fits what you are looking for