As a full-time psychotherapist, people often ask me about what actually happens behind closed doors as the therapeutic process remains largely mysterious to those who’ve never experienced it firsthand. If you’re considering seeing a therapist, here’s what you need to know.
Not all therapists are the same. When you think about therapy, do you conjure images of an old, graying man asking you questions about how you feel about your mother? Yeah, that’s not really the norm. Fortunately, therapists represent a relatively diverse bunch. Some follow a more traditional approach like digging into the past and connecting how old messages impact new behavior. Others, however, emulate a more modern style and focus on goal-setting and current problems existing in the here-and-now. Just like dating, you may have to experience a few “bad first dates” until you find the right match!
It can feel worse before it gets better. Unpacking trauma, dissecting toxic relationships, increasing self-awareness—all of these experiences can be painful but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Just like your body feels sore when you start a new workout regimen, your mind and soul can feel exhausted or drained after entering therapy. This is normal!
Therapy doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Yes, a private clinician working in a metropolitan city can easily charge upwards of $200 per session, but mental health care options exist for all socioeconomic demographics. Today, most college campuses offer low-cost or free therapy. Furthermore, you can also check into local non-profit agencies and training facilities or places that use a sliding scale. (By the way, all interns and associates receive constant supervision, so you’re not cutting any corners with your treatment.)
You probably won’t get much advice. Many potential clients assume therapists somehow hold this secret elixir of advice inaccessible to the outside world. That’s definitely not true. Instead, therapists have knowledge and expertise in understanding human behavior and drawing appropriate conclusions. With that insight, they can provide a different viewpoint on your issues, suggest various options, and help support you in moving forward.
You don’t need to have a mental illness. If you’re waffling about seeking help because you worry you won’t be taken seriously, you must realize that therapy doesn’t require any actual prerequisites. Typically if you’re feeling stuck or unhappy in one or more areas of your life, a professional can help. No diagnoses required!
Therapy isn’t a cure. All ethical clinicians will stand by that notion. Therapy can help you grow, learn, understand yourself, and create healthier relationships. With that said, it’s neither magic nor a quick fix. But what in life ever is?
Having feelings for your therapist is normal. Whether you find yourself developing a crush on your shrink or stalking his or her personal Facebook profile, know that many clients experience strong reactions to their therapists. This is a phenomenon known as countertransference and it refers to the application and projection of certain emotions onto therapists. Think about it this way: your therapist optimally provides unconditional support, rock-solid guidance, and holds some of your deepest secrets. There’s a good chance you’re going to have some thoughts and feelings about him or her!
Couples therapy isn’t a sign of failure. Many couples falsely believe that entering therapy means they’re somehow bad people. However, there’s no shame in reaching out for support, especially if you want to improve your communication, trust, or intimacy within the dynamic. If you feel like your relationship is on the brink of ending, therapy can help you decide whether it’s worth fighting for each other or cut your losses. There’s no failure in that!
(Mostly) everything you discuss is confidential. Therapists take confidentiality very seriously. Breaches of confidentiality can not only disrupt the therapeutic relationship, they can terminate the therapist’s career! With that in mind, therapists must break confidentiality in a few instances. These include suspected or reported child abuse, elder abuse, and perceived danger to self or others. Furthermore, if a therapist receives a court order to provide records, he or she must comply with this request. Likewise, if you’re using health insurance to reimburse your therapy costs, your provider may require specific documentation. If you’re ever uncertain, you can always ask your therapist about confidentiality laws.
You only get as much as you put in. Like with most things in life, if you don’t put in the effort and work, you won’t yield the amazing benefits. You must be willing to implement the newfound insight or positive coping skills you learn from your sessions, otherwise, it’s going to feel like a massive waste of time and money.
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