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Posted: May 12, 2014 by Jeff Guenther
Today on Mental Help Desk, I will be talking about what to expect in therapy. If you are new to therapy, you may have some preconceived ideas about what counseling will and won’t be able to do for you and I’m going to help clear that up.
First, what won’t therapy do for you?
Some people feel a sense of relief or calmness after their first counseling session. Being able to just unload and start getting things off your chest can be incredibly cathartic. But don’t mistake that sense of relief for the problem being solved. It typically takes time to see results in therapy. Sometimes it takes ten sessions and other times it can take a year or longer to be able to see real changes in your life. If it feels like things are not moving fast enough for you, be sure to bring this up with the counselor so that you can talk about goals and set a realistic timetable to meet them.
Therapy won’t take all the pain away. It’s not uncommon for someone to hope that simply going to therapy will alleviate all feelings of sadness and grief. That won’t happen. Therapy will, however, teach you different ways to react to the pain or process the pain. You may be able to make the pain move through your life a bit quicker and you’ll understand where the pain is coming from and why it is important to feel and acknowledge it.
If you are going to therapy, you may end up talking about how someone in your life is causing you strife or giving you a hard time or even causing your depression or anxiety. Sometimes there are toxic or unhealthy people in your life and talking about that relationship may take up a lot of time in counseling. Remember that the therapist cannot change the person that you’re talking about. Therapy will not focus on trying to figure out how to make another person behave or feel. Your sessions will focus on how you’re feeling in the relationship and what you can do in order to change the relationship or change how you’re acting in it.
Sometimes people avoid starting counseling because they are afraid it will be too overwhelming. Even though therapy can bring up some tough emotions, it probably won’t be as bad as you think. The more you avoid counseling, and talking about the feelings that you might be avoiding, the harder and more intense you may think they’ll be. And even if you do have some hard feelings that start to flood you in the middle of a session, the great thing is that you have a mental health professional sitting right in front of you who is trained at handling all the tough stuff that may be coming up. You’re in good hands, trust me.
As funny as it may seem, you will not get advice in therapy. That might sound like a bummer but it makes total sense if you think about it. Therapists want you to end treatment eventually and if they start handing out advice then you won’t feel empowered to come up with your own solutions to problems. You may start relying on therapy too much if you get advice from a counselor. Instead, the therapist will talk about all the options you have in order to deal with problems and find solutions. The goal is for you to get in touch with what you truly want and then to do your best to act from there. A counselor will be able to encourage you to do that.
Now let’s talk about what therapy will do for you.
Your therapist will be your ally in life. They will never judge you or shame you. You will receive unconditional positive regard from your therapist. They will always be acting with your best interest in mind. Sometimes in order to start feeling better, all you need to experience is a therapeutic relationship with your counselor. Having this unique relationship can be healing in and of itself.
Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s almost impossible to understand everything that is going on. When you enter therapy you’ll be able to put everything on the table and sort through it with a professional. With the help of your therapist’s unique perspective, you’ll start to have a different relationship with the problem. The therapist will also be able to figure out if you have a role in creating the problem and work with you to identify different ways to process it or get out of it or change it all together.
In my opinion, this is the best part of therapy. A counselor will figure out how your personality developed, how your psyche works and how your background has influenced you as a person. Questions will focus on your family history, what types of messages you were given growing up, how your culture played a role in your development and what your relationship history as an adult says about you. Different theoretical approaches and lenses will be used to help you understand yourself from a 360 degree view. The information you learn in therapy will benefit you your whole life and understanding yourself at a deeper level will provide you with increased awareness.
The clarity you will gain in therapy will provide you with energy to start making changes and looking at things differently. Your life won’t feel as heavy and hopeless with your new therapist ally and this will make it easier to make decisions and start moving forward.
There are tons of other things that therapy will do for you and if you feel like I missed some important points, be sure to leave your feedback in the comments section. And if you live in Portland, Oregon and you’re ready to start the process check out all the therapists that are here to help you on your journey.
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a liscensed professional counselor in Portland, OR. You can find out more about his practice by visiting his website or his profile.
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