As society becomes more open and aware of the importance of mental health, therapy is slowly becoming less stigmatized. There are definitely still people who are afraid to take the plunge and try out therapy, but of those individuals who give it a shot, many find it to be extremely helpful with their personal growth.
- You find yourself feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and sad a majority of the time.
- You are often agitated, expecting the worst to happen, or dealing with excessive worry.
- You are being told by others that your aggression or substance use is out of control.
- You struggle to stay on talk or concentrate on school, work, or everyday tasks1.
What is a Therapist’s Role
This Time is for YOU
People often come into therapy looking to be asked a bunch of questions. While therapist’s often ask questions at first to get to know one another, typically sessions are aimed at what the client themselves wishes to discuss. Remember that the goal of this time is to discuss what YOU need and want to discuss. This means that having an idea of what you want to discuss during sessions can be extremely beneficial. The more comfortable you become with your therapist, the easier it will be to talk without feeling awkward or unsure of what topic to introduce.
Having an Unbiased Perspective
The biggest reason I encourage people to go to therapy is because everyone in our lives has some biased towards us. Discussing problems with loved ones can be helpful, but it is also impossible for those we are closest to, to see us in a completely unbiased perspective. Many people talk with their significant others about the things going on in their lives. However, what happens when there are problems with your significant other? Many people hold these things in, as they do not want to speak poorly about their loved one to others. Therapy gives a chance to discuss different topics with someone who is trained to assist you in finding solutions, as well as working through trauma, uncovering reasons for behaviors, etc.
Assisting in Making Positive Changes
A therapist is able to listen to your goals for therapy and walk with you through the process of making change. From session to session you are able to discuss what progress is being made in your daily life and what is still not working well. The professional can then assist in staying accountable and recognizing what things are helping, while also pointing out areas that are troublesome.
The Realities of Therapy
Real Work Starts with YOU
It happens constantly that people go to therapy thinking that the therapist is going to say or do something that will magically make everything better. The truth is that therapy is not some immediate fix. It takes time, effort, and change for therapy to truly make a difference. In movies, we often see these moments in therapy where the patient finds themselves having a major epiphany that changes everything for them. The fact is that therapy is more about small breakthroughs overtime, rather than one large moment that is life-altering.
For example, you are going to therapy and a topic is brought up that largely relates to you. For the sake of the example we will say the topic involves Catastrophizing, which is a Cognitive Distortion. After you have this moment of realization that this is something you have been doing, it does not mean you automatically stop doing it and change your behavior immediately. Most of the time it takes a lot of practice to undo these unhealthy behaviors.
It Won’t be an Easy Fix
When we have something physically wrong with us, we look for how to treat it. We go to our doctor and tell them we are having coughing, sneezing, and fever, to which they do some testing, and we walk away with an antibiotic. A week or so later, more times than not, we are feeling as good as new. Unfortunately, this is not the case with mental health. There is often a wealth of trial and error involved in making life changes, as well as discussing unpleasant topics a number of times.
When a client asks me when they can stop coming to therapy, I ask them if they feel they have gotten everything they want to out of it, and if they feel they have nothing left to learn. This is not a challenge, but rather a way to ask them if they feel ready to be done. If so, great! The goal is for them to eventually feel ready to go off and continue on without therapy, hopefully feeling well-equipped for the curveballs that life will inevitably throw at them. However, if they decide they want to keep coming, that’s more than okay too!
There is No Timeline for Therapy
Some people go to therapy a handful of times, talk about everything they feel a desire to talk about, get the skills they feel they were lacking before, and are just fine going on without continuing therapy. Other people go to therapy for their entire lives. There is no set amount of time for a person to be in treatment for, it is simply based on what you are getting out of it, what you still can gain, and if you feel that it benefits you. Some clients tell me they never plan to stop therapy, as it is a part of their routine that helps them to be the best version of themselves.
You Get Out, What you Put in
In the beginning of each sessions with clients, I typically will ask for an update on the topics from the previous week. Sometimes they may have multiple positive reports for me: I set this boundary we talked about, I challenged my cognitive distortion, I followed through on the goal I made, etc. Other times, they reluctantly explain that no progress was made. This is when I tell them: you only get out of therapy what you put into it. Yes, you can go week after week and participate in conversations, but that is only part of the battle.
The bigger part happens outside of therapy. If you spend time outside of therapy working on the areas that are discussed during sessions, you WILL notice change. This change may take some time, but with consistency comes progress. This about it like this: if you wanted to get in better shape, would you expect to lose 20 pounds in a week? Of course not, as this is not realistic. When we are used to doing things and thinking of things in a certain way, it makes it hard to truly change, but we can, if we are PATIENT with ourselves.
How to Make the Most of Therapy
Make Notes of Important Topics
This is something I encourage my clients to do constantly! Throughout the week or weeks, depending on how often their sessions are scheduled for, people deal with situations that may trigger some uncomfortable feelings. These situations can happen on any given day, and by the time the next session comes around, that could be far from thought. However, it does not mean it shouldn’t be discussed. Do not be afraid to write notes down of topics, situations, people, or problems you want to discuss. This helps you to make sure that you are covering your concerns during sessions, rather than walking away afterwards and saying ‘oh, I forgot to bring up that fight I had with my boyfriend’.
Make it a Priority
It can be easy to bail on therapy. Whether it be due to wanting to do something else, not feeling ‘in the mood’ to go to therapy, or not wanting to spend the money. If change is something you truly want out of your life then therapy has to be important to you. I cannot express how often I hear someone say ‘I really did not want to come to therapy today, but now that I am here, I am so glad I did.’ I tell people constantly, the days you do not want to go, are typically the days you really need to go.
Be Open with your Therapist
One of the many benefits of seeing a therapist is knowing that whatever you say to them is confidential. This means that no matter what, your therapist has to keep what is said to them between the two of you and no one else. If you want to know specifics of the confidentiality laws in your area, do not be afraid to ask your therapist. Most often though, as long as what you say does not involve a plan to harm yourself or someone else, what you say in session will stay there.
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APA. Understanding Psychotherapy and How it Works. (https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/understanding#:~:text=Psychotherapy%20helps%20people%20understand%20that,school%2C%20or%20thinking%20more%20positively.). Accessed on 06/06/22.
Talkspace. What I wish Someone Had Told Me about How Therapy Actually Works. (https://www.talkspace.com/blog/what-i-wish-someone-had-told-me-about-how-therapy-actually-works/). Accessed on 06/06/22.