Back in my therapy days, it was still a fairly stigmatized concept, and mental illness was universal as ever. The experience was complicated, and I came out a winner. But looking back, I realize I could have done so much better if only I was mentally prepared for it. I want your first experience with therapy to be better, so I’ve put together this brief listicle of things I wish I knew before I began therapy. I hope it helps!
When done the right way- and there’s more than one way to do that, therapy can be strangely healing. Your therapist may unearth more truths about you, and problems you didn’t know you had been dealing with subconsciously. You should go into therapy with an open mind and a flexible view of yourself.
Good things take time. And just like a child will crash his bicycle a couple of times before he’ll learn to keep it up, things will sometimes look worse before they’ll be better. To overcome years and years of grief and anxiety, you will be forced to face the things you had been avoiding. The goal of therapy is not to help you take refuge in your comfort zone, but to push you to step away from it.
And because it will cause you discomfort, you may be overwhelmed and want to quit. But don’t just quit yet, don’t give up on yourself. You can hate the therapist, but to the therapist, it will never be personal.
It isn’t hard to get all comfortable with the only people in the world who will listen to you without judgment, and accept you for who you are, but your therapist is not your friend. Transference is real and happens more often than you’d imagine. In a healthy amount, it helps you open up to your therapist.
Merely signing up for therapy and paying for the sessions will not heal you- your therapist is not a genie, it is not his job to rid you of your grievances and issues, but to help you do it better yourself. When you listen to your therapist and tell them everything they need to know, while diligently practicing your homework exercises, you surprisingly start to feel better. You won’t completely heal overnight- you’ll need to be patient. If your therapist says you need to face your fears, you can’t go on avoiding them like you would earlier. If you can’t face them, tell the therapist why not. If you won’t be doing an assignment, tell them beforehand. Your therapist is only here to show you the ways, but you must choose one and tread it yourself.
A bad first experience with a therapist could discourage you from ever going for therapy again. But this is where you miss out- it can take time finding the right therapist. Maybe you’d do much better with a woman, or with someone much older than you. When choosing a therapist, you’d be better off comparing their specializations to your needs. You and your therapist should be compatible.
If you find them saying hurtful things or getting intrusive, you can let them know; you don’t have to bite your lip and be polite. Situations like these will help you communicate better. This could help you discover patterns in your own thoughts and actions- maybe something like that would never come up in your conversation otherwise.
And you don’t always have to agree with your therapist. Therapy is not about giving you a solution in exchange for money but helping you find it.
Your therapist won’t be of much help if you can’t be completely honest with him/her. You are paying for it, so why not? And lying is worse.
It can be hard to open up to a stranger, and maybe that’s what you have been dealing with- you have resorted to being reclusive. But you will need to tell the therapist. Drugs? Cutting? Suicide attempts? Sexual abuse? Tell them. Afraid of being judged by your therapist? Tell them. Nothing is off-limits, no matter how embarrassing. And if something is too awkward to spell out, you can write it out to them.
It can be harder to open up if you’re worried your personal information is going to be used against you. Therapists are trained to keep it confidential, and will never give out your information to those asking for it, except when required by law. And your therapist will never judge you. If they do, it’s a red flag, and time to look for a new therapist.
Those tears you’ve been holding back? You don’t have to apologize for being born with a leaky faucet- even if you’re a man. No, it won’t overwhelm your therapist and make them never want to see you again- they are trained to deal with it. And after all, therapy should be a safe place for you.
Although you may see your therapist as a perfect human figure who never gets a thing wrong, the idea is far-fetched, and your therapist is only human. She can make mistakes, and may forget to call back, or may run late. If anything, this should tell you it’s okay to be human.
The cinema has certainly done its part in battling the stigma, we’ll give it that. But it also just might have helped establish false ideals about how therapy is “supposed to be”. You won’t always be lying down on a couch across your therapist, and you will also not be the only one.
Your therapist will not write you meds, but may refer you to a psychiatrist in severe cases where you have suicidal tendencies, psychotic thoughts, or severe depression. Keep in mind that they do not receive compensation for such referrals.
If situations don’t allow you to make it to your therapist’s appointment, you can also go for online sessions via video call. Your therapist will be happy to help you in the way you find comfortable.
But it can. Therapy isn’t supposed to go on forever. As you progress into it, your sessions spread out through the month. And some times, it helps to take up a couple follow-up sessions once your therapy has ended.
In therapy, you’ll need to show up to appointments even if you don’t have anything particular to talk about. Large gaps between your sessions can make it longer to catch up every time, and make you relapse. Also, silence can help bring out topics you wouldn’t have initiated otherwise. It will also point a finger to what’s happening right now. You’ll also need to follow protocol; show up to appointments on time, regularly practice your assignments and exercises, and be a little patient for your turn. Your therapist has a lot to take in every day, and much to remember.
You can choose to terminate therapy when you feel like it, but it’s better to fade the transition than to go full cold-turkey and ghost your therapist. Closure is always better for both of you, and you can even come back a month or a year later, when you’re ready for it.
The techniques you will learn in therapy will stay with you for the rest of your life, and you might also be able to apply those skills in other areas of your life. Therapy can make you stronger as a person.
When you put your heart to it, therapy will be a very healing experience, and I’m sure you’ll come out of it stronger than ever. Here’s to looking out for your mind and body!