what 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