There is plenty of advice on when you should seek out therapy. It’s helpful, and if you are considering seeing a therapist, the best advice I can give you is to simply do it. But once you decide to seek therapy, there isn’t much advice or expectations about what happens next.
I’ve been to therapy twice, five years ago and just last year. My nearly seven months of counseling last year has helped me tremendously. I’m not “fixed” per se (more on this later). I am more equipped to deal with the challenges of my life compared to 2014.
In 2014, that was something I didn’t understand about therapy. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, and it affected the overall effectiveness of the help I received. My approach to counseling was off. My attitude going into therapy put my therapist in a difficult position to help me and hindered my ability to see progress.
When I went again last year, the experience was vastly different. It wasn’t because my therapist was better. It was because I learned from my first experience, making my understanding of how therapy is intended to work better.
Five years ago, I wanted to be cured. Now, I understand the power lies in me to use my resources (internally and externally) to deal with the struggle that is life. I applaud you if you are going to therapy. That decision isn’t an easy one. But there are some things you need to understand and keep in mind before starting your journey (and as you will see, this is a journey).
You’ve already taken a big step. Be proud of this. Admitting you need help is difficult. I realize now I have needed help since I was a teenager. This was more true post-college when I struggled with self-responsibility and being on my own. It took until I was 27 years old to take action.
The hard part is already done and in the books. Arriving at the parking lot on time is an accomplishment in itself. Don’t forget that. You’ve already done something amazing.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable. Not because the seating is uncomfortable, though that is a possibility. You’ll realize that you’re about to spill out your life and deepest thoughts to a complete stranger. This was a struggle for me five years ago. As someone who didn’t talk to people about what was going on in my mind, doing so with a random person never came easy.
Keep three things in mind. One, if you can’t talk to your family and friends, a therapist (or support group) is a great alternative. Two, whatever you say in that room stays in that room. Your therapist won’t, and shouldn’t, relay what you share to anyone else. And three, stepping out of your comfort zone could be beneficial. We can all use a swift jolt from time-to-time.
Keep an open mind. If your therapist is like mine, they will suggest things that feel odd. Or it may be difficult to understand how these things are supposed to help you. Last year, my therapist handed me a toy jumbo bat and told me to hit anything grounded in the room and release all of the angry thoughts I had.
Keep in mind, it’s just me and her and she is the one asking me to do this. And yet, I felt like a fucking idiot. But you know what, after three or four bops against the couch, I lost myself in that moment and let out everything I had held onto, everything I had zipped my lips over. It helped, and I walked out of that office and into my car feeling like some weight had been taken off of me.
Your therapist might suggest taking conversations in places that make you hesitant or doing things outside of therapy. Stay open-minded to this. What you’ve done thus far hasn’t worked. Why not try something different and see if the results change?
Don’t lie to your therapist! Christ on a bike, this was my biggest failure five years ago! I was so insecure about my reality that I couldn’t even be honest with my therapist about it. I didn’t tell her about my porn addiction, attitude toward women, or financial struggles. I continually tried to put myself in as good a light as possible.
Here’s what was so wrong about that: I’m there because the light shining on me had dimmed. I wanted to look great despite clearly not feeling great. It made no sense. Your therapist can’t help you if you aren’t honest with them. They can’t supply you with the tools to move forward if they don’t know what behaviors need tinkering. Allow yourself to confront the truth.
Don’t be afraid to go too far. I believe we have a willingness to reveal ourselves to a point. We are continually conscious of going too far while speaking with others. Truthfully, that’s not a bad thing. Except when dealing with your therapist.
Therapy is a judgment-free zone, just like Youfit and Planet Fitness. Those dark thoughts in your head, the parts of your past you don’t tell people, it’s okay to tell your therapist. Your wellness is at stake. There is no need to hold back. By releasing everything in that room, you create space for the thinking your head actually needs.
Your range of emotions is in a safe place. Last year, I didn’t want to say the word “angry” when describing how events in my life made me feel. My therapist stopped me and said anger is a healthy emotion. I was taken back by this. We treat emotions like anger and sadness like a bad thing, expressions we need to bottle up. Let it out during therapy. God gave us these emotions for a reason. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling them.
It’s okay to cry. Admittedly, I’m more so saying this to the men. I assume the women are already aware of this. Guys, you will more than likely cry during one of your sessions. Speaking vividly, and candidly, about your feelings will do this. Your therapist is expecting this and has Kleenex on hand to assist you. Just let the tears go. We don’t cry and release that pain enough.
Don’t walk out. Sit your a** down. I personally have never walked out of a therapy session, no matter how difficult or frustrating it got. But I have heard of people doing this, presumably in response to something the therapist says or not wanting to continue an otherwise rough conversation.
Unless your therapist becomes unprofessional or calls you a “bitch,” just keep your ass seated and see things through. Commit to this. Now, if the connection you have with your therapist truly is bad and unfixable, it’s okay to find another therapist. This is about you, so you ultimately need to make choices in your best interest.
That said, a therapist isn’t supposed to tell you what you want to hear. If you are wanting a therapist to coddle you, then you’re probably not ready for therapy. Find a therapist you are socially comfortable with, and one who will challenge you in the ways you would never challenge yourself.
Finally, understand this isn’t an overnight fix. Doctors attempt to cure you of whatever ails you. There is no “cure” with therapy. The goal of therapy is to help you attain or form the resources necessary to deal with life’s ups and downs. Doing this takes time. So when you leave your first session, consider what the next steps are.
Maybe you need to sign up for another session. A local support group may be helpful. You might need time to do the things suggested by your therapist. Changing long-standing behavior takes practice and dedication. I spent a lot of time reading about meditation and better understanding my own behavior.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you truly want to see change, you have to be in this for the long haul. The fight isn’t over and saying that might not give you solace. But know that by deciding to do therapy and arriving at your first session, you have already won a major battle. You got this!