A Guide to Therapy For Beginners
Let’s be clear about one thing, going to therapy is not an activity that comes with an instruction card, therefore there is no one correct way to approach it. If you are in the age category of 30 or above, the whole concept of therapy might be novel to you. You may find it awkward to address few smaller issues and think ‘I’m fine, ‘I don’t need therapy; ‘this is just a phase’.
Even though there is more widespread awareness about mental health issues than there was before, many of us still have reservations and preconceptions about the word, ‘therapy’ or ‘counseling’. We will avoid talking about it with others, hide it from our friends because we are afraid they will start to think, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ because on the outside you seem ‘pretty well adjusted’.
SO, HOW DO YOU DE-STIGMATIZE THIS WHOLE PROCESS FOR YOURSELF?
- Normalize the idea of therapy: Going to therapy has become more of an overvalued idea due to the stigma attached to mental illness. People going for therapy are viewed from a different perspective than they were before. You must normalize the idea of going to therapy just as you visit the doctor for a cold! You can do this by being open to sharing your experiences, with complete indifference to any judgment.
- Go with an open mind: Leave all your prejudice behind when you have made up your mind to seek therapy. Do not go with a mindset that it WILL OR WILL NOT be helpful, (especially in the initial few sessions). Don’t be closed off to any ideas or suggestions even though you find them ridiculous, for example: many therapists suggest journaling or maintaining a diary; the male population do not comply with it thinking it’s silly. That is the attitude you have to give up, you can discuss and come up with an alternative to journaling such as making a voice note, or video-taping yourself. However, going into it with a presumption that you will not carry forward anything that you find unacceptable only means you are wasting your time.
- Find your own therapist: Another person searching for a therapist for you is as good as someone driving the car from the passenger seat when you are the one behind the wheel. Searching for a therapist who is the right fit FOR you is ON you! If you choose someone based on their age, gender, qualifications, specializations, you are more likely to build a better rapport than if someone else suggests or decides whom you should consult with (especially a parent or your spouse).
ONCE YOU ARE THERE, WHAT DO YOU DO?
- Getting comfortable: If you are the kind of person who cannot open up to a stranger or feel uncomfortable sharing personal details, it is alright to take some time to warm up to your therapist. Your therapist will do everything they can to break the ice, they will be patient and they will guide the session by asking questions and enabling you to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is important to understand that sometimes the therapist may not be the right fit for you and despite best efforts from both sides you still may not feel comfortable talking to them. In such a case should try to find someone else. Therapy is not a straight road, there will be a lot of peaks and valleys, you may get very anxious every time you speak to your therapist, and you may not be able to say anything during the first few sessions. It is alright to take time to get comfortable.
- Write it down: You may be sitting for hours of therapy sessions but not be able to speak up about your issues OR you may talk a lot about but keep getting side-tracked talking about irrelevant things. Of course, in such a situation your therapist will remind you to not allow your thoughts to wander and bring you back to the discussion of the problem. You can keep a check on yourself by writing it all down before you go to therapy. You can make a list of things you want to address (keep in mind you cannot address all your issues in one session). This will help you use your time effectively and prevent you from straying off-topic too often.
- Set goals together: It is important that you clarify your expectations from therapy with your therapist after the first few sessions. You and your therapist must set goals and the time period in which you expect to reach these goals. Therapy, unlike in the movies, is not an endless road with no final destination. If you are seeking therapy because you have social anxiety disorder and are unable to make friends, your goal should be to be able to initiate or maintain a conversation with someone for at least a minute without getting anxious, OR to be able to go to a restaurant and place an order by yourself. This can be a small short-term goal to achieve within a few months. A long-term goal can be to make at least two friends at college/work whom you can speak to every day or can talk about your anxiety issues with. Setting goals and achieving them gives you positive reinforcement and the assurance that going to therapy IS BENEFITTING. Your therapist will ask you your goals and will collaborate with you in setting specific, achievable, and practical goals within a certain time period. These goals ultimately help to measure outcomes and the effectiveness of therapy.
- Building trust: Trust is the supporting foundation of therapy. If you grew up or are/were surrounded by people who caused deep-seated trust issues in you, it will be difficult to form a trusting relationship with anybody. It will take some time for you to completely trust and be open with your therapist. However, lying is counter-productive to the whole process. Lying is often used as a defense mechanism (when you say lying is like second nature to someone) used to protect ourselves from unpleasant truths, for example: being abused at home, failing in school due to a learning disability. It is easier to mollify the truth or change the story completely because it is more acceptable to you. This, however, WILL NOT WORK in therapy, and will only be more detrimental to the whole process. It is a habit you must actively try to change to really benefit from therapy. Building an honest, trusting relationship with your therapist is very crucial for making progress.
- Accept guidance: Going to therapy is like driving a car for the first time. You might be scared to sit behind the wheel, you might feel embarrassed if you don’t get it right the first time; but it is a ‘safe space’, with no judgment, because it is your car and you control the destination. Consider yourself to be the driver (because you set the goals) and the therapist sitting in the passenger seat to give you directions and guiding you to move forward (helping you achieve your goal). Don’t be embarrassed by admitting that you need help, don’t be worried if you don’t have answers to all the questions. Allow your therapist to teach you how to shift gears, how to follow the path to reach your destination. You can be the most vulnerable version of yourself without fear of judgment because it is a safe space.
- Involving family members/friends: Your concerns in therapy may be regarding or because of certain people in your life. You can be completely candid about, WHO, you think is gaslighting you, manipulating you, or being an unhelpful presence in your day-to-day life. People can be triggers too. Your therapist may suggest family counseling or may request to have a joint session with this person. It is your decision to what extent you want to involve others in the therapeutic process and how to deal with people who trigger your anxiety. We often try to keep our loved ones out of the loop because either we a) don’t want their interference b) don’t want to cause them additional stress. You and your therapist can agree upon an acceptable way of dealing with such people, however, you are comfortable.
- Do your homework: Therapy is work. You need to put in the work for it to be beneficial. When you set goals you can write them down and stick them up on your wall. You should re-visit them from time to time and change these goals as your priorities change. When you discuss a problem, for example, your job is highly demanding with long hours which is causing stress and mental exhaustion. You and your therapist discuss and agree you need to engage in a relaxing activity on the weekend to help you cope. You don’t organize your time well and don’t leave any free time for relaxation and you give excuses that you have deadlines. By the next session you haven’t done what you discussed in therapy, hence the stress persists and there are no gains made. You must discuss and schedule a time during therapy itself to engage in any task that you decided upon to ensure that you do it. Not carrying forward your gains made in therapy into your daily life means you are stuck in an endless loop of losses. DO YOUR HOMEWORK so you solidify what you learn and apply it to the situation that demands it. For example: if you have learned or practiced a relaxation activity to de-stress after work you can use the same activity to relax every time you feel anxious in any situation.
We at KareOptions will ensure that you find a therapist that is the right fit for you and is also closer to you geographically. You can take second opinions or even change therapists if you are not comfortable with your first choice. We understand therapy can be a long difficult road and want to make it a little less tedious for you. We also provide written reports and help you set-up follow up appointments for as long as you continue therapy!
We can make the process easier but the talking is all up to you!