Tips on Beginning Therapy

As the new year begins, many of us ponder whether or not we should make a few new year's resolutions. Some of us are fairly eager to do so, while the rest of us may be heavily coaxed by those around us. New year's resolutions can run the gamut, but most of those we make tend to center on improving ourselves. (Remember those weights and that treadmill in the garage?) Tending to our physical health often takes center stage with recommitting to the gym being high on our resolution lists. What is less often focused on, however, is our mental health. Tending to our mental health may take several forms. Depending on your needs and resources, this may mean meditation and yoga or it may mean medication and therapy. As a therapist with over 20+ years of experience in private practice, you can imagine that I've heard many different reasons why people try to talk themselves out of starting or continuing therapy. These range from very real financial concerns to the kinda real "I don't have the time" excuse. (Guilty!) If you do decide to engage in therapy this year (for yourself, your family, or your child) it is important to be informed about the process so that you may set your expectations accordingly in order to get the most out of the experience. To that end, I will offer the following for you to consider as you begin or continue the therapy process.
  1. Although you may think you know why you're in therapy, be open to other possibilities. The reason(s) you enter therapy, may not reflect the issues you really need to address.
  2. There is no "one" right way to do therapy. Educate yourself on the various theoretical orientations/approaches in which a therapist may be trained in order to see which orientation may click with you, or may be best for the issue you'd like to address. Here is some info to consider: Theoretical Orientations in Psychotherapy
  3. Be patient with the process. It's not only a financial investment, but also an investment of time. Most regular, individual therapy sessions are conducted on weekly basis for 50 minutes. Therapy also has stages. Depending upon a number of factors (therapist oreientation, the severity of symptoms upon beginning treatment, your health insurance constraints), the frequency of sessions and the length of treatment will vary.
  4. Some sessions will be harder than others. You will not leave every session with "The Answer". You will also not leave every session with a broad smile on your face. Change is often hard. Looking at oneself can be very difficult. This one of the "Buyer Beware" aspects to therapy. Be brave.
  5. The things that change may not be the things you planned to change. This is another one of those "Buyer Beware" caveats. It is not unheard of for a person to enter treatment with the hopes of improving their relationship, but ultimately decide to end it. Parents often bring their children to treatment and then later come to realize that it is they, themselves, who need to make the changes.
  6. Therapy is also about a relationship. When shopping for a therapist, you should also consider the "fit". It's important that you feel that you click with your therapist. You don't need to share the same sense of humor, heritage, gender, or sexual orientation, but if this is important to you, do shop around. It's also perfectly acceptable to make this clear to your potenatial therapist at the onset of treatment.
  7. It doesn't mean you're weak, crazy, or selfish if you're in therapy. Although bias and ignorance still exist, I believe that mental health issues are more understood and less stigmatized than they used to be. Many people who enter therapy do not, in fact, have major mental health issues. Such individuals may simply need some additional support in working through a particularly stressful situation or life event. In this regard, utilizing the services of a therapist is akin to hiring a tutor or coach to aide with a temporarily difficult issue. Once the situation or event has passed, the need for treatment may also be at an end.
  8. Take risks by stepping outside of your comfort zone while in therapy. Many, many people come to session and do therapy the same way that they do their day-to-day lives, which is fine for a while as it gives the therapist a chance to see "you". However, insight often happens when we are caught off-guard, outside of our comfort zones, and open to experiencing things in a slightly different fashion. Personally, I can admit that I had a difficult time getting vulnerable in my own therapy. My therapist, sensing this, told me to take off my shoes. (I previously had told her that I had always been a bit squeamish about doing this, even in my own home.) It was HARD, but I did it and it did lead to a very enlightening hour.
  9. When you feel like it's time to discontinue therapy, save some ample time to talk you your therapist about it (save some sessions to do this, not some minutes). Wanting to discontinue may actually signal a need to dig deeper into something that you still need to explore. It may be some nagging resistance about doing what you know you've been avoiding.  And parents, if you have a child in therapy, please do try to appreciate the impact of the relationship that you have helped foster for your child. It's easy to loose sight of this if it's your child who's actually spending the majority of the time with the therapist. Take it from me, it's disheartening to experience treatment abruptly stop with a child that you have been working with on a very personal level for months, or in some cases, years.
Now go for it and good luck!! Dr. S