If you have not been to the therapy or if your first therapy experience has been negative, it takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. If your ideas about therapy are mainly based on what you see on TV, I’d strongly suggest you read this blog.
1) If I am going to therapy that means I am broken and I need a fix.
No matter what mental state you are in, you are not broken, and you do NOT need someone to fix you. People need/want therapy for many different reasons. Losing a loved one, changing jobs, graduating from college, experiencing trauma, anxiety, and depression are some of them. Sometimes we need a neutral person who is not going to judge us and provide us with honest feedback. Sometimes we need some coping tools to overcome an obstacle in our lives. Therapy is for everybody and seeing a therapist does not make you a “crazy” person.
2) My therapist will tell me what to do to fix my problems.
Wouldn’t that be awesome if someone can just tell us what to do and makes decisions for us? While tempting, the life does not work like that. When we are told what to do, we either feel resentful or incompetent based on the outcome of that advice. Your therapist will not tell you what to do because you know your life better than anyone else and ultimately you are the one who will live with the consequences of these decisions. However, your therapist will help you process your options and choose what you think is best for you.
3) I will feel enlightened after every session.
Unfortunately, not every session will have an Oprah “Aha” moment. Some sessions will help you develop an insight while other will be more educational (learning some tools) or exchanging perspectives. Therapeutic relationship is very similar to any kind of interpersonal relationship with its ups and downs.
4) My therapist has it all figured out.
While your therapist may have more tools to cope, they are not free of challenges and problems. Most of us go through life just like you are and experience loss, anxiety, depression and even trauma. These experiences do not make us less qualified to help and support you. On the contrary, they help us to be more empathetic and compassionate towards you. During the first months of the pandemic, we were all going through the same confusion, fear, and anxiety as all of our clients, but this did not stop us from showing up for our clients and helping them get through this.
5) I need a quick fix and therapy will give me that.
When we are in pain, there is nothing more urgent than stopping the pain. You may want your problems to go away in three sessions. However, therapy is a process, and it takes effort, hard work and commitment. It is not just about learning the coping tools or skills but also applying them to your life. As I always say, setting up goals is only 50% of the process, removing the obstacles that would prevent you from achieving your goals is the other 50%. Sometimes you will have to tap into the deep, uncomfortable parts of your past that brings out shame, fear, or regret. It is important to lean into these feelings and work through them rather than avoid them.
6) My therapist should be in control and lead the session.
This is definitely a style issue but for the most part, it is very important for you to be an active participant in your therapy. I find it to be a lot more effective when my clients come to the sessions with some topics to work on and work on their homework assignments. Yes, homework. Homework is a great tool that many therapists use because it helps the therapeutic work to extend beyond the therapy hour. It encourages you to work on your personal growth and therapy goals outside the therapy.
As we are all feeling the pressure of the pandemic on our mental health, reaching out for support became more important than ever before. I believe that setting the right expectations will help you make the most of your therapy experience and prevent disappointments.