what to know before starting therapy

Everything You Wanted To Know Before Starting Therapy

Starting therapy can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to expect.

○ What does a therapy session look like?

○ What am I supposed to talk about?

○ Will a therapist ask a lot of personal questions?

○ Will I have to talk about my childhood?

To make things a little easier and more familiar, this article is devoted to shedding light on common questions people ask about therapy. When we know what to expect, it becomes a little less challenging.

Therapy is an amazing journey in which you can:

  • get to know yourself
  • share different parts of your life you may not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else
  • explore and understand how and why you do the things you do and feel the things you feel
  • learn to navigate your relationships better
  • work out a particular problem, like resolving a conflict, getting rid of some habits, mapping out a career change, etc.
  • learn and practice new skills
  • deal with emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, anger, mood swings, etc. that may be negatively impacting your life
  • improve your ability to deal with stress or cope with change

…the list goes on and on!

first therapy session

Therapy is a safe space for you to explore and discover, understand and accept, learn and practice. There is nothing to fear, and many benefits to gain. But therapy also takes courage, effort, and financial investment, so it’s natural to be wondering if it’s worth it.

So, first things first, before making a call, you may be asking yourself – do I really need therapy?

Signs you may need therapy

❓ Is my problem big enough to ask a therapist for help?
❓ Is what I’m experiencing normal?
❓ Do other people seek therapy because of this?
❓ Would it be stupid to go to therapy for this issue?
❓ Should I be able to solve this on my own?

If similar questions crossed your mind before deciding to start therapy, you are not alone.

To save you some time, here is a short answer: There are a lot of reasons to start therapy, and all of them are equally valid.

There are really no hard rules or bad reasons for going to therapy. Whether you are facing some challenges you don’t know how to overcome or just need somebody to talk to – neither of those reasons is wrong.

Yes, it is true that people often seek therapy when they’re in a crisis or during stressful life events. But it is also true that many people seek therapy wanting to know themselves better and improve certain aspects of their lives, without being in a middle of a crisis. It’s okay to start therapy just because you feel like you would use a little extra help, even if you’re not sure why. That being said, there are some signs that, right now, it might be an especially good time to seek out therapy.

🔸  You feel stuck
🔸  You are highly stressed
🔸  You feel like your emotions are a mess and you have a hard time controlling them
🔸  You feel empty, unmotivated, and struggle to start or finish tasks
🔸  You lost interest in things that you previously found exciting or pleasurable
🔸  You can’t shake a bad feeling
🔸  You turn to dangerous coping mechanisms, like drugs or alcohol
🔸  You became “snappy”, lose your temper quickly, everything irritates you
🔸  You’d like help working through difficult family or relationship dynamics
🔸  You experienced something you feel you can’t process alone
🔸  You want to talk about something without being judged or bombarded with advice
🔸  You need a safe space
🔸  You are struggling with making a decision
🔸  Your issues are interfering with your daily life
🔸  You want to know yourself better

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it can give you a general idea about what kinds of reasons people have for going to therapy. Essentially, if you want to start therapy or think you could find value in this process, that is reason enough. Just remember – there is no wrong time to ask for help.

what happens in therapy

How to prepare for your first psychotherapy session?

Okay, so you’ve made a decision and scheduled your first counselling appointment. Now what?

It may be a good idea to define why you are starting therapy, and why now. Additionally, think about what you’d like to achieve with therapy, what is the desired state. This can help you and your therapist better define your goals and give you direction in your session. Still, if you don’t have answers to these questions, that’s okay. You and your therapist can discuss the problem together and explore what would be the best path to take.

It’s completely okay to feel nervous before your first psychotherapy appointment; many people experience this. Part of this uneasiness comes from novelty, and it’s a completely normal response to facing something new. Another part of it may be coming from expecting to talk about sensitive stuff, things you usually don’t discuss in your everyday life, and you may be worried that this is going to bring some strong emotions to the surface. It’s important to know that, although this is a possibility, you don’t have to discuss anything you don’t want or don’t feel ready to talk about. Additionally, a good therapist will know how to create a safe space for you to, eventually, want to open up and share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

What to expect on your first therapy appointment?

If you are going to see your therapist in person, make sure to come a few minutes early. If you are having an online counselling appointment, make sure you have access to a private space without interruptions. Prior to, or during your first session, you will fill out some paperwork that usually includes your personal information, medical history, insurance information, etc. You will also be asked to sign an informed consent.

