Are you considering therapy for the first time? Or maybe you’ve already started psychotherapy but feel uncertain about the process. As a therapist who works with both new and returning clients I thought it would be helpful to provide some information about what to expect in therapy.
I’ve reached out to friends, colleagues, and mentors I’ve met both in person and through social media. Here’s the accumulated wisdom of these caring and competent clinicians:
Look for someone who understands and connects with you, but also challenges you. Good therapy stems from a good relationship…a shared understanding of the problem, a confidence in the collaboration, an agreement on where you’re going and why, and a mutual liking and respect. Great therapy takes it a step further than that though, with someone who inspires and challenges you…to compassionately accept your own flaws and foibles at your worst and also to embrace your awesomeness at your best. Great therapy challenges you to share your unique light with the world and to connect with others to nurture theirs.
Jared DeFife, PhD. Host of the School of Psych podcast.
I wish I could show first-time clients that therapy really isn’t scary so they wouldn’t be anxious. I’m a human with real problems, just like the rest of us. You are the expert on your life, not me. I just have a bigger toolbox (that I can share)!
Chantal D. Hayes, MA, LPCA. Banyan Tree Counseling.
We don’t expect clients to share very personal details during the first session unless they feel comfortable doing so. We expect that the first few sessions will focus more on making sure that we are a good match for each other. If we are a good fit, you’ll feel comfortable sharing more personal information over time. We will be there to support you every step of the way.
Rachel Dubrow, LCSW. Individual & Couples Therapist.
The Process of Therapy
There is a lot of natural worry starting a new journey with a counselor, just as nerve-wracking as the dreaded “puff of air” test from my days as an Optometrist. Blinking is ok! I like to reassure clients of normal fears and reactions to being in therapy while still making your experience personal and powerful. There will be times you feel too “bad” to attend your session, which is a great time to cuddle under a therapy blanket and learn to be comforted. There are times when you feel too “good” to keep your appointment, which is a great time to do the foundational work that allows you to hardwire happiness into your relationships ongoing.
My only rule of therapy (besides showing up!) is to say “Ouch!” if you begin to feel angry/irritated/icky…if I am doing a good job, these feelings WILL pop up…just as if I had stepped on your toe. It helps us both to zero in on the tough stuff to make you feel better, faster.
Emily Schottman, Optometrist & Therapist. Austin Mental Wellness.
Be your own advocate in therapy. Therapists are humans too, and your therapist might inadvertently say something that triggers you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Remember that your relationship with your therapist plays a large part in the success of your work, so it’s important to be brave and bring up your feelings so that they don’t get in the way. Let your relationship with your therapist be your healthy model of how to tend to your outside relationships. Though it feels risky, venture to tell your therapist how you feel about what they just said and have a healthy experience of processing it all. The reward for taking this risk is that you’ll have a closer relationship with deeper understanding of each other…Something great to emulate in all your other relationships, don’t you think?
Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S. Nadia Bakir Family Counseling.
Crying is fine. If you come from a background in which crying was somehow alarming, shameful or ‘not done’, then you’ll probably feel anxious about shedding tears. But the great news is, your therapist isn’t going to feel destabilised, anxious or superior when you cry. Eventually you’ll reach the point where you can cry when you need to, without feeling overwhelmed or flooded by the emotion. And you’ll begin to grow confident in your ability to stop crying after a bit, having expressed your feelings in a contained, safe way.
Emma Cameron, MA. Integrative Arts Psychotherapist, Essex, UK.
I won’t tell you whether you should stay or leave a relationship. I am here to support you in whichever direction you choose to go in. Don’t be embarrassed to share things. I’ve probably heard it before, and I won’t judge you. I can handle whatever it is you have to say.
Bina Bird, MA, LMFT. Haslet Counseling.
There are rarely quick fixes. Therapy is work, and hard work at that. At times, you will leave feeling worse than when you came in to the session; this does not mean therapy is not working. Things sometimes get worse before they get better.
Janet Birkey, MA, LPCC. Birkey Counseling & Coaching.
The relationship you have developed with your therapist is a very special one and it can be difficult to know when it is time to end. You may want to take a break from therapy for various reasons or try a new therapist to experience a different style. Please know that the special connection we have formed will not end when our time is complete; we will both carry this shared experience in our hearts and you are welcome to come back in the future. Trust that you and your therapist will know when it is time for the relationship to move in a new direction and feel free to share these feelings openly with her or him. To have someone that truly understands you and allows you to be yourself is worth the inherent risk and vulnerability. It is an invaluable experience.
Kate Carmichael, LPC. ATX Counseling.
When you’re ready to move on from therapy don’t ghost your therapist. Whether you stay a few months or a few years we come to care about you. In my view, it is impossible to effectively do this work without feeling a genuine positive regard for our clients. And it is all too rare that we have healthy endings in our lives. So go ahead and attend that final closure session and let your therapist know what worked, and what didn’t. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll feel more empowered as you move on with your life.
Katrina Taylor, LMFT-Associate. Austin Individual & Couples Therapy.
Disclaimer: The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. Reading articles and content on this website does not constitute a therapeutic relationship.