“Will we just talk?”
“Am I supposed to spill my deepest darkest secrets to this stranger?”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
There can be a lot of uncertainty and questions around starting therapy. And it’s totally understandable. With its confidential nature and stigma that exists around mental health treatment, it’s hard to grasp what happens during therapy and beyond.
Here, we cover what happens behind those doors as well as what to expect throughout your entire therapeutic journey.
What To Expect Before, During, and After Therapy
Before Your First Therapy Session
Similar to a doctor’s appointment, you will sign in when you arrive your therapist’s office. Expect to fill out some documents including:
A therapist-patient services agreement
Your medical history and current medications
A questionnaire about your symptoms
You might also have the option to complete these forms online prior to your first visit.
During Your First Therapy Session
Think of your first visit as a get-to-know-me session. It’s less therapeutic and more introductory. It’s also important not to expect instant solutions to your problems on the first day.
Your therapist will ask you about your symptoms, what brought you to therapy, and some questions about your history. Therapists will also guide you through a series of questionnaires to have a better understanding of specific symptoms.
The first session may not feel like much but it sets the stage for subsequent visits. There will also be a discussion about the frequency of your treatment, future approaches to therapy, and information about confidentiality. Ultimately, this initial visit helps your therapist craft a plan tailored to your needs.
Subsequent Therapy Sessions
Length of therapy
Therapy equips you with long-term solutions, it’s not a quick fix. Depending on the complexity of your issues and your goals, sessions may last a few weeks, months, or even years. We may be tempted to “feel better” quickly. But just like healing a broken bone, it takes time, care, and maintenance. The process will also look different for everyone.
Modalities of therapy
Therapists are trained in a variety of strategies to help people manage mental illness, resolve interpersonal issues, and deal with life transitions. You roughly know what to expect by enquiring what approach your therapist decides to use. Here are some common types of therapeutic approaches:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Explores the connection between thoughts, behavior, and feelings
Person-centered therapy: Creates an environment that is non-judgmental and empathetic
Gestalt therapy: Focuses on the present experience of the client
Existential therapy: Focuses on you rather than the symptom
Psychoanalytic therapy: Works through painful emotions stemmed from the past
Format of each session
You’re encouraged to be open and vulnerable about your thoughts and feelings. The therapist will then synthesize and compartmentalize what you shared. This allows you to tackle those issues one by one - which ultimately prevents overwhelm and reduces anxiety. Therapists might also provide some insight to help you reflect on your situation.
It’s normal to experience a range of emotions after a session. You may leave a session feeling:
Tired and frustrated
This happens when the session dealt with difficult memories or challenges certain beliefs.
Energized and relieved
This happens when you’ve felt heard, achieved new insights, or you’ve set a goal to work on.
If you walk out of the session feeling the former, it helps to take note of your experience. In your next session, let your therapist know how you felt so they can offer support. We also encourage you to do something you enjoy after an intense session to help you relax.
Going into therapy can feel like you’re embarking on a journey into the unknown. But it doesn’t have to be. A little bit of research (just like how you’re reading this article) serves as a great way to prepare yourself mentally as you dive into the therapeutic process.
So if you’re ready to overcome longstanding issues, manage your stress levels, or simply just to improve your communication skills, your therapist is there to support you every step of the way. Keep an open mind, be patient with yourself, and watch your newfound clarity unfold!
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