The initial first few minutes of your session might look different with different therapists, but you will most likely spend them getting to know each other. Therapists are aware that most people can be nervous about their first therapy session, so many of them will start with some small talk and easy topics to get you to relax and be more comfortable. Then comes the main part. Your therapist will need to know why you are seeking therapy, some of your history, and your therapy goals.

what to expect in therapy
Some of the questions your therapist may ask during your first session:

  • Do you have previous experience with psychotherapy?
  • Does someone in your family have any mental health issues?
  • Are you using any medication currently?
  • What brought you to therapy?
  • How long have you been experiencing these problems?
  • What do you hope to get from therapy?

When answering your therapist’s questions, it’s important to be open and honest. Your therapist is not there to judge you but to support and help you. However, as previously mentioned, you are not obliged to disclose anything that makes you uncomfortable. Although everything you say in therapy is confidential (unless it poses a threat to you or others), it’s understandable that you don’t feel comfortable sharing your deepest vulnerabilities with a stranger. As your relationship with your therapist develops over time, a sense of trust will grow. But if your therapist is pushing you to answer or discuss something that you communicated you don’t feel comfortable with, it might be a red flag.

Finally, be free to ask questions as well. You may want to know, for example, about billing, insurance, their expertise or experience, or about your particular issue. This process is about YOUR personal growth, and you want to walk away feeling that you’re moving in a positive direction.

How to get the most out of therapy?

Finishing your first counselling session is a huge step. Good job! It is also the first step in many. It is normal if you feel especially tired or low following your first counselling session. You’ve started important work – unpacking and understanding your thoughts and feelings. This can be demanding. Give yourself some space and time to process. It is also common to feel more grounded, lighter, even ecstatic after your first (or following) therapy session(s). Having someone to hear your struggles without judgment and help you understand them can be powerful.

Therapy is a process that requires commitment, patience, and conscious effort. Don’t expect your problems to go away after one or two sessions – it is extremely rare. How many sessions you will need depends on many factors, from the nature of your problem to the coping skills you already have, your personality traits, support system, your relationship with your therapist, etc. Still, there are some important things you can do to speed up the process and get the most out of your counselling sessions. Here are 5 tips on how you can maximize your therapy journey.

how to prepare for counselling session
1. Find the right fit

Research shows that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is the #1 factor that influences how successful therapy will be. Thus, it is crucial to find a therapist that is the right fit for you. This means that you feel safe, understood, and validated with them, that their approach feels comfortable to you personally, and that you leave your sessions with a sense that you are making progress.

2. Work between sessions

You can gain great insight in therapy, learn useful coping skills, and know what is healthy for you, but if you don’t actually put it into practice in real life, there is little chance positive change will occur. Therapy is not a place where you will go to be “fixed” or told what to do exactly. Instead, your therapist will guide you and provide the tools, but you are the one who needs to put in hard work for it to be effective.

3. Be completely honest

It can be difficult to share your deepest secrets and emotions with someone. Even facing some of these inner contents yourself, alone, can be challenging. Still, the more honest you are with your therapist, the better. Your therapist works with what you give to them – omitting certain details or refraining from disclosing certain feelings or experiences can slow down your therapeutic growth.

4. Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist what is not working well

Your therapist works in your best interest, and they are trained to listen well and without judgment. Sharing your feedback about the process or doubts about the direction you are headed in therapy is precious for any good therapist, and it can also fasten your progress.

5. Be patient

Sometimes positive change comes quickly, and sometimes, it is slow and gradual. Give it time and patience, and notice small wins along the way. Still, if you feel like you are not getting much out of your sessions, it is completely okay to voice your concerns to your therapist.

is therapy worth it

Some other basics about psychotherapy

🔸  A typical individual therapy session lasts 50 to 60 minutes

🔸  Online therapy has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy. Online counselling and online psychotherapy can be especially useful for people who live in an area where the choice of mental health professionals is limited. It can also save you commuting time.

🔸  Not every therapist will be the right one for you. It’s a bit like dating – sometimes it’s a match, and sometimes it is not. Give it a few sessions to figure out whether you and your therapist are the right fit

🔸  What you say in your session is strictly confidential, with some exceptions that your therapist will communicate with you in advance

🔸  A therapist does much more than just listen. He/she will use many different techniques to help you explore the issue and reach your goals

A therapy session is a time designated for you only, and you can use it however you want.

