What to expect (and don't) from therapy
Howdy readers & fellow personal development enthusiasts!
Happy December to everyone and hope that this beautiful month caught you in a holiday mood. If not, you are welcome here with whichever mood you have.
Today’s topic builds on the previous week’s topics about therapy & therapists.
For most people who have never been to a therapist, the first session is filled with a bit of anxiety, uneasiness, and loads of thoughts about what will happen, how the other person will see you, what will they think about you, and so on.
So this is a breakdown of the most important expectations from that first session of therapy and some of the other sessions.
Usually, the first session is all about getting to know one another. Some therapists will prefer to send you some materials to fill out before the session, just to get your info and some history - some will talk about this at the first session.
The therapist will usually lead the conversation - but gently and leaving you enough space to talk about yourself and what brought you to therapy.
You can expect (and should) some kind of explanation of what the therapy will be like, what’s the framework of the therapist and some next steps.
95% of my clients at the first session will tell me that they feel a bit uneasy at the first session. Some are even a bit anxious.
That is all normal. Usually, their minds are on high alert about what the therapist will think of them, worrying about their issues and how they will be perceived and all that. Some think they will be judged.
Let me tell you something that may put your mind at ease:
It is highly unlikely that you might surprise an experienced therapist.
Chances are they have heard them all and dealt with them all.
Some therapists are a bit uneasy at the first session. Not because they are inexperienced, but because they love what they do and also have thoughts about how they will be perceived by their clients.
The holding back.
I have worked with people who wait for 2 or 3 sessions before tackling the thing that brought them to therapy.
There are multiple reasons for this, among them the fear of being judged or to scare (!) the therapist.
There are two sides of the story here:
One: this is perfectly normal. For most people who have received criticism or blame most of their lives, this fear is functional and has worked for them so many times.
We, as therapists, forget how privileged we are to receive the most intimate part of someone.
Therapy is a very intimate relationship, sometimes, the most intimate that a person has. A good therapist will catch up on that and give you space.
However, the other side is that the more you hold back, the harder is for both of you to move along in the therapy.
So, what I recommend is telling your therapist that it’s hard for you to talk about some issues and have patience with yourself as you become more open.
Most therapies will focus on your thoughts, your emotions, your physical sensations, and the way that they interact.
One of the biggest goals of therapy is to broaden your repertoire of expressing emotions, thoughts, and reactions to the difficult situations that you deal with.
To create emotional, cognitive & behavioral flexibility.
So the therapist will ask you about how you feel and what are your thoughts & stories that your mind is telling you.
Some will challenge those (like in Cognitive behavioral therapy) some will change the way that you interact with those thoughts (as in contextual therapies).
Most therapists will recommend different challenges for you to take home or homework to do.
This is especially important, as therapy is mostly about learning new skills, so the generalizing part is a heavy part of it.
Now, homework is recommended. IT IS NOT mandatory. If you find yourself shamed by your therapist that you don’t do your homework or they condition the therapy of the homework - I would address this.
When a client doesn’t do their homework, then this is a topic to put on the table in session.
Also, for me especially, I focus a lot on lifestyle - exercising and daily habits - of course, they are not mandatory, but in my experience, they contribute a lot to a healthy emotional life.
Sometimes therapy sessions could be a bit awkward.
Now, I know this word - awkward - carries a lot in it.
I do not mean awkward as in seeing angels or something like that.
I am referring to the fact that it will require you to go outside what is common for you.
To experiment with behaviors that are normally not in your range - such as - aham -
apologizing, practicing kindness; mindfulness, naming what you feel or think, or exposing yourself to situations that you would normally avoid.
The important thing to remember is that the therapist will never coerce you into doing this, or shame you if you don’t. They will be discussed and planned in your time frame.
There is none. We are not here to tell you how to live your life and as much as you think you cannot manage or don’t know what to do - we are here to help you figure out the best course of action for you.
If a therapist will offer advice - they will do so after asking for your permission. Anything else is just bad therapy.
That’s all for now. I am curious to hear your therapy stories, what you particularly like or dislike from your therapist.