Updated: Jul 22
Many of us are hesitant to speak with a therapist. Why wouldn’t we be? Therapy is a thoroughly strange process. We go talk to a stranger (something we don’t usually do) about the most personal details of our lives (stuff we don’t usually share) in an attempt to change troublesome aspects of our lives. Also, we don’t necessarily know what to expect. Most of us have seen movies and TV shows that portray psychotherapy with varying degrees of accuracy, but the mechanisms through which talking to someone leads to feeling better aren’t immediately apparent. In this series of entries, I will demystify the therapeutic process by addressing some of the ways that therapy helps people and providing some suggestions as to how to get the most out of therapy.
In our prior entries, we discussed how therapists can help us. In this final part of our series, we’ll explore how we can best use therapy to help ourselves. We’ll be looking at some of the ways we can approach therapy to get the very most out of the process.
Clicking with a Therapist
As we discussed earlier in this series, the relationship between therapist and client is the single most important factor in determining the success of therapy. That being the case, it’s really important to find a therapist who we feel like we can have a good relationship with. We can usually feel if we’re connecting with someone, or at least have the sense that the relationship has potential. The therapeutic relationship, like any relationship, requires a good fit. The intuition we get is valuable data that we can consider when determining whether or not to continue past the first session.
Finding a Therapist that Meets our Specific Needs
Of course, there’s more to determining if a therapist is well suited for our needs than a general sense that it’s a good fit. It’s also important to ask ourselves if the clinician we are meeting with is providing what we feel we need. Therapists vary greatly in their individual styles. This is a good thing, because clients also vary greatly in their needs. In our first meetings with a new therapist, we may find that we need someone who is more willing to provide us concrete tools and guidance. Alternatively, we may feel that we need a therapist who is more focused on listening and exploration. Sometimes, we’ll have to try to find a different therapist to meet these needs. Often, it does just as well to express these concerns to the therapist we are working with so that they can process our feedback and adjust their approach as appropriate.
At the outset of therapy, it’s a good idea to identify what we’re seeking to accomplish in treatment. We may enter therapy with clear goals, knowing exactly what we’d like to work on and what we’d like the end result to be. However, it’s okay not to know. More often than not, we need a bit of help in fleshing out our goals. Therapy is collaborative—and if that collaboration can begin at the very start, all the better. We may only know that we want something to change. Our therapists can help us translate that general sentiment into a more specific intention, which will allow both therapist and client to know when they are on, or off, the right path.
Why is therapy confidential? Because we’re talking about private stuff—sometimes stuff that we’re embarrassed or ashamed of. That being the case, it’s normal that we’d feel hesitant to disclose everything to our therapist. On the other hand, if we want to work through the difficult things in our lives, we have to be honest with the person we’ve enlisted to help us do so. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone to lie to them. Of course, we don’t have to lay everything on the table during the first session. That said, when we feel hesitant to address something, it’s a good idea to let our therapist know so they can help us work through the discomfort. One way to do this is by telling our therapist that there are certain things we’d like to address but are not yet ready. It’s also important to try to be honest with ourselves. The work we do in therapy may shine a light on some things about ourselves that we’re not overly eager to acknowledge. Therapists can provide us with the necessary support to face these truths and move toward a more authentic and rewarding way of being.
Most therapists agree that it’s best to meet once per week, particularly in the initial stages of treatment. Frequent meetings are necessary to establish a working relationship between client and therapist—it’s hard to get to know someone you’re speaking with only twice a month. Furthermore, consistent meetings affirm the secure and structured nature of the therapeutic space. Once both client and therapist feel the relationship is well enough established, they can decide to meet less often if the client prefers.
Giving Ourselves a Break
Going to therapy for the first time or going back to therapy is a big step. When we make the decision to schedule that first appointment, we are taking on the task of breaking away from the familiar and moving toward new possibilities. Change is frightening. It’s okay to go at our own pace. The speed at which things move in therapy is going to be different for everyone. When we feel that things may be moving too fast, that the challenges being presented to us are too great, it can be helpful to say to our therapist, “I’m not ready to try that yet.” An understanding therapist will be receptive to this feedback. However, we would do well to stay open to our therapist checking in around our readiness to address difficult topics—even presenting us with reasonable challenges to do so.
Therapy can be a life-changing experience. The choice to seek therapy can be the beginning of that change process. It’s not easy work, but the payoff can be tremendous. With the help of a well trained therapist, we can move toward living fuller, richer, and healthier lives.
Thomas Shooman is a mental health counselor practicing at Resolution Psychotherapy in Poughkeepsie, New York. Thomas’ clients include individuals dealing with issues such as anxiety, grief, and obsessive thinking. He enjoys helping people navigate uncomfortable circumstances and find solutions that are in line with their personal style. Thomas is a member of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science and the International OCD Foundation, and he is currently accepting new clients. For more information or to schedule a session with Thomas, please visit www.resolutionpsychotherapy.com or e-mail email@example.com.