The therapeutic process can seem a bit intimidating and even mystifying. As a therapist, I often encounter some inaccurate depictions of what others think therapy entails. Pop culture more often than not, depicts the therapeutic process incorrectly. I want to take this opportunity to share some perspectives about therapy. My hope is that the following aspects will be enlightening and encouraging, if you are considering entering therapy at some point this year.
Therapy is not advice giving or telling you what to do.
Your therapist is not meant to “tell you what to do” but rather serve as a guide to walk beside you on your journey to seek healing and growth. That said, if you ask your therapist what he/she thinks you should do – you should receive a response, like a question, that will foster inner reflection. Please know that an ethically responsible therapist will not give you his/her opinion. Doing so crosses into the realm of personal coaching and is therefore no longer therapy. The main exception to advice giving would be if your therapist provided a strong professional recommendation to something that will be for or against your therapeutic benefit.
Therapy is a model for a healthy relationship.
The relationship with your therapist is valuable in more ways than you know! Your therapist is a safe, nonjudgmental person as well as a model for what your relationships outside of the therapy room should look like. More often than not, when a client shares the details of a very difficult personal belief or a difficult experience my reaction/response helps to validate their feelings. The client is typically not used to feeling validated in their feelings. The experience of another individual validating their feelings rather than dismissing or ignoring can feel welcoming but also foreign. Summarily, therapy is a microcosm for your life outside of the therapy room. For instance, if a client has an off-putting social habit, the relationship with the therapist will be the perfect place to honestly confront that habit and discuss it because it is highly likely that loved ones in the client’s day-to-day do not know how to confront the off-putting social habit.
You can be yourself.
You are fine as you are. Kindly, reread that statement: YOU are fine as you are. When you meet with your therapist, please know you do not have to be perfect. You do not have to worry about coming across as [insert judgmental thought]. The therapy room is a nonjudgmental environment. As such, in time, it will grow to become a safe space for you to be vulnerable. Therapy is nonjudgmental. As such, you do not need to edit yourself in your thoughts, what you share, how your carry yourself, or even in how you speak. There have been many moments in my therapy room when a client is overcome with emotion and inadvertently curses. Without fail, he/she quickly apologizes. It is in that moment that I validate their realness and kindly remind my client that there is no need to edit themselves. Yes, you read that correctly; I actually encourage cursing and whatever means a client needs to truly express themselves safely and effectively. Authentic expression is therapeutic and healing.
Therapy is for everyone.
Therapy is a powerful and encompassing experience that is meant for everyone and anyone. You are deserving of it and entering into therapy does not mean “something is wrong with you.” Moreover, therapy does not have to conflict with religion, identity, culture, or social economic status. Please know that there are several specialized counseling options available in this field and at varying price points. Also, in most cases there is most likely a counselor of every religion and ethnic or cultural background that you could hope to imagine. At the end of the day, if you are considering therapy please just find someone with whom you feel comfortable with.
Therapy is hard!
Let me repeat: therapy is hard and exhausting work! You will not always feel good upon leaving your therapist’s office; however, you honor the therapeutic process by going to the uncomfortable places. When you reach a difficult moment – your therapist is going to keep you there in order to lean in and finally unpack what you have been packing away for so long! But let me just say this: a hard therapy session is just like going to the gym. You work hard and it hurts, but you will see positive results in the due time.
Therapy is an investment.
I often tell my clients that therapy is a financial investment in yourself. This path of healing can be costly. For that reason, it is important to generate a budget before you begin working with a therapist. Set your budget and search for therapists who are a good fit for you AND fit within your price range or are on your insurance panel. Again, therapy is a financial investment, but it should not be a financial burden. Once it becomes a burden, then the process is no longer truly therapeutic.
Find your fit.
The right therapist is key to making this experience effective. Plain and simple. If you do not click with your therapist, find one with whom you do.
You need to do the work.
Therapy will not work unless you do. “Therapeutic work” can take many forms, from out-of-session homework to opening up and truly being vulnerable. As a therapist, I will not work harder than my client. Meaning, I cannot want you to improve and heal more than you do. Physically “showing up” to therapy and simply sitting on the couch is not the same as being present and thoughtfully participating in sessions and completing out-of-session journaling, etc. I, personally and professionally, prefer to work with the latter because that client will have notable therapeutic growth.
The majority of your growth will happen outside of the therapy room.
Therapy is typically about one hour of your time per week; therefore, much of your reflection and personal growth takes place when you are not with your therapist. As you grow and heal, the people in your world will notice changes. Those changes could be seen via adjustments in your behaviors/moods/coping skills. It is also likely that those changes may cause ripples in existing relationships, especially if the relationships are unhealthy. It is fairly common, that as a client grows and heals, he/she sets personal and emotional boundaries with loved ones. Conflict tends to arise with the individuals who benefited from the client’s lack of boundaries. The take home message here is simply that as you grow, others will notice and react accordingly.
Your therapist will challenge and push you.
If I may speak frankly, my job as a therapist is to push you. My job is not to give you warm feels but rather to help you confront your most vulnerable and scary parts of yourself.
Just for laughs, please know that you do not have to lie down on our office sofas! You are free to do so but it is completely unnecessary for most therapeutic approaches. Make yourself as comfortable as you feel once you enter the therapy room.