What does therapy look like for me? by Shelby Albright

Therapy is a unique experience for each client. A therapist can provide different services based on a client’s needs, so it can be difficult to know exactly what to expect. Here are some general ideas for making therapy work for you.

Expect to feel some discomfort, especially in the early stages of therapy, as you’ll likely begin exploring emotionally difficult topics that you have struggled to address or resolve in the past. If you get incredibly uncomfortable, you can communicate this to your therapist and ask for help to calm down, and you can ask to return to difficult topics later in treatment. Your therapist should collaborate with you and give input, but you are in control of your mental health journey.

Set realistic expectations for your progress. Start with small goals and expect to struggle meeting them, because meaningful change is uncomfortable and often takes time. In learning new skills, practice is required to make progress, just like learning to play an instrument or a sport. The more often you practice your skills, the more likely you are to develop them quickly. In addition, keep in mind that you are responsible for your engagement; your therapist can help keep you accountable, but they are not with you between sessions and cannot remind you to use your skills when you’re upset. You can explore how to independently enforce the changes you are trying to make, without depending on your therapist to hold you accountable.

Be honest with your therapist about any previous therapy experiences you’ve had and how they affect your participation in sessions. If you have not been in therapy before, you may consider your beliefs about therapy based on what you’ve heard from others, how your family speaks of mental health, or how you’ve seen therapy depicted in the media. If your therapist makes recommendations that don’t feel right, be honest about this, too. Maybe you need smaller steps than they are proposing, so they need your input to understand how to best support you.

Explore timeframes for meeting goals. If you are coming to therapy for short-term goals, speak with your counselor about how many sessions you can expect to attend before making progress. If you are seeking help with long-term issues (e.g., anxiety, depression, changes in family dynamics, trauma), you can expect to engage in therapy for longer periods. Some clients/goals only need a few months, while others require longer-term support.

Keep in mind that therapy can be tailored to your needs, even if those needs change after you’ve established goals. Our lives are complicated and ever-changing, and therapy can shift focus as needed to accommodate life changes. Honesty is truly the best policy when speaking with your therapist. We are not here to judge you, but to accept you as a human being with unique needs and challenges. We want you to feel healthy and safe while working to improve your mental health, and your input on that journey is crucial.

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