One of the most difficult parts of going to therapy can be calling and making an appointment in the first place. Although we are on the pathway of rejecting the stigma associated with getting help for mental health concerns, we still have a long way to go. We’re more afraid of the unknown than anything else, right? What will people think? What is it going to be like? Am I going to be respected and validated?
To make the process a little bit easier, let’s talk about what therapy is not, what it is, and what you can expect in the first session.
Therapy is not just a place to vent.
It’s true that much of therapy can consist of talking through experiences and emotions. Just releasing and voicing what’s been simmering inside of us can be therapeutic in itself; however, therapy is also a place to learn coping mechanisms and find new perspectives.
With therapy comes a lot of emotional work on the receiver’s end. A therapist’s job is not to solve your problems or take away your distress. His or her job is to work with you to process your emotions and find ways to cope and overcome emotional distress especially after you leave their office.
You can expect your therapist to respect you and treat you as an equal. If you do not have this experience, you should seek out another therapist with whom you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and express yourself. Meeting with a therapist is more like recruiting a well-trained team member in the game of mental health than hiring a business consultant to point out all the errors you need to fix.
Therapists are meant to be on your side, guiding you through your emotional trenches while giving you exercises and guidance that you may not have previously considered.
Therapy is a way to build an emotional toolbox.
A lot of individuals go into therapy with a lot of jumbled thoughts, emotions, and experiences that they aren’t sure what to do with. A therapist can help you untangle those thoughts, emotions, and experiences, see them in a different light, and then reorganize them in a way that can help to decrease your distress.
There are many different ways to approach therapy. You may want to look for a therapist that specializes in whatever it is that you are struggling with. You may want to do some research on different therapy acronyms such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
You don’t have to know exactly what kind of therapy you want before making an appointment, but gaining a basic understanding of different kinds of therapeutic techniques may help you know what to expect as you work with a therapist to create goals and build a plan.
Through these processes, your therapist can suggest activities or homework for you to work on both in and out of session. Coping mechanisms may include grounding exercises that can help you recenter yourself; cognitive behavioral exercises that can help you change your thinking and resultant behavior; or materials to review or actions to take before your next session.
The first session is a time of introduction, release, and expectation-setting.
Before going to your first session, you may be asked to fill out consent forms and then a survey that is used to help keep track of your distress, well-being, and progress.
Usually, you will check in with a receptionist and then wait in the lobby area until your therapist comes out to meet you and take you back to his or her office.
Therapists’ offices usually have a calm aesthetic with a comfortable couch or chair for you to sit in across from your therapist. Your therapist may start by introducing themselves and setting expectations for your first session or they may simply ask you to start by introducing yourself and why you wanted to come in. This is usually your cue to open up.
Some people start by just letting everything out for a stretch of 20-30 minutes while others engage in more of a back-and-forth discussion about their reasons for coming in—this depends on your preferences and your therapist’s style. There is no one way to be in therapy. Every person is different with different experiences, so you don’t need to worry that you are doing something wrong.
Sessions usually last about 50 minutes and most people can expect to meet with their therapist once a week. During your session, your therapist will keep their eye on the clock and help you to know when it is time to wrap up and set your next appointment.
Going to therapy is much like any other essential appointment. You may feel nervous and unsure about how your therapist will receive you. Just know that this is completely normal.
Whatever you are struggling with or going into therapy for, remember that both you and your therapist are imperfect people with strengths and weaknesses. Just like with any other relationship, it may take time to build trust and to understand one another. Remember to have patience with yourself and the process.
Now may be the time to make that call.
Guest post by Alexis Inouye