The decision to work with a therapist is an important one. Whether you are entering therapy by choice or because a parent or caregiver has decided you should, there are a few things your therapist would like for you to know…
If it was easy, you would’ve already done it.
When I meet with a client for our first session, I don’t enter the room with a solution in hand. The truth is, if whatever is bringing you to therapy was easy, you would have already found the solution yourself. As we go through life, we build up a variety of ways to manage our challenges and often do a great job with the skills and tools we develop. If you’re coming to therapy, it’s because it’s complicated and therapists understand this.
No challenge is too small.
Sometimes we experience challenges that lay just below the surface. They don’t feel like headline news but consistently disrupt our plans and goals. We might notice these worries or concerns in dreams, when our mind wanders, or while sitting in traffic. Often, we seem to evaluate our stressors in terms of severity. Let’s drop the “Goldilocks mindset” of too big or too small and recognize that significant relief can come from addressing our day-to-day challenges. In doing so, you can develop tools that apply across situations and relationships and support your future self as well.
This is not (insert movie title here).
I like Netflix as much as the next person and don’t live under a rock. I’ve seen the portrayals of therapeutic relationships on TV and in movies. This is not Hollywood. While an inappropriate relationship or a twisted mental hospital setting may add drama on screen, these are things taken very seriously in the real world. Therapists are held to intentionally high standards (including state boards and codes of ethics) and we believe the therapeutic relationship is one built on mutual respect, not unhealthy choices.
Therapy isn’t for “sissies.”
I believe that engaging in a therapeutic relationship is an act of courage. Opening up to a stranger in an unfamiliar setting can set the bravest palms to sweating. Vulnerability can be terrifying (and really powerful). I know you might be nervous and I’ve been there, too. Like many therapists, I’ve been the client and I know what it is like to sit on the other side of “the clipboard.” I’ve also had life-changing experiences through therapy and believe that it is worth the initial anxiety. In therapy, we focus on building a unique relationship that exists when there is a feeling of safety in the room. Clients are often surprised by how quickly the fears that felt so big in the parking lot get out of the way and let us get started.
“But it’s just talking…”
On average, I meet with a client once a week for 50 minutes. There are 1440 minutes in a single day and 10,080 minutes in a week. Obviously, our session is a small fraction of your time. The work we do in session is only part of the process and the work you do outside of session is incredibly important. Going to therapy with the expectation of minimal investment of outside time is like learning the rules of football without ever showing up for practice and then wondering why the championship game didn’t go so well for you. Therapy is about developing awareness, understanding, and tools and then applying that work to your life. There will still be challenges and experiences we wish had different outcomes. That said, your life is full of opportunities to practice and mistakes are wonderful opportunities for learning.
We don’t think you’re crazy.
Labels often get in the way and popular culture seems to have a pathology-of-the-month. A situation may seem shocking or embarrassing to you but we’re definitely not here to judge. With years of school and training, I only become more sensitive to the fact that any experience involves a complicated interaction of factors like your genes, your environment, our society, your family system… (the list goes on and on). Labels can get in the way of process. We’re here to help you figure out what matters to you and what you’d like to do about it.
Therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s incredibly personal and should be. Finding a therapist with a style that fits for you is important and will help you maximize your time, energy, and money. If you think an unbiased perspective in a safe space could be helpful for whatever feels big or recurrent in your life right now, I encourage you to give therapy a try.