Therapy can be overwhelming. This may be the case before you have your first session or even make the initial appointment. Sure, we’ve all seen therapists and psychiatrists in movies where the client is meant to lay down on a large couch in a stuffy room while some guy with glasses doodles in their journal for an hour. On the flip side, there are many movies illustrating that only people with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, attend therapy. This is not the case in real life.
I know because I’ve been in both chairs: the therapist and the client.
Because of my experience I’d like to think that I have a little bit of an “insider’s” advantage on this topic. For that reason, I want to share some things, from my therapist viewpoint, with you in attempts to hopefully ease any concerns or answer any questions you may have about therapy.
1. I’m not going to judge you (everyone has problems).
This is a phrase that I typically repeat numerous times over the course of my time with an individual because it is true! There is not a person in this world that does not have some kind of problem that they may or may not want help with at any given point. Because of this, there is no reason to judge others. Besides, my primary role as a therapist is to listen to you and help you untangle any concerns that you may have, not judge you.
2. I won’t talk about you with my friends over drinks.
There may be an inherent fear that, once a problem is disclosed, that problem will be shared with others. This is definitely not the case. In no way would that be professional, and it would ruin the relationship and rapport that we have taken time and effort to build. Confidentiality and trust are key. Consider this: think about the best relationship that you have ever had, whether this is with a significant other, a family member, or a friend. Got that person? Now, could that person hurt you if they really wanted to? Do they know how to push your buttons pretty easily? Yet, you described this relationship as the best one you’ve ever had. Why? Because, despite knowing all of the little details about you, you trust in that person enough to know they won’t use those things against you. I aim for our relationship to be just like that.
3. I’ve most likely already heard something similar to anything you disclose (you can’t scare/shock me).
Again, everyone has problems. And shockingly, a lot of people have very similar problems. But, because of how our current culture has molded us to show only our best selves on social media, you likely wouldn’t know it. If it helps to know, I have worked in a psychiatric hospital, a methadone clinic with individuals who have been struggling with various addictions, and a male populated prison. I’ve seen and heard a lot, so please don’t hold back. Your problems and concerns are valid and are worth talking about!
4. Coming to see me does not mean you are “weak” or “crazy”.
Referring back to the numerous cinema adaptations that were mentioned above, therapy does not mean that you are “crazy” or are inherently bad or a failure. It just means that you would like an unbiased person to listen to you and help untangle some problems that you have been having. We all love our friends and family members, but sometimes they want to “fix” instead of merely listen, which isn’t what we need all the time.
5. I’m not in the business of giving advice.
Most people may be surprised to hear that I will not give you advice or tell you what to do. What I will do is help you decide the best course of action by considering all of the options, some of which you may or may not have thought of, and assist you in following through. This is the case because everyone is different, and what I may do (or what I think I might do) in a particular situation at any given moment may not be what you believe to be best for you. I will meet you where you are at.
6. Things might feel worse before they feel better.
There may be points in the therapeutic process that you feel frustrated and that “therapy isn’t working” or “therapy just isn’t for me”. But we may be working through some pretty heavy topics, possibly including trauma. You cannot expect that to be rainbows and butterflies the whole time, right? But the more that you talk about something and find ways to manage the emotions you have, the better equipped you will become.
7. There might be times when you get upset with me, and that’s okay.
Because we may be talking about some difficult subject matters, I may feel that it would be most helpful to you for me to say some things that may be difficult for you to hear. Please know that, throughout our time together, I will never intend to purposefully make you feel poorly, but if I do, you can tell me. You can even tell me I’m wrong. But, before you do that, consider what I’ve said because more often than not, the feedback that we don’t want to hear, is the feedback we need the most.
8. Sometimes I won’t know what to say.
Yes, I have an extensive education and have years of experience; however, there is no handbook for “if Person A says X then you say Y”. I’m not perfect. Nobody is. There may be times where you explain a situation that makes me think of my own life, which in turn brings up emotions. I may become flustered and not know how to immediately manage my emotions. Above all else, I am human. But I always have and will continue to maintain professionalism and not bring my personal life into your sessions. That is your time to talk about whatever you’d like. And besides, I have my own therapist for my problems.
9. I won’t acknowledge you in public unless you acknowledge me first.
This is part of the confidentiality we talked about earlier. I’m not trying to be rude or ignore you but think of it this way. If I walk up to you in the grocery store and engage in a brief conversation, then later my friend that I also saw in the grocery store asks how I know you. I don’t want to lie nor do I want to break our confidentiality and trust. I will be more than welcome to exchange pleasantries with you outside of our sessions, but only if you decide that it’s okay to do so.
10. I am mandated to report certain things.
Everything that we talk about will stay within the confines of that room, except for a few things. Because I am what is considered to be a mandated reporter as part of my social work license, I am legally bound to disclose any perceived or actual harm to yourself or others. Even though this is the case, please do not hesitate to disclose these things if they are relevant to you. I am a mandated reporter for the purpose of getting people the help they need.
Please let me know either in the comments section below, on our social media, or in a private conversation of any other concerns, comments, or questions regarding mental health therapy!