I’ve been seeing a therapist—a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in particular—since May.
It’s been a year since I began taking an SSRI for anxiety/depression, and I sort of skipped that logical first step of seeking therapy before turning to medication.
But…the past is in the past, and starting medication when I did was a necessary choice for me, I believe, although I do wish I had begun counseling much earlier.
I had a lot of preconceptions before I walked into my first session, and while some of them were accurate, many were not. I thought some of you might benefit from hearing my takeaways and reflections on counseling so far.
10 Things To Know About Therapy
It’s not what you see on TV
Therapy isn’t like what they show on TV (which, if you’re also a fan of Dr. Paul Weston, is a little disappointing—hehe). It’s not “and how does that make you feel?” as you channel Freud and lament your childhood. Also, each therapist has his/her own preferred modality. Mine utilizes ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which is related to (but markedly different from) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, so you need to consider whether your therapist’s preferred method jives with yours.
You must feel comfortable with your choice of therapist
Generally, it’s encouraged to “shop” therapists before committing long term. I didn’t do this (mostly because we know a lot of local mental health professionals, so the pool was limited), but she did make me feel comfortable right away. She was also recommended by Mark’s former colleague.
It goes much more smoothly when you prepare and do your “homework”
Yep, the true transformation doesn’t happen solely in the room. You will likely receive take-home “assignments” to encourage true behavioral changes. Do them! And reflect on them before your session, or else you may feel unprepared—which, for me, leads to being closed off and unfocused.
Your therapist is human
This is strictly my opinion (I imagine there’s a fine line when it comes to a counselor’s self-disclosure), but I like that my therapist has mentioned to me that she has struggled with anxiety in the past. If I am having trouble laying out what’s on my mind, she might share a personal anecdote to help push me along. That’s not to say she makes the session about her or reveals many details, but she reminds me that, even as a therapist, she is not perfect and has probably at one time or another struggled similarly, so I may as well just say what I need to say. I think that builds trust.
You shouldn’t feel like your problems aren’t “problem enough”
This is still so tough for me. Even though I objectively know that anybody can benefit from counseling, I sometimes feel like I’m wasting my therapist’s time because my problems aren’t “real problems.” I’ve even told her this, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first time she’d heard that. Whether childhood trauma, grief, a serious mental health disorder, or just needing a little direction has led you to choose counseling, it doesn’t matter. If you’re struggling in a way that affects your quality of life or seeking clarity/guidance, then you’re where you need to be.There is no right or wrong way to do #therapy.. #mentalhealth @namicommunicate Click To Tweet
Some days you feel worse/disappointed after a session
One of my previous sessions was disappointing. It wasn’t because of my therapist—she actually did a wonderful job of sticking with me and being empathic to my discomfort—but I was disappointed at myself for not being entirely focused and letting my day’s experiences/mood shape our session. As a result, I felt discouraged that evening and even had trouble sleeping. Bottom line, not every session will lead to sunshine and rainbows and epiphanies. You may be left with more questions/frustrations until you meet again or work through something on your own. Additionally, negative feelings often mean therapy is working because those limiting beliefs, traumatic experiences, or self-critical thoughts are being examined rather than pushed aside. So…be patient.
If you hold something back, you’ll likely regret it
This goes along with the previous one. I’m sure it was evident (and thus, frustrating) to my therapist during that particular session that something was weighing heavily on my mind. But, despite knowing I could trust her and she would not judge me, I couldn’t say what I wanted to say (even when I did broach the subject again at a later session, I struggled to lay it out). Your time is limited, so make the most of it. I’ve never regretted saying something—even if it was painful or embarrassing—but I have regretted remaining silent on something that would’ve helped our session, and thus, me, move forward.
You must communicate if you think your therapist is doing something right or wrong, effective or ineffective
I’m slowly learning that therapy is a collaboration, and not a lecture. Yes, she’s the professional, but if I feel something isn’t working for me, I need to let her know. After reflecting on my “bad” session, I dissected my frustrations. I realized I wasn’t quite feeling the route we were taking, so I told her at our next session and we changed directions.
Keeping a therapy notebook/journal is helpful
After my second session, I realized I needed a notebook to keep track of my ideas/experiences/thoughts that I wanted to discuss further, rather than overlook. Plus, as you all know, I write much better than I articulate out loud, so having a guide point in writing allows me to look back, read if necessary, and not dance around what I actually want to say.
It is hard—and oftentimes, uncomfortable—work
I naively thought, since I’m already on medication and had been seeing improvements, that therapy would be a cakewalk. I thought it was “the right thing to do” to complement my meds. Well, that’s absolutely true, but it’s not easy. It’s not my therapist telling me “gee, you’re really good at this stuff,” or “you’ve really got this mindful thing going on” like I envisioned it. It’s a lot of freaking work, and some days I want to throw in the towel, especially when it feels like I’m “failing” or doing therapy “wrong.” Some days I want to say “screw it, what do you know?” but other times I realize things about myself that I may not have without professional help. And that’s rewarding, especially when you’ve felt trapped in utter darkness or alone at points in your life.It’s time for some #realtalk on #therapy! #mentalhealth @namicommunicate Click To Tweet
So…that was wordy.
I’ve always been an advocate for therapy, simply because it’s part of my husband’s career. I wasn’t necessarily skeptical of it working in my own life, but I did fall victim to the notion that therapy is only for “broken” people or the severely mentally ill. However, anybody can benefit from therapy! Anybody. I’m actually at a point where I look forward to my appointments because it’s a unique relationship that a friend, significant other, or otherwise biased mentor/family member simply cannot provide.
If you’re like me and are on the fence, I believe you could really benefit from giving counseling a try. Just go into it with an open mind and be willing to put in a lot of work!
[linking up with Amanda for thinking out loud]
So tell me…
- Have you ever seen a therapist?
- How did therapy benefit you?
- Any other thoughts to share?