Individual Therapy, What to Expect
Clearing up Myths About Therapy
The thought of setting up an appointment with a stranger and talking about unpleasant experiences or emotions sounds pretty scary to most people. In fact, there are many myths or misconceptions about therapy that prevent people from reaching out for some support. I have listed some of those myths below with some information that I hope will help relieve some concerns about what therapy really looks like.
In the first therapy session with me we will talk about your overall history and discuss confidentiality and HIPAA. I will ask you many questions about your history and your goals for therapy, your successes and your strengths. I will answer any questions that you have about the therapy process. From there I will make a plan about how to move forward with treatment, I will discuss some tools and options with you for how to proceed. In the future sessions I will use different types of treatment modalities to help you. This first session is the same for anxiety treatment, marital counseling, or couples counseling or EMDR therapy.
Myths About Therapy
Myth #1 -Therapists can read your mind!
I was surprised to learn that some people think that as a therapist I somehow am endowed with the ability to read minds. Though psychic powers could be helpful at times, it is simply not true. The client is in control of what they share or do not share. Most therapists do not have this or any other super powers, though it might make therapy more fun if we did. Therapy is about the client’s needs and even if a therapist did magically develop psychic powers a skilled therapist would still defer to what the client stated that they wanted to work on. The real magic that happens in therapy sessions are when people are willing to be vulnerable enough to begin the process of healing and self-discovery. Truly magical success!
Myth # 2 -Talking to a therapist is just like talking to a friend, why pay for it?
Talking with friends can certainly be helpful particularly when people just need a little support. However, most friends are not trained in how to help you overcome difficulties, effectively process emotions, resolve marital conflict, improve communication skills, de-escalate a fight or flight response, provide trauma symptom reduction tools, etc. Most friends at best listen and validate, which is great but not always enough for more complex issues. In the worst-case scenario, a friend responds by arguing with you about your emotional experience and relates your trauma to their friend’s uncle, who had a toe ran over in 1982. Not as helpful. Or worse yet they validate your anger so much that it emboldens you to take action that with some perspective may have gone another more effective direction.
Myth # 3- All you do in therapy is repeat stories about old wounds.
There are some types of therapy that process old wounds through talking about them. The reason for this is to see how those wounds are still impacting a client today. Though this is only if a client chooses to address these old wounds and feels that they could benefit from processing it. The cool thing about many types of therapy now is that they reduce the amount of talking about trauma and instead emphasize tools about how to help your body recognize that it is safe and no longer actively experiencing the past trauma. This is done in many different ways in addition to talking.
Myth # 4- It is too uncomfortable to talk with a stranger, they don’t know me.
No doubt the first session can be stressful, just beginning the process can be the hardest part. Though I find that after the first few minutes, people feel pretty comfortable and over time actually develop a very warm and caring professional relationship with me and feel quite free to share what they need. Many therapists will very briefly share some of their own struggles to help you feel more comfortable sharing yours. For me being relatable and down to earth feels the most natural and also seems to help clients feel safe. Though it is important that you find a therapist that you do feel comfortable with and sometimes that takes trying out that first couple of sessions to see if the therapist is right for you.
Myth # 5- People will think I am crazy if I go to therapy.
Crazy is just a term people have used to negate other people’s challenges. What is detrimental is when people avoid getting help because they are fearful of those unfortunate labels. Most people who go to therapy are just trying to learn coping skills and get some resources for regulating emotional reactions that are not working for them. For example, they might have had some traumatic experience, or they have marital conflict or they are experiencing anxious thoughts. Fortunately, most people recognize that therapy can be a benefit for anyone. In fact, it is quite normal to go to therapy and quite adaptive.
Myth # 6 - Once I start crying in therapy I will never stop!
I have been surprised at how often I hear this, so many people worry that if they let themselves truly feel the pain that they experience that it will never stop. I can assure you this has never happened. Through the thousands of people that I have seen cry, yell, sob, or break down, they always stop at some point. This comes from a fear of not being able to handle emotions, and though we may not always handle it well, we can handle it! Humans are amazing in that way. The good news is we do not have to do it alone and with therapy it can be easier. Anxiety treatment, couples counseling and EMDR can all help people to learn tools to find the joy in life.
Myth # 7- All therapists do is blame your parents!
There are many factors that contribute to the development of diagnosis or emotional challenges, and sometimes parenting style can contribute. However rather than blaming others, most therapists help the client evaluate and process the thoughts and behaviors that the client has developed around those topics. As a therapist the goal is to empower the client to learn tools to cope with whatever situation they have experienced not point the finger at someone else. This is particularly true with couples therapy, the therapist’s job is to support both partners to feel heard and validated, not to blame each other.