Many people want to start therapy but are scared off because they aren’t sure what to expect. Some wonder how they’ll be able to talk about themselves to a total stranger for 50 minutes. Talking about hidden vulnerabilities, imperfections, and even hopes and dreams, which others said were silly, isn’t easy to do.
Some think therapy is for wimps. Those who caused the pain may have said “Suck it up” or “Don’t cry.” Abuses were swept under the rug. They grew up never being asked about their feelings. The only feeling that ever got addressed was anger in far too many homes. Often, there’s a family belief, “What happens in this family, stays in this family” – the family secrets are never to be spoken.
Sadly, because of these reasons, many believe their stuff should be ignored. Suppressing the feelings has detrimental impacts on one’s health. These beliefs only weigh people down or contribute to poor processing of emotions. Oftentimes, there’s a poor transference of emotions that makes people feel scared, depressed, frustrated, or angry.
The magic of therapy goes beyond just talking about the symptoms. It brings to light the cause of the emotions. If the cause isn’t uncovered, it feels like you’re constantly weighed down by your past. The essential part of talk therapy is to make sense of your past so you can finally heal from it. It’s life-changing when one sheds heavy burdens and realizes they don’t have to suffer anymore from a painful past.
The Realities of Therapy
Seeking therapy is a very good sign. It’s an indication that you want to change and all change comes from awareness.
Be open and honest with your therapist. The quiet atmosphere, devoid of distractions, allows individuals to trust their instincts and drill down into stories previously never mentioned or understood. Not being honest with me is a waste of both our times. Be truthful with yourself and have faith in me to not judge you while explaining all the messy details.
Just talking. Don’t put pressure on yourself. I often hear people say, “I don’t really have much to talk about today” only to be surprised when that time flew by. What is seen as benign conversations can be very insightful to me. What’s said at those times may apply to something else in a later session.
Don’t feel a need to impress me. I need to hear what’s going on. Worrying about how I’ll see you will only hinder the process. Give me all the details even if you aren’t always going to look great during those shares.
Not every minute of every session will be a purge of painful stories and the emotions linked to them. I often meet clients who think they failed if they didn’t talk about deep, damaging stories in every session.
It’s always helpful if an individual comes into each session with a specific topic or two they may want to discuss. However, not every situation has to be focused on your childhood or that scary event of twenty years ago. What is seen as a general story of one’s day can expose effective or ineffective coping skills.
Be patient. Your life is complex. It takes time to explain it. Your world didn’t get out of sorts overnight. Recovery won’t occur instantaneously either. It’s natural for people to come to therapy at the time of their strongest discomfort. Yet, there are a lot of contributing factors and other layers of your life where you’re impacted. Your upbringing, your relationships at home, last Thanksgiving, your job, leisure activities, and those you work and play with, are all contributing factors to who you are now. It’s important to hear how you relate to your world today. Though off the original therapeutic goal that brought you into therapy, these sidebars can be significant details.
People often don’t realize the progress they’re making. It’s invigorating when people begin to connect their dots. The right mix of silence and good questions, at the right time, is magical in helping people make sense of their sufferings and create solutions for their situations. Progress is often made in little, subtle steps.
You’re in control. Don’t expect the therapist to say, “I want to talk about” a certain topic. Occasionally, that may happen if there was an unfortunate stopping point last session at a crucial time. Usually, though, you’re in total control of your session.
In between sessions, give some thought to what you want to work on or discuss. Notice what’s gnawing at you, an interesting experience you’d like to mention, or even something that was inspiring. Not everything in your life was bad so sessions don’t have to be negative. Life isn’t like that so our discussions don’t have to be either.
I always ask my clients, “What can we talk about today that can get you closer to your goal(s),” “What can we shed light on that’ll bring you clarity” or “What’s the thing that’s calling for your attention at this time?” Take it from there and let’s talk.
Incorporate a notebook into your life. I always ask people to start writing down their thoughts and feelings about the circumstances they encounter. Plus, they’ll have some epiphanies during sessions, worth writing down, as we begin our work. I may give some type of assignment so it’s helpful to keep everything about therapy in one place. Even beyond therapy, it’s a good practice to carry a thought journal wherever you go.
Constructive feedback. There may be a time when I have to call out a client’s dysfunctional behavior(s) so they can make desired changes. If this happens, please see me as doing my job. I have a completely different role in your life than anyone you’ve ever met. I say critiques with love and kindness not to hurt you but to improve you. The one place everything stays within the walls is in our sessions. There’s no reason to be embarrassed. Change comes from discomfort.
No apology is necessary. If you cry, there’s no need to feel bad for me. There’s no need to apologize. Though I appreciate someone caring about me, please don’t break your flow and say, “I’m sorry.” Most people don’t cry enough. Let it out. Even though most originally think crying is bad, afterward, I often hear how good it felt to cry. Let it out. You’re safe in my office.