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I have been in and out of therapy most of my life for a variety of reasons.
(I was an only child in a broken family across two continents, experienced domestic violence, divorce, physical illness, started grad school at age 42, and started post-grad school.)
Some of my therapists have worked, some haven’t. The ones who didn’t just weren’t the right fit for me. (It was the ones who just told me what to do that didn’t work because it invited in so much self-judgement—my preference is to find someone who helps me find my own answers).
One of the most important sessions was my first therapy experience when I was 12. I felt judged and shamed and humiliated. Say what? But, that inaugural session launched me on this career path and certainly influences how I sit with clients today. From that single session, I knew that this work was supposed to be about genuine kindness, appreciation, compassion, and non-judgement.
It can be nerve-wracking anytime you start therapy; here’s someone you are supposed to trust enough to be willing to put yourself out there to see if they can help you—and in the span of a 50-minute session once a week.
A stranger with whom you are placing your inherent trust (hopefully!) in order to open up about what has happened, what’s going on, and where you might want to go. You might wonder how the hell they will help you. Will it be worth it? Will it work? It’s a lot to face, particularly if you’ve never been in therapy before.
All I can say—from my personal experience of sitting in both chairs (as the client and the therapist)—is that it is a lot.
When I sit in the client chair, I have high expectations of my helpers (yup), and find myself sitting in judgement (what happened to non-judgement?) for at least the first session, until I see that the therapist gets me (when you know, you know), they are listening to me (did they remember something I said at the beginning of the session?), are interested in what I have to share (say more…), and are taking me seriously with compassion (that sounds like it was really hard, I’m sorry you experienced that). After all those boxes are checked, I begin to trust my therapist…and the work begins.
The following questions might surface—at least for me, they do when I’m seeing a new therapist.
How will it work this time? What will they think of me? Will they judge me? Do I like them? Can I trust them? What if they don’t like me? Will they think I’m just another whiny white girl complaining about nothing? Will they be able to help me? Yada yada yada.
Then, I wait eagerly to be fixed so I can fully embrace and enjoy my life and be me today. (High expectations?!)
What I do know is that therapy is the most successful when I’m completely invested and engaged in the process, and by invested I mean that I do a lot of self-work outside the session. I journal, and I attempt to remember things that stood out to me in session and remind myself of those moments when things are tough outside therapy. I debrief with my hub. I even take notes during the sessions. I am an active participant in doing the work and, perhaps, since I want my therapist to take me seriously, I take the work seriously.
I look at therapy as a monthly expense—like a car payment—that hopefully takes significantly less time to pay off than the loan. I come to each session prepared with what’s on my mind that I want (need?) to unpack, and sometimes, how the last session impacted me, what I took away from it, and where I sit today.
I tell my therapist if I don’t feel like doing some grounding or whatever they suggest—and then laugh at myself later. Sure, resistance shows up (and often!), but when I’m fully engaged, I am able to take a look at that resistance to see what it’s saying to me, what it wants, and what’s not being acknowledged. I also do know that therapy is not a quick fix, unfortunately. Since life will continue to throw challenges at us, therapy is not one-and-done.
How do you know when it’s time to start therapy? Is there a nagging thing that won’t leave you alone? Have life circumstances become that thing that slammed you in a direction you’re not happy about? Are you facing something that has no fix? Has that thing influenced how you want to show up in the world? Does that thing affect your relationships? Your work life? How does it have you thinking, feeling, or behaving in ways that just aren’t aligned with who you know you really are? Or maybe you don’t know who you are anymore.
Then I would say, yes, therapy might be able to help you get some space from that thing (the it) that is so dang annoying, devastating, heartbreaking, or, you fill in the blank.
If you’re ready to pull the plug, here are some thoughts on what you might consider before your first (or next) session:
Why are you there?
What do you hope to achieve? (Even returning to a baseline is something to achieve.)
What is most pressing right now? Where do you want to start?
What’s missing, or what have you lost? (A person, place, job, fur baby, motivation, confidence—in this space, a therapist can be so helpful.)
What is lingering and not letting go of you? (Family stuff, relationship ruptures, insecurity, anger.)
How does that thing, that it affect you or influence you in ways that are out of alignment with who you want to be?
What will an improvement in whatever it is look like? How will you know when an improvement is happening?
What are you willing to do to support the process?
Going to therapy just might shift your life. It sure has helped me. I hope you find a therapist who you click with, as that can make all the difference.