I have been in therapy for little bursts of time over the past ten years. Each stint involved a death, the demise of a significant relationship or a major life change. Until this year. For the past year I have been in therapy weekly, because one- I’m required to for school, two- I’m learning through direct contact as much about what to do as what not to do, and three- 2016 was a big year full of change and major life stressors; so I needed a neutral ear.
In a year’s time I have learned some valuable lessons about being a therapy client:
-Finding a therapist can be rough. Setting aside personality, specialty, fit, there are insurance and payment considerations. I suggest asking around for recommendations. The people you know are seeing therapists and know the good ones! Also, check with your insurance company to see who is In-Network. This can be found on your patient portal online or by calling the number on the back of your insurance card.
– It’s good to have a therapist in your back pocket. Most will spend a set amount of time in regular therapy and then taper off to less frequency or stop treatment all together. Even if you have scaled back your appointments or have been taken off a caseload, you can always reach back out. Most likely your therapist will be able to get you back in and bonus they know you and your history.
– You have to be honest. I’m generally a very open and candid person and sometimes I still struggle to be completely forthright in my therapist’s office.
It’s only human to want people to think the best of you, to not let someone down, to paint a slightly different picture. For some of us, that tendency is so ingrained that it’s hard to be completely transparent. I like to give myself an honesty pep talk as I drive to therapy, to simply say what I think and feel, no matter what, no over analyzing.
Here’s what I know from being in the biz, on very rare occasion someone’s situation is such an outlier that it surprises a seasoned behavioral health provider. That’s their job, to hold space for truths that are hard to hear and say. That is why you’re both there.
– There are so many therapeutic modalities, theories, and personal approaches that if one approach doesn’t prove to be effective, then there are many other options. It’s best to talk to your present therapist if you don’t feel like you are making progress. It opens a dialogue, invites treatment plans to be revised and opens doors for other approaches. Many therapists are comfortable with an array of therapeutic angles. If they don’t have what you need, then any therapist worth their weight will happily help you find a new provider.
– You get to stipulate how long you would like to attend therapy and then work aggressively towards that goal. That looks differently for each person. It may mean that you are committing to a 14 week intensive out patient program, it may mean that you see your therapist once a week for eight weeks and then reevaluate.
-It is okay to say no. With my current therapist, we started working on an action plan of five to seven actions that I could take weekly to work on better specific aspects of my life. For instance, for better physical health I would practice a breathing exercise multiple times a day. After the first session where we nailed down three actions, I decided that I didn’t want to do seven. Three was plenty. I had to be pretty firm with my therapist about that, but of course, he ultimately reaffirmed that this was my plan and I called the shots.
– If you cry hysterically for an hour, good. You needed that. There is no shame in losing composure in therapy.
– If it feels like coffee with a friend, and you are absorbing a lot about their personal life things are off track. The time in that office is precious, and it’s supposed to be about you. If it’s not, you can either bring that up or gracefully wrap up care with that provider and start with a new hopefully better match.
– Therapists are human. They don’t have a treasure box full of magical solutions for your life. The good ones are clear about that.
– You are the captain of the therapy ship. Your therapist helps keep you on course. That means that you do all of the heavy lifting. That you have to show up receptive to alternative perspectives and yes that you have to take actions and report back.
– It is likely that there is a whole vocabulary around what you are experiencing or feeling that you aren’t aware of. Your therapist is able to share that with you. A previous therapist of mine broke it to me that I have anxiety. At the time that felt like a big scary word, a grim label. But actually, it empowered me to understand objectively how I react physically, emotionally and cognitively to so many scenarios. It allowed me to look in the right places for help.
-The aha moment. A new insight. When things click.
-So that we are better able to accept the truth of our past and present and decide how to best deal with it.