Starting therapy can be anxiety-provoking, especially if you’re not sure what to expect. Either because you have never been in therapy before, or you’re seeing a new therapist.
On the other hand, some people make assumptions about therapy, thinking they know it all. They are then taken off guard once treatment begins.
The truth is, although much improved from the past, there is a stigma about therapy. Part of the problem is that it’s not talked about very often. And there are so many misconceptions that contribute. If you’ve been considering seeking help from a mental health therapist, I’d imagine you have some questions as well.
With that in mind, here are important things to know about therapy, in order to clear up any confusion or misunderstandings about therapy.
If you go to therapy, it doesn’t mean there is something “wrong” with you
The myth that there’s something wrong with you if you go to therapy is a big one that contributes to the stigma about mental health treatment. People go to therapy for so many reasons. The stigma assumes someone has “problems” if they are in therapy. I would argue that I don’t think I know one person that doesn’t encounter some kind of problems in their life.
Why not seek help if you are unable to figure out on your own? There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people might want to better understand themselves for their own personal growth. They want to change behavior patterns that are no longer serving them or causing trouble in their life.
Other times someone might need support related to something distressing that has occurred in their life. This might include working through loss/grief or a trauma.
Therapy is essentially about self-improvement. I’d imagine most folks would not see this as a negative thing.
It’s Different than on TV
Pop culture would have you believe that right away the therapist is going to jump right in and start offering advice about your situation and what to do, or they will have you looking at ink-blot tests and talking about your dreams within minutes.
While these approaches can be used in therapy, they more than often are not. Dream interpretation can come up, but typically only if the client wants to discuss an interesting or disturbing dream they had, or if it’s the therapist’s specialty. And most therapists don’t give a lot of advice, but rather help you understand yourself better and support you in answering your own questions.
Also, many people think you’d spend the entire session talking about your childhood and blaming your parents for everything wrong in your life. While many therapists will want to get a history on you to uncover specific behavioral patterns and emotional memories that have helped wire the brain, the idea of therapy is NOT to put fault on your parents for all of your current troubles. Sometimes you may explore this history to better understand the impact of these relationships on your relationships and behaviors now.
It also really depends on the style of therapy your therapist uses. Some focus more on the past to increase understanding of how it affects you in the present. Others only focus on current problems and tools to manage them. Many will do a little of both. When meeting with a therapist, you can ask them about their approach to get a clearer idea if it’s a fit for what you’re looking for.
You Won’t Feel Better Immediately
Though the point of therapy is to create better habits, behaviors and beliefs that lead to creating a happy and fulfilling life, the process of getting there will sometimes be uncomfortable. It is unrealistic to expect you will feel better right away. Therapy takes time and commitment. In fact, sometimes things can even get worse before they get better. Think of if you scrap your skin, the nerve endings are closer to the surface and that area will feel more sensitive if touched. But, if you treat the wound right, it will heal and it will eventually not hurt to touch that spot. Therapy brings things closer to the surface since you are actively working on them; thus, you might feel more emotionally sensitive and triggered initially. However, as you heal, you will have more ways to manage the things that come up, and/or feel differently about them.
You Have to Want to Change
You can go to a doctor and they can give you medication and suggest lifestyle changes to help improve your physical health. However, unless you actually take the medicine and put those changes into action, you likely won’t get better. The doctor can’t force you to do these things, nor will just going to the appointment improve your condition. You must be willing and consistent in putting the effort in and do what’s necessary to see results.
The same is true for therapy. Your therapist will be gentle and compassionate and go at a pace that feels comfortable for you, but ultimately you have to want to get better. It takes work from you to get there. And the way you get better is to address your own behaviors, recognize the patterns, and make healthier choices. But not to worry, your therapist will be there along the way, encouraging you as you go.
Therapy isn’t magic, and it won’t take all your problems away, but it does provide you with the tools for lasting improvements.
If you or a loved one is interested in seeking treatment, please contact me today. I can speak with you about how I may be able to help.