When I first started therapy, I remember feeling intimidated. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I lie down on a couch and talk for hours? Would I be asked to share my life story with a complete stranger? When my therapist asked me to be completely honest about how I felt about therapy, I told her the truth: I was scared and uncomfortable. With these feelings in mind, my therapist was better able to navigate the session. We spent the next hour going over expectations, the importance of communication, and my goals for therapy. By the second session, I felt confident enough to engage with my therapist and begin the work I intended to do during therapy.
I’m not alone in feeling apprehensive about therapy; in fact, many people express feelings of discomfort during their first session. In this post, we’ll discuss a few tips to help ease any feelings of discomfort you may have towards therapy to ensure you’re getting the most out of your sessions.
Change your perspective on therapy. Due to its stigma, some people may view therapy negatively. However, as we know through research and statistics, therapy has substantial benefits and can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Think of it this way: therapy is an investment in yourself. Just as exercise and doctor appointments are investments in your physical health, therapy is an investment in your mental health.
2. Find a therapist that fits your needs. Make a checklist of the things you’re looking for in a therapist. Common questions to consider include:
- Do you want someone that takes insurance or offers a sliding scale for payment?
- Do you want to see someone weekly or biweekly?
- Would you prefer talking to a male or female therapist?
- Do you want to see someone that specializes in a specific area (i.e. couples counseling, substance use, etc.)?
Knowing what you’re looking for in a therapist can help narrow your search and find someone who fits your needs. It’s important to note that it may take some time and effort to find the right therapist for you, and that’s okay. Research suggests that the greatest therapeutic success comes from a strong client-therapist relationship. So, during your first few sessions, ask them questions to get a feel for their personality and style. Remember, every therapist is different— from the therapeutic approach they use to their personal style.
Being familiar with common types of therapeutic approaches may help you better understand your therapist and their expectations for your sessions. Here’s a quick breakdown of the three most common therapeutic approaches:
Considered to be a longer-term approach to mental health treatment when compared to other therapies
Strong emphasis on exploring your childhood and past, as well as analyzing recurring thought patterns and behaviors
Compared to psychodynamic therapy, behavioral therapy focuses less on emotional stress and more on changing behaviors that cause distress
Uses various action-based techniques to target problem behaviors (e.g. phobias)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Can be viewed as a mix of psychodynamic and behavioral therapy
Strong emphasis on addressing both emotional and behavioral issues through reflective techniques such as homework and journaling
With information accessible in an instant through the Internet, finding a therapist that checks all your boxes may be easier than you think. In addition to using Google, some common therapy matching apps include: CounselChat, TalkSpace, and BetterHelp. (Natalie offers a great chatting service as well that allows you to speak to her from anywhere! Check out more info at: www.counselingwithnatalie.com/RealTalk)
3. Open communication is the foundation for a solid client-therapist relationship. Contrary to popular belief, therapists are not mind readers. Therefore, it is essential to your success to be as honest as possible with your therapist. If you feel uncomfortable with a technique, or don’t understand what’s being asked of you, let them know. Remember, you are an active participant in your healing, and your feedback is essential to your growth. It’s beneficial to know what your goals are for your sessions so that you can more effectively communicate your needs to your therapist. Consider the following questions when communicating with your therapist:
- What do I hope to gain from therapy?
- Are there any past experiences I want to address?
- What thought patterns/behaviors do I want to change?
- What are my short and long term goals?
4. Commit to doing the work outside of sessions. Therapy doesn’t end once the session is over; in fact, some of the greatest work is done outside of therapy. Therapy sessions are meant to give you the tools you need to succeed and the space to practice them. Applying the lessons learned in therapy to your daily life is when growth happens. Many therapists give homework for you to do independently— just like in school, it’s important to do your homework to maximize your learning. Journaling after a session can also help to increase self-awareness and reinforce the new information you learned. Remember, consistency is key.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about therapy, it’s this: therapy isn’t a linear path. Rather, therapy is a healing journey— one with twists and turns, ups and downs. But, if you trust in the process, it’ll lead you right to your destination. So, sit back and enjoy the ride.
By Missy Boyanton, Content Contributor