by Kerry Beduna, Ph.D
What can I expect in therapy?
If you are considering starting therapy for the first time, it’s normal to be
nervous or anxious about what to expect. While every therapy experience is
different, knowing more about what therapy may be like can help you feel more at
ease going into that first session. Your first session of therapy will typically consist
of the therapist gathering information about your mental health history, family and
relationship background, and symptoms you are experiencing. It may be helpful for
you to think about what you would like to work on in therapy. I tell my clients that
it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you need to work on yet, and that your goals
can definitely change over time as we work together. Many people feel a sense of
relief after their first therapy session, having a sense of hope that there is someone
who is committed to helping them reach their goals.
How do I find a therapist who is the best fit for me?
If you are looking to work on a specific issue, it may be important to look for
someone who has expertise working with that issue (eating disorders, substance
abuse, LGBT issues, etc). Reading therapists’ statements on psychologytoday.com or
on their practice’s website is a good place to start. Therapists are trained to help
with a wide variety of issues and may have a particular therapeutic style, such as
cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, solution-focused, or interpersonal process. It
is important to find a clinician who you feel comfortable with, as you want to feel
safe enough to share things in therapy that are very personal. It may take a few
sessions for you to tell if your therapist is a good fit for you, but you should listen to
your gut feelings, particularly if something feels off. I check in with my clients about
how they are feeling about working with me. If they feel that something is not
working, I try to make adjustments to our approach in therapy. I may help them find
another counselor if they feel I am not a good fit for their needs.
How can I make the most of my experience in therapy?
While your therapist is trained to help you make insights into your
experiences, explore your feelings, and encourage you to work towards your goals,
YOU are the most important agent for change in your life. When my clients ask me
for advice, I help them explore their options and assist them in making the decision
that fits their needs. I like to say that in therapy, the client and I are on a journey
down a road with many paths, in which the client is the driver, I am the passenger,
and my therapeutic style is the GPS/navigation system. My clients and I work
together to determine what techniques will be most helpful in reaching their goals.
You will get the most out of therapy if you are engaged in the process and
challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone. This could mean talking
about experiences and feelings that cause discomfort or doing things on your own
time in between sessions to work towards your goals. Sometimes this means that
you will feel worse in therapy before you feel better, but in the end working through
the challenge is what makes therapy so rewarding.