The fact that you’re considering therapy means you’ve acknowledged there is something you’d like to change, or an obstacle that you’d like to overcome. In fact, this simple action marks the start of your recovery.
Many people are considering therapy as a possible route to feeling better, but are too embarrassed or scared to ask the sort of questions that can help you to make up your mind. In this post, I’m going to tell you a little bit about what to expect from therapy and what the ‘road to recovery’ might look like. I hope this will help to alleviate any anxiety you may have about taking that next step.
1. What if I don’t like my therapist?
It’s widely known that the most predictive factor of change is the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client. Regardless of the therapeutic model or techniques used, good rapport, a strong working alliance, and what we might call ‘chemistry’ are the most important elements for a successful outcome. You and your therapist will work as a team, embarking on a journey together to help you get to where you want to be, so it’s really important you get a sense that you can trust your therapist in that first session.
It’s ok for you to ask questions of your therapist and to evaluate whether this is the right match for you. You need to feel confident that this pairing will provide both a comfortable and supportive ongoing relationship. At Altum, all of our Associates are highly qualified and well trained. That doesn’t mean they are all right for you. We always recommend an initial meeting with your therapist before making a commitment. It’s ok to change therapists if it doesn’t feel like the right ‘therapeutic fit’.
2. What will my first therapy session be like?
The first therapy session is typically a ‘getting to know you’ exercise that begins with what we call ‘the assessment’. When we meet clients for the first time, we ask questions that will help us better understand your struggles and how we can best help. We want to get a feel for how you feel now and how you came to be in the position you are in. Getting to grips with why you feel the way you do and where those feelings come from will help us work together to move forward and navigate the obstacles between where you are and where you want to be.
While different therapists approach assessment in their own way, we will typically look at factors such as your current difficulties, a history of those difficulties (including times when things might have felt easier or harder), relationships, a timeline of important events, goal setting and perhaps complete some assessment measures, so we can gauge your progress during therapy.
3. How long will it take for therapy to make me better?
When considering therapy, the most important thing to remember is that recovery is not necessarily an end point. There won’t be a place after which the things you came to therapy for are never thought about or felt again. This makes hard listening for many, as often, the things that bring you to therapy are scary and overwhelming, and the only possible and acceptable version of recovery is to envision yourself completely free of those things.
“I will never feel panicked again…”, “I will never worry about food or my body again…”, “I will never feel drawn to the wrong kind of partner again…”
When it comes to defining recovery in therapy, it’s far more useful to think of it as a way to make overwhelming, scary and often crippling experiences more manageable. Turn them into experiences that you can step through without being crushed or debilitated. Therapy is about teaching you new ways of thinking and new skills to make those thoughts and feelings tolerable and manageable. When experiences are no longer feared, a happy consequence is that you worry and think about those experiences less!
Last year, I wrote a post titled, How much therapy do you need? In it, I said that therapy is about self-development, and self-development never ends. It’s quite typical for people to complete courses of therapy and then take time to practice and integrate their learning outside of the therapy room. Some people may choose to return for further work at some point, or to work on new issues should they emerge.
4. How will therapy make me better?
One useful way of thinking about recovery is to liken it to recovery from a physical injury. For example, an ankle injury that prevents you from walking.
The injury feels crippling and stops you from getting around. The injury may have come about for many reasons. Weak ankles might run in your family, or maybe you spent your youth doing things that put extra stress on your ankles, or perhaps your ankles seemed just fine and then you had an accident – a major trauma – that left you shocked and infirm. However you got there, you are left with a painful injury that needs help to heal. Now, rest is good. And sometimes, rest and time are enough for you to heal. But it’s likely you need a bit more active help to recover.
You might go to a physiotherapist, for example, who will teach you how to soothe the injury, reduce inflammation and make the pain more tolerable.
Your psychotherapist will do the exact same thing. They will teach you how to sort through your thoughts and feelings so they make sense and you feel more in control. What started as completely overwhelming thoughts and feelings, are now more tolerable.
A physiotherapist will also teach you exercises to not only strengthen the injured ankle, but equally as important, they will teach you how to strengthen the areas around the injury so that you can build up stability, strength and pull from alternative resources for increased support. By the end of physio, you should be able to walk again and know the things you need to do in order to keep your ankle healthy.
With psychotherapy, we will also teach you the tools and techniques to strengthen your ability to manage your thoughts and feelings, work things through, problem solve, and feel emotionally more robust. By the end of therapy, you should feel clearer, more at ease, and well equipped to handle the issues you came to therapy for.
5. What if I relapse after therapy?
It’s important to be kind to yourself. I’ve said it before – if change were easy, you would have achieved it a long, long time ago. No doubt you’ve tried to change your thoughts and behaviours in the past, but often, the task feels utterly overwhelming. I wrote a post last year on why we find change so hard. Honestly, change is not easy, so please try to remember just how far you’ve come.
After therapy, you will feel much more equipped to manage the unhelpful thoughts and behaviours in a way you struggled to do previously. That’s not to say you’re guaranteed not to relapse – relapse is actually part of the recovery process. The difference now, is you’ll be able to recognise the signs of a relapse, and be mindful of when those symptoms creep in. Then move your thinking from automatic to manual (a skill you will learn in therapy!) so you can change course.
Depending on the signs that you – or those close to you – have picked up on, make a specific plan to triage yourself. I make a toolkit with my clients – useful resources for them to turn to in order to deal with any triggering situations. It may be that you need to take some time out to rest, or it may be that you need to revisit your therapist. Take what you need from that toolkit.
I’m sure you’ll try many of the tools and techniques you learn during therapy before you find those that best suit your needs across different situations. But remember, this is not failure, this is all part of the recovery process.
As I said at the start, if you are considering therapy as an option, you have taken that first step on the road to recovery by just acknowledging that you need to make a change.
I hope this post has given you the confidence to move forward and reach out for professional help so that we can teach you to manage those thoughts and feelings so you are no longer crippled by them. We all deserve to engage in life in a meaningful way, so let’s start that new chapter today.