Written By: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Attending therapy for the first time can be an intimidating and nerve-racking process for many new clients. I often hear new clients say that they’re relieved that I talk during sessions and that it feels more like a conversation, which is something they may not have anticipated. Therapists and psychologists are often portrayed in movies and in our culture as being a distant figure in a chair who takes notes while clients lay on a couch and talk in a stream of consciousness. While, yes, my clients do sit on a couch while I sit in a chair across from them, the picture painted by media is often inaccurate and outdated. Many new clients have no idea what to expect when starting the therapy process. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when starting therapy for the first time:
- It may be uncomfortable. Therapy can be an uncomfortable experience for many new clients, especially in the beginning of treatment. It is your therapist’s job to create a warm and safe environment for you to feel comfortable in; however, it can often feel very overwhelming and foreign to talk about issues that you may have never said out loud before or it can stir up a lot of old feelings and memories that are tough to sit with. It can also be scary (as well as liberating) to talk to a stranger about deeply rooted fears and issues. It is very normal to feel uncomfortable, weird, anxious, and anything in between when you begin therapy. However, try to be aware of whether it’s the topics you’re discussing that give you those feelings and saying some of these things out loud, or whether it’s the therapist that is making you uncomfortable. If you decide you are not comfortable with your therapist, talk to them about it or ask for a referral.
- Have a goal or something you’d like to address in mind. Most therapists will inquire about goals of therapy or “what you’d like to work on” in the first session during the assessment phase of treatment. You may not have exact goals in mind when you begin treatment, but you and your therapist can work together to establish goals that feel relevant and authentic. Therapy works best when there are goals you are working toward or issues that you’d like to address. Goals can be very broad and can change over the course of treatment, but having direction in treatment is an important factor in successful outcomes.
- Your therapist generally won’t share much about themselves. Each therapist has their own style and motto when it comes to “self-disclosing” about themselves; however, generally, therapists will not tell you much about themselves unless they think it’ll be important to build your therapeutic relationship or if it’s relevant to treatment. This can be bizarre at first since many of us are used to conversations where there is sharing on both ends, such as with a best friend or partner. Trust is usually built in close relationships when both parties share information, so it can feel a bit odd when you are the only one sharing about your life. This can feel weird at first, but over time, it’ll feel more comfortable and natural.
- It’s a process. We live in a culture that places high value on instant gratification and finding the quickest and most effective ways to achieve a goal. Change in therapy can often be a very slow process, which is difficult for many clients. Change in therapy is also not a linear process, and you are going to have “good” weeks and “bad” weeks. Keep in mind that you are often working on changing established patterns and unhelpful thought-processes in therapy, which have been there for most of your life. It takes a while to understand the “how’s” and the “why’s” and make deep and profound changes.
- It’s healthy to be in therapy. Therapy is still stigmatized in our culture, although it is much better than it used to be. Going to therapy is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Many people are in therapy or have been in therapy at some point in their lives. If you are unsure about it, ask your close friends and family. I often find that many people are surprised to hear how many people they know and are close to who are in therapy or have been in therapy in the past. It is perfectly normal and healthy to attend therapy and have a space to talk about difficult issues and self-improvement.
If you are thinking about starting therapy, please keep in mind that therapy isn’t a “one size fits all”. Therapists have different educational and training backgrounds and use different frameworks. Some therapists place a lot of value in understanding your family history and multi-generational family patterns while some are present and solution-focused. Some therapists will give you worksheets to do during session and some won’t. It is important to find someone who is a good fit for you, so do some research and ask questions.
If you are interested in finding a therapist and beginning the therapy process, contact Symmetry Counseling and find out which of our therapists will be a good fit for you and your unique needs.