It is a space for you to be yourself, share your concerns, and be totally honest without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings or embarrassing yourself. A good therapist will help you work through and feel safe, heard, and understood.

Therapy is a smart investment – in both present and the future. Does everybody need it? No. But it’s a valuable tool that can help anyone achieve their goals, solve problems, and improve their life.

Do you have any questions about psychotherapy? Write us in the comment section below!

 

Sources:

Barak, A., Hen, L., Boniel-Nissim, M., & Shapira, N. A. (2008). A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Technology in Human services26(2-4), 109-160. Online access HERE

Munder, T., Flückiger, C., Leichsenring, F., Abbass, A. A., Hilsenroth, M. J., Luyten, P., … & Wampold, B. E. (2019). Is psychotherapy effective? A re-analysis of treatments for depression. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences28(3), 268-274. Online access HERE

Vandergiendt, C. (2020). Why Therapy? The Most Common Reasons to See a Therapist. Healthline. Retrieved online on May 28th HERE

how to maintain boundaries

What To Do When Someone Crosses Your Boundaries (Again)

Have you ever faced a situation where someone repeatedly violated your boundaries? Just ignored the limits you have set, despite your clear communication, and crossed the line again? Frustrating, right?

Relationships are extremely important for our well-being as humans. And yet, the vast majority of us have never been taught how to build and nurture healthy relationships.

One of the most important relationship skills is knowing how to set and reinforce healthy boundaries. Do you know how to do it? In THIS article, we explained in detail what personal boundaries look like and how to set them. But the question many people struggle with is – how to maintain my boundaries? How to hold my ground and protect my boundaries when someone repeatedly violates them?

“Boundaries are personal limits we define and communicate about what we will and will not tolerate. They are like guidelines for other people about which behaviours are welcome in interaction with us and which are not.”

Healthy boundaries are crucial for our well-being and a key part of any healthy relationship. They allow us to take ownership of our own lives and shape our relationships.

Setting boundaries is a skill that requires self-awareness, communication skills and, sometimes A LOT of emotional regulation. This is because many of us have been raised to (falsely) believe that:

pleasing others = kind & good

and
honouring our own needs = selfish & bad.

crossing boundaries

Thus, it is not surprising that many people find setting boundaries with others new and scary. But setting boundaries is not the hardest part. Sometimes, some people won’t respect them, and this is where it becomes really tricky. They may get angry, passive-aggressive, disappointed, they may try to manipulate or guilt-trip you into changing your behaviour, or just blatantly ignore what you have communicated and repeat unacceptable behaviour.

So, what do you do?

You need to respect your own boundaries for others to respect them as well

“What is important to understand is that, as much as boundaries sound like they are directed at others, they are, first and foremost, about you.”

Boundaries are not about making other people behave in a certain way. This is not within your power. Rather, boundaries are about making an agreement with yourself about what you will and will not tolerate. Thus, they are much more about your inner work, about how you relate to yourself, about giving yourself permission to respect and honour your wants and needs, than about how you communicate with others.

It may not be fair, but it is your responsibility to respect the boundaries you have set as much as it is the other person’s responsibility. This is also where your power lies. You are not left to the mercy of the other person’s will to change their behaviour – you have the right to decide what is best for yourself in response to their behaviour.

If someone is crossing your boundaries, you have several options, including:

  1. Restating the boundary
  2. Enforcing the consequences
  3. Accepting their behaviour and reshaping the boundary
  4. Disengaging/distancing yourself from the relationship 

what to do when someone pushes your boundaries

How to maintain your boundaries effectively

Often, when a boundary is crossed, people feel helpless or get angry and frustrated, but don’t know what to do beyond that. They may end up explaining their boundaries again (which is absolutely okay – some people need to hear it more than once to adjust to new behaviour. However, remember that you are not obliged to repeat nor explain more than once if you don’t want to). But if boundary violation is not followed by a consequence, it essentially communicates that your boundaries are flexible and that you will tolerate said behaviour (because, well, you do).

Setting boundaries consists of two crucial components:

words (expressing how you would like to be treated) and

actions (consequences if the boundary is not respected).

