Therapy can sound like an exciting thing to start, right?
After all, it's all about getting you to a better place and feeling better. Uh, maybe not. Many express that making the decision to go to therapy as being a scary one. It's scary because it's hard to know what to expect before you actually begin your therapy sessions.
I'm going to take some of the confusion out of the process for you and give you an idea about what to expect in therapy, though, understandably, every therapist is different and may structure their therapy and sessions somewhat differently. My insights are solely based on my experience working in my therapy office in Cedarhurst in the Five Towns of Long Island, and who has had the privilege of working with hundreds of New Yorkers, primarily Long Island-ers.
My wish is for you to feel more comfortable about making the decision to start therapy and reduce anxiety you may have about the process. Starting off with the right information and attitude will contribute to a more meaningful and successful experience.
Here's what you need to know.
1. You're no longer alone.
As soon as you meet the therapist, you will feel relieved. Knowing that there is someone who trained for many years, has skills and is interested in you and your burdens, worries and hopes for healing is a relief. You can put your weights you've carrying down, and let the professional help you with that as you begin working together. Obviously in the first session its just about getting to know each other and sensing if this person is a good fit. You will feel deeper levels of relief, and make longer lasting gains in therapy as you develop a strong therapeutic relationship and both of you are hard at work, and diving deeper into your therapy goals.
2. Jot down some notes.
I know it isn't high school or college, but so many times people come in and share a lot on their mind but forget one or two important pieces that really were part of the reason they reached out. You wont get to everything on your first session, but if there is something pressing, write it on a note and bring it up. You may also choose to do this as you continue in therapy, to be sure your sessions address specific issues that have been coming up.
3. Be clear on where you want to get to.
Whenever I receive a therapy consult call, I always ask "If therapy worked and you got the help you needed, what would your life look like in 6 months or a year from now". I want to know where you want to get towards, as that will inform our treatment goals. For example, you may have anxiety and feel panicky at work, socially, or all the time. You may be feeling trapped in the trap of depression, are struggling with low self esteem or you keep getting into fights with your partner. These are important things to address. Real life examples are good because they explain the specifics of your struggle.
4. You need to put in hard work
If only going to therapy would heal you, all people would be flocking to therapy and be healed overnight. I wish I can offer that to you, and at the same time, I would be robbing you the deeply meaningful and enriching opportunity to experience deep shifts, transformation and self actualization if you didn't get to do the work personally. Therapy offers insight and will offer skills and tips for better managing your life. However, you will need to practice the skills utilize, newfound awareness, practice being more attuned to yourself and challenge unhelpful beliefs. The time between sessions is when you are living your life and actualize the changes.
5. Therapy isn't a "fad".
Some people look at therapy as a cool thing to do because its "in" and just like you have a Dr., accountant and nutritionist, you have therapist. I'd like to look at each person's role and what they offer for you. Therapy is about relieving emotional distress and helping you feel better. If you've never experienced quality therapy then i can imagine it is hard to understand how therapy can be impactful, however, well trained therapists are skilled at applying specific interventions that help alleviate pain, emotional discomfort and dis-ease. Good therapy also entails therapists who have the ability to develop a strong therapeutic alliance. Having a strong therapy relationship predicts positive outcomes for treatment.
6. Different strokes for different folks.
Every therapist has a different personality, approach and uses different methods to treatment. Behavioralists will primarily want to help you improve your behaviors and may use charts to teach you new and better ways of functioning. Psychoanalysts will do the listening, and comment infrequently, but rather will be analyzing and observing as you share. Some therapists take a more interactive approach and engage in the conversation a whole lot more. However, even with different approaches, there is no single way to engage in therapy and so I encourage you to ask your therapist how involved he or she intends to be in the session.
7. You set the pace
Your therapist will identify treatment goals and interventions that are needed based on what you share you need help with, however, the pacing of your treatment will be dependent on where you are at and how fast or slow you need to go. A common term that therapists use is "meet you where you are at". With my clients we identify stop signals to help slow down the conversation or trauma processing (when using EMDR or Somatic Psychotherapy) if needed. A good therapist is attuned to their clients and is sensitive to which topics are to be set aside for the time being, and can sense when to be cautious and when to be curious. A skilled therapist can pick up on what you are not saying just as much as they hear what you are saying, and knows how honor your privacy and trusts that those issues will surface if and when relevant.
8. Take accountability
One of the things I respect most about clients who seek treatment is their courage and willingness to be honest. The more you can roll your sleeves up and be real in your therapeutic process, the more successful you will be. Authenticity and honesty is about being open about your thoughts, feelings and choices. At times you may push back on the changes or the newfound clarity you have, as shifting out of an old, unhelpful way of being is hard! I let clients know that it's normal to experience all kinds of emotions; relief, happiness, sadness, worry, shame, grief, joy, anger, frustration, confusion or even fear. Therapy is a space to work with and through all of these emotions, and dig into the "feels" to access what's going on beneath.
There are definitely times where you are not the one accountable for things that went wrong.
Maybe mom was distracted, dad had anger issues or there was a terrifying abuser in your life. Those were not in your locus of control. Life may have sent you too many rain-showers, and that was hard on you. In those spaces we support you and help you process and heal. However, we always come back to empowering you to the points where you do have control today, where you can make choices and how to support you in a place of movement in your life.
9. Not a bobble head therapist
Some of the old school ways of treatment was where the therapist sat far away, had somewhat of a "blank slate" and wasn't actively engaged. These days the approach is a lot more interactive as clients expressed the lack of connection to cause extra anxiety and therapists agreed that collaborative approaches strengthen the therapeutic relationship (and regarding facial expressions that are warm and authentic: according to mirror neuron research, babies who did't get reactions from their mothers felt more anxious than those who had emotional responsiveness, so it is relevant as well to the facial expressions you see on your therapists face).
In therapy, your therapist will engage with you as a human being first and therapist next. We work under the professional codes and ethics, and at the same time therapists relate to clients in an empathetic, genuine fashion. This doesn't mean that therapists will share much about thier personal life, as therapy is about you, but if something relevant comes up your therapist may briefly discuss it and then bring the focus back to you and your therapy.
I hope this was helpful in providing some information that can help you as you make your first therapy appointment.
If you are located in the Long Island area of New York; in Nassau County, Garden City, Woodmere, Hewlett, Cedarhurst, Lawrence or Inwood (Five Towns), feel free to reach out so I can help you in finding the right therapist for your needs.