This may be an unpopular opinion that some therapists don’t want you to know, at least not right away. It may sound scary, intimidating, or even hyperbolic. But here’s the truth, therapy is hard. There are all kinds of people when it comes to going to therapy. Some have never been, some have tried it and didn’t like it, some are scared to or just don’t want to try it for whatever reasons, and some have been to therapy and loved it. Yes, there are a few others, but these four cover the majority.
Of course, as a therapy practice, we believe that therapy is for everyone, even those who have reservations – whatever they are. So, today we’re here to hopefully put your mind at ease and show you that yes, even though therapy is in fact hard, it is worth it. Read on to learn ways to work with your therapist to get through those tough sessions, create a therapeutic alliance, build rapport, and push past the uncomfortable feelings that will inevitably arise when dealing with past traumas.
Tips for Your First Therapy Session
If you’ve never been to therapy before, you may be feeling all the feelings – excited, scared, curious, cautious, hopeful, and everything in between. The first thing to keep in mind is that your therapist is there to help you, not to judge you. Also, even though it’s your first time in therapy, it’s not their first time. Even if they are newer to the profession of counseling, the education required to become a therapist dictates that they’ve done this for literally thousands of hours before sitting down with you today. Let them lead the conversation. They’ll cover a basic history with you, asking mostly surface questions about your family, your goals, and what brought you to seek therapy. Be open and honest. Don’t worry about surprising them or scaring them, they’ve likely heard it all.
Here are a few other tips for first-time therapy goers:
- Give yourself grace. Deciding to go to therapy and get help takes a lot of courage. It’s OK if it takes a bit to get comfortable.
- Ask for a phone consultation. It’s ok to feel your therapist out a bit before settling in. If you don’t get a good vibe from the therapist, find a different one.
- Have a goal in mind. This doesn’t have to be etched in stone, but you want to at least have an idea of what you want to accomplish with therapy. If you’re just looking for someone to listen to you talk once a week, a coffee date with your bestie may be a better idea.
- Write things down if you think about them before you go. It’s ok if you don’t get to all the topics, but having a list of things to cover eventually will give your therapist a good idea of where your head is at.
- Have realistic expectations. You’re not going to solve all your problems in your first session. Healing takes time.
What If I’ve Tried Therapy Already and I Didn’t Like It?
The relationship between a therapist and a patient consists solely of two things, one human and another human. If there is one thing for certain in this world it’s that humans are imperfect. If you’ve tried therapy in the past and didn’t like it, for whatever reasons, that is not a guarantee that you will never like therapy again. There are a few factors that could play into why therapy may not have worked for you in the past.
Since we’re big believers in honesty, we’ll go ahead and get the elephant in the room out in the open first, only one of those reasons falls on you directly. Your previous attempts at therapy may not have worked out because of something you did or didn’t do. We’ve all heard the cliché; you can only help those who want to be helped. Well, it’s true. Until you’re ready to dig in, do the work, and start healing, therapy will probably not be successful for you, and you will likely be miserable in the process. If you’re only seeking therapy to satisfy a family member or loved one, therapy will probably not be successful for you, and you will likely be miserable in the process. Are you seeing the trend? You have to want this. You have to be ready or ready to find your own why.
For those of you who are rolling your eyes, thinking “That’s not me! I do want this, but therapy was still terrible!” Rest assured, the other reasons you may not have liked therapy are probably not your fault. Let’s talk about those, starting with the therapeutic alliance.
What is a therapeutic alliance?
Although entire books have been written on this topic alone, most definitions of the therapeutic alliance have three themes in common, as spelled out by the National Library of Medicine: the collaborative nature of the relationship, the affective bond between patient and therapist, and the patient’s and therapist’s ability to agree on treatment goals and tasks.
Simply put, are those two imperfect humans, the therapist and the patient, on the same page? Do they vibe? Does the patient trust the therapist? This alliance relies on effective communication, honesty and openness, vulnerability, and so much more. This is hard and it makes a huge difference in the success of your therapy.
Aside from you not being ready for therapy or a solid therapeutic alliance not being formed, for whatever reasons, a few other reasons we’ve found that therapy just doesn’t work for some people could be as follows:
- Something was missed by the therapist. Remember that imperfect human thing we talked about? If you previously tried therapy and it didn’t help, it’s possible that your previous therapist may have missed a diagnosis and failed to treat you for a condition.
- Bad timing. Even the best intentions can have negative outcomes when applied at the wrong time. If you’re in the depths of a crisis, strapped for time and money, sometimes therapy can feel like more of a chore than a relief.
I Just Don’t Like Talking About My Feelings
This may be the most understandable reason to avoid therapy. Vulnerability is hard, which is why therapy is hard. The most successful therapy sessions dive the deepest. Whether you’ve had a terribly traumatic past or have lived a relatively peaceful life, we all have pain from which we need to heal. Even today, in 2023, talking about mental health still has a stigma attached to it. If you’ve attached that same stigma to your own mental health, taking that first step to seek help can be that much more difficult, let alone actually sharing your feelings with a stranger. The thing is, taking that first step is the hardest part. The thing we hear most from people who have been hesitant to open up is that once they say things out loud, they wish they would have said it sooner. They compare it to a slow leak that eventually turns into a full rushing flow.
The trick is learning to become vulnerable and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You must learn the difference between being afraid and being uncomfortable. We all experience discomfort in life and we all live through it. We might not like it, but we survive. Being afraid on the other hand involves feelings of fear and anxiety which can be triggers for your trauma response. Discomfort, whether we like it or not, fuels growth as opposed to triggering your trauma response. A good therapist will help you push through and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Therapy is Hard, Even When You Love It.
Even when you love therapy, it can still be hard. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back. Healing from past traumas is not always a linear path. If you don’t take anything else from this article, take this – therapy takes work, but it is worth it. People who love therapy love it because the treatments that therapists use are evidence-based, tried, and tested, and tailored specifically to their unique needs. It’s not just a bunch of talking about feelings. It’s so much more. It’s mental health treatment. It’s healing for your mind. It’s hope for a better tomorrow that we all deserve.
We offer all sorts of therapeutic modalities here at MUV Counseling in Scottsdale. We’re here for you, whether it’s your first time seeking therapy, if you’ve tried it before and are returning hoping for a better outcome, or if you’re a longtime therapy lover and just looking for some regular maintenance. We’ve got you. We offer in-office appointments, online therapy, group therapy, and walk + talk therapy.