10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Therapy
Ahh, therapy… the blissful joy of sitting down across from a stranger and bearing your deepest thoughts and feelings.
If you’ve never been to therapy, it can sound a little intimidating. But it’s not as scary as you think! To help you feel a little more prepared for your first session, here are ten things we wish we knew before sitting down with a therapist.
Talk it out
It can be challenging to walk into your first session: Do you talk to your therapist like an old friend? Do you make small talk? Do you dive deep right off the bat? Sometimes you can feel like you need to go in with an agenda. This might work for some people, but don’t be afraid to wing it. It’s okay to not know exactly what you want to talk about. Remember, there’s no formula to follow when it comes to a conversation with your therapist. Sometimes not having a plan gives your therapist a chance to discover what you should be working on. Follow your instincts on where to start, and things will flow naturally from there.
Yes, you can wear sweatpants
Your therapy is about you. Set yourself up for success by doing what you need to do to feel comfortable and open. Be comfy. Bring your support dog. Fiddle with a toy. Everything you are feeling, thinking, and saying is valid. If you need to cry for an hour, cry. If you need to crack a joke to lighten the mood, crack a joke. Working on yourself is a difficult challenge to step up to, and whatever you need to do to meet that challenge is good enough.
Just show up
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for your healing, the frequency of your sessions may change. If you’re feeling really great about where you’re at mentally, don’t feel pressure to attend a session that may not be necessary. (But don’t forget to tell your therapist!) On the other hand, going when you don’t feel like you need it can also lead to some of the most transformative sessions. Just by showing up, you can dig into issues that you didn’t consciously realize you needed to work through yet.
It’s important to be open and honest about how you’re feeling, even if you think it makes you sound selfish or mean or bad. If you frame everything in a way that makes you look ‘good’, they won’t be getting a full picture of your headspace and won’t be as helpful as they can be. As an example, if you’re discussing self-esteem issues, it may feel as if you’re fishing for compliments. That’s not the case though! Honestly discussing what’s impacting your thoughts will never come across as disingenuous.
Silence can be golden
Sometimes your therapist won’t immediately respond with a question or comment after you’ve shared something. That can be kind of intimidating. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence, or even take the silence as a sign of disinterest from your therapist. Take a second and soak in the weight of your words. You may even have an ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment that takes a bit longer to digest. Reflect, and move forward once it feels right to you.
It’s your time
You share something and your therapist goes down a path they think relates to what you’re talking about, but you can already see they’ve misinterpreted you. Don’t just sit back quietly letting them give you advice on the wrong thing—let them know. Or simply restate what you meant to naturally guide the session back on the right track. Your sessions should work on what you want to work on, with the guidance and help of your therapist. But be open to their suggestions! Sometimes we can’t clearly see what we need to work on.
Sessions can end abruptly
More often than not, you’re mid-healing or working through something, feeling like you’re just getting to the good stuff, and your therapist will suddenly say ‘okay, well that’s all the time we have for today’ and before you know it you’re out the door. Don’t take it personally. They have other clients and a schedule to stick to; it’s not that they don’t care. When your appointment time comes around, you don’t want the person before you taking precious minutes from your session. Keep that in mind when your time runs out. Make a note to yourself of what you were thinking so you can pick up where you left off.
The work is up to you
If only your therapist could snap their fingers and give you all the answers you’ve been waiting for as soon as you walk through the door. Unfortunately, they can’t. What they can provide is honest advice and actionable steps you can take towards bettering yourself. But it’s up to you to carry out those suggestions in your daily life. No matter what, hold yourself accountable for your own progress.
Sometimes it’s just not a good fit
Finding the right therapist is a little like dating: you have to feel comfortable and know what you need from them in order for it to reach its best potential. But give it time—sometimes you know it’s not right immediately, but if you’re on the fence about your new therapist, try going in with an open mind. You may find something you didn’t even know you needed.
Remember, your therapist is in this position to help you become a better you. Whether you’re a life-long therapy-goer or a complete rookie, you can use all of these suggestions as a guide to bettering your sessions and, ultimately, the way that you feel.