If any of these components is missing, your boundaries are not complete nor stable.

For example, you have communicated to someone that you don’t appreciate them being late every time you meet. You tell them that, next time, you will wait for them for 15 minutes, no more than that. If the next time they are late again, and you are still there when they show up 30 minutes later, your actions are not in line with the boundary you have communicated. Supporting your own boundary means leaving after 15 minutes of waiting.

respond to crossing boundaries

Thus, violations of your boundaries should be met with clear communication of what your boundaries are and then consistent consequences you have set. Take the time to know your own boundaries, state them directly to those involved, and protect them with your actions.

Important: when setting boundaries and consequences for their possible violation, only communicate those that you are ready to follow through. Otherwise, your boundaries may sound like (empty) threats, and this is not beneficial. Boundaries are not there to manipulate others into doing what we want but to openly communicate how we genuinely believe we deserve to be treated.

Just because you’ve let others cross your boundaries doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it

As children, we may have learned to allow crossing our boundaries because we were helpless and depended on the big people in our lives for survival. But as adults, unless in extreme situations, we have the power and responsibility to properly defend them.

And although it may sound simple, it is far from easy. It takes self-love and self-respect to believe and behave in a way that reflects: “I will not tolerate such behaviour. This is not what I deserve. I have the right to express my preferences and needs, and to honour them”.

how to keep your boundaries

Knowing your basic rights and also what is your responsibility and what is not can help you feel a little less awkward about keeping boundaries. When you choose to fully accept and believe in these rights and responsibilities, it becomes much easier to set and reinforce your boundaries.

Remember that:

  • It’s not your responsibility to make other people happy all the time
  • You are not responsible for others’ poor decisions nor is anyone responsible for your decisions
  • It’s not your job to rescue people from their big uncomfortable feelings
  • You don’t need permission to be who you are, think what you think, or care about your needs
  • You have the right to feel your feelings, whatever those are. Behaviours and feelings are not the same things
  • You have the right to say NO
  • It’s okay to spend time alone without explaining yourself
  • It’s okay to honour your needs and wants

What if someone keeps crossing my boundaries?

 Sometimes, despite clear communication, multiple warnings, and a change of behaviour from your end, some people will keep pushing your boundaries. Whatever their reason may be for that, remember that you have the permission to choose what’s best for you and your well-being.

It can be useful to ask yourself: If things stay exactly as they are right now and never change (and it seems like they won’t), what can I do to protect my well-being?”

Maybe you conclude that this boundary is something negotiable and that you are willing to make an exception with this person. It’s okay – your boundaries can be flexible. You are the creator of boundaries in your own life and you have the right to shape them however you find is serving you. If you are willing to compromise, make sure that you are doing so with protecting your well-being in mind, not out of a sense of obligation or to please the other person.

conversation about personal limits

Unfortunately, when someone is constantly crossing the boundaries that are very important to you, the best option may be to distance yourself from the relationship. It’s easier said than done, we know. Sometimes, for practical reasons, it may not be possible to end the relationship right now. Change and transition are often very difficult, even when we know the end result is something that will serve us. Ending relationships is painful, even the ones that don’t work well anymore.

Remember that a key trademark of any healthy relationship is respect, which includes respecting your boundaries. One of the great things about adulthood is that we have choices, especially in who we build relationships with and how we nurture them. You can choose your relationships, and it is perfectly okay to let go of those that don’t support your well-being.

In the end, keep in mind that setting and keeping boundaries is a skill. It can be uncomfortable, especially when you first start implementing them. It can also be triggering and intimidating to hold your boundaries and confront someone who is crossing them. You are practicing something different than what you’re used to – it’s completely normal if it feels awkward. It takes courage to enforce a new behaviour and potentially face the uncomfortable reactions from others or, eventually, distance yourself from the relationship.

The good news is that, over time, as you practice setting and holding boundaries, it becomes much easier and the reward it brings is priceless. So, hang on and commit – it will be worth it.

 

Sources:

Tawwab, N. G. (2021). Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. Penguin.

Gazipura, A. (2017). Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty… and Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, and Unapologetically Being Yourself. BC Allen Publishing & Tonic Books.

Faitakas, M. (2021). The Importance of Setting Boundaries. SMUJournal. Retrieved on 29th of May 2022 from HERE