Taking the plunge to begin therapy is enormous. You have decided to ask for help from a complete stranger with the hopes that they will understand you, empathize with you, and present you with new ideas about how to move forward. As you approach this new experience your expectations may become daunting. TV and movies often shape our perceptions and can mislead us, often therapy is depicted as something humorous to poke fun at, or as something only people with severe trauma or illness require. The truth is it’s something in the middle. There may be times that you laugh and there may be times that you cry or feel unwanted pain. This is normal. Therapy is about looking at your situation and yourself from a different perspective. It is about challenging old ideas, trying out new strategies, and addressing neglected emotions. Mostly it is about healing, and sometimes this is done with laughter, sometimes with tears, but always with someone by your side as you transition from one moment in life to the next.
Getting the most out of therapy takes effort. It is important to realize that this is work and not just a gripe session; because as cathartic as it is to verbalize all those negative feelings - the feeling of relief won’t last without a second look, and maybe even some action.
So as you get started on this new journey there are a few things to consider:
1. What am I looking to get out of this?
This particular question may take some time to unravel. Life is full of challenges and it maybe difficult to pinpoint which aspect needs the most attention; however as you sort through the complications it may be helpful to understand what outcome you are seeking. Sometimes all we need is a safe place to have an open conversation, other times our situations require a more hands on approach such as developing new coping skills or seeking outside resources.
2. How much do I want to share during my first visit?
Therapy should be a safe place for you to discuss and explore complex emotions and circumstances. However, it’s up to you how much you want to share and when. During your first visit it’s up to you how much detail you wish to discuss, just keep in mind you’re in a judgment free zone. The important thing is that you feel comfortable with what you are discussing and the pace of the conversation.
3. Consider what has worked in the past (and perhaps what hasn’t)
If you’ve been in therapy before, it can be helpful to share what you did or didn’t find useful. Perhaps a previous therapist gave you homework that you found too time consuming or insisted on discussing topics you found irrelevant. Or perhaps you found yourself wanting to spend more time on a subject that seemed to keep being pushed aside. Sharing this will improve your experience and ensure that you are taking an active role in the process.
4. Feedback is welcome
Inevitably, there will be times that something just doesn’t set well. There will also be times when the therapeutic approach needs adjusting. If something isn’t working or feels unsettling then feedback is warranted. Instead of chalking up therapy as being a waste of time or going through the motions feeling unheard and making little/no progress try addressing your experience head on. This will give you an active role and allow the therapeutic relationship to grow to meet your needs.
5. After the session…
Occasionally difficult discussions will reveal overwhelming emotions, leaving you feeling raw and maybe even a little disorganized. This too is normal, be kind to yourself following these sessions.
How much you choose to share with family or friends following therapy is completely up to you, but keep in mind that therapy is for you and your personal growth; sometimes these conversations are best left in the safety of the therapy room. If and when it is necessary to include another individual in the therapy it can and will be arranged.
Like all things worthwhile, therapy takes time and dedication. It is an investment in your-self and your loved ones, and can serve as a medium for long lasting and valuable change. Understanding your expectations and having on ongoing dialogue with your therapist can help you make the most of your time and efforts.