Considering Therapy?...Let’s Look Behind the Curtain
Answering some of the common questions about going to therapy
One of my favorite quotes is from Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That said, sometimes that first step feels like a giant leap. This month I want to make the first step feel a little more attainable when it comes to investing in your own health and peace through therapy.
Even as mental health professionals, we know that the act of starting therapy can be intimidating to say the least. What’s more, therapy is often such a personal and private journey that many of us don’t really know what it looks like until we’ve gone through it ourselves. As a result, opening the door to the therapist’s office for that first appointment or making that first call to schedule an appointment can feel like walking into an abyss. Who knows where it will take you or how long you’ll be on the path, right? While I can’t tell you exactly what your experience will be, I do hope to give you a few more details about what those first few appointments are like and what the overall process of talk therapy looks like to make that first giant leap feel a little more like that single step at the start of an incredibly worthwhile journey. Keep reading below to find a few of the more common questions answered and the abyss of therapy demystified, just a little. And check out our social media this month to get an introduction to the fantastic team of therapists we have here at TBH.
What is the point (of therapy)?
While every person’s goal for therapy is going to be different, the overarching goal of therapy could be outlined with two principles- self-awareness and self-development. One of the hardest lessons to accept is that there are many things in life we simply don’t have control over. That said, the thing we do have influence over is our own thoughts and behaviors. The catch to this is that our thoughts and behaviors often happen so automatically that we don’t feel like we have the ability to change them. The beautiful thing about therapy is that we can leverage someone who is outside of our minds to help us see our patterns and create space between the things in our lives that cause us pain and distress and the choices we make in response. This can allow us to choose differently and ultimately find more peace in our lives, and who among us wouldn’t love to have a little more peace in the midst of this crazy life?
What does the first visit look like?
Let’s be honest, the hardest step is usually the first one. Getting through the door for that first appointment is often the most intimidating part of the process. So, let’s talk about what it will look like so there’s a little less mystery to getting started. Therapy is an incredibly personal journey, and as a result, you will often lean on the relationship and trust that you build with your therapist to take a hard look at some difficult topics in your life. Because of that fact, it takes some time to build that relationship. The first visit with a therapist is often a get to know you session. Your therapist will ask a lot of questions to try to understand you and the experiences in your life that have shaped you. They may tell you about their professional experience and philosophy so that you can decide whether they are a good fit for the things you want to address. And together, you will likely talk about and identify the goals you want to work toward to be sure that you are on the same page in the process. While you likely won’t be fixing any major issues in that first visit, you may leave with some tools to try or some homework to think about as you start your therapy journey. Ultimately though, the most important thing to remember is that you are in the driver’s seat. Those first few sessions can go at your pace, no need to fret over how intrusive things will get, as you get to control how quickly you get into the tough stuff or if you go there at all.
Is therapy just someone telling me how to live my life?
There aren’t many questions with absolute answers from mental health professionals, but this is one where I will give you a pretty succinct “Nope.” Therapists may make suggestions to help you examine a problem in your life from a new or different angle, but the outcome is ultimately yours to control. The point of therapy is to give YOU the tools to choose the life YOU want to live. Being told what to do is in pretty direct conflict with that end state, so you can rest assured that you probably won’t be told to “just do it this way.”
What if I don’t like my therapist? Are all therapists the same?
This is one of the most common misconceptions about starting therapy from my experience. Therapists are unique individuals just like the rest of us. They all have different backgrounds, training and experiences that can work well, or not so well in your unique situation. As I said before, therapy is a very personal journey, so you want your partner in that journey to be someone you feel comfortable with and can trust. If you don’t jive with a therapist in those first few sessions, there’s nothing wrong with finding another option. That said, most therapists fully understand this and would love for you to TELL them you aren’t feeling the connection, so that they can either 1. Help you find the therapist you DO need, or 2. Figure out what it is that isn’t jiving for you so that it can be fixed. Sometimes we have negative associations with certain groups of people or mannerisms that we just can’t control and can’t get comfortable with, that’s ok to speak up about. There are also times when a therapist who doesn’t know you very innocently is doing something you don’t like that they can stop doing or do differently, that is also ok to speak up about and in fact may help build the relationship to ensure you have trust and comfort through the process. Either way, don’t be afraid to try out a few different therapists to find who fits you best and don’t get discouraged if it takes you a few tries to find the right fit. The relationship you have with your therapist is one of the most powerful factors in determining whether therapy will feel worthwhile to you so take your time and invest in finding a good fit.
How long does it take?
This question really depends on a lot of factors. The research on psychotherapy shows that most people will see improvement in their symptoms within 8-12 sessions, and some see improvement as soon as 4-5 sessions in. That being said, the process is unique to the individual and its duration can vary based on the unique needs of each client.
Is it just for people struggling with thoughts of suicide?
This is a definite NO! While therapy can be extremely important for people struggling with thoughts of suicide, it can be extremely important for anyone who wants to invest in their own coping skills and well-being. Sometimes clients are looking to deal with stressful circumstances, sometimes they are just feeling stagnant and looking to move toward a goal, there is no wrong time to start working with a therapist.
Why should I talk to someone about my personal stuff? Can’t I just talk to friends and family instead?
Friends and family can be an invaluable support system during trying times, but there is a unique value in talking with someone to whom you owe nothing and have no responsibility. Often in our personal relationships, there is an ongoing narrative w a conscious of that can prevent us from being totally honest and transparent. That may be a feeling of responsibility for their emotions, a resentment from your history, or even a feeling of needing to be strong to make them feel comfortable. In any case, those dynamics can make it difficult to get an unbiased perspective. A therapist is uniquely trained to remain as unbiased as possible and to leverage their background and experiences to ensure your conversations allow you to grow on the path of your choosing instead of having to adjust yourself to fit the needs of someone you care about.
Will the therapist judge me?
I can say with significant confidence that judgement is one of the last things on your therapist’s mind and the last thing you need to be worrying about. In the mental health profession, therapists work with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. This means that they hear and discuss topics of all kinds and likely, what you are concerned about will not even phase them. Their job is not to judge but to listen and support.
We may not be impartial, but from our experience, therapy can be one of the most life changing investments you make in yourself and your life. We at Tailored Brain Health would love to help you get started on that journey. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 336-542-1800 to discuss more.