It is very common to feel hesitant about starting counseling for your first time or beginning with a new therapist. I have found that often the ideas we have about counseling are based on media, television, movies, and horror stories from others. Although I’m sure there is at least an inkling of validity in some of these, for the majority I find that these contribute to inaccurate preconceived notions. While therapy is about an interaction with another person (your counselor) it is just as much, if not more, about the relationship with yourself. Whether you are contemplating therapy for your first time, ready to return after a period of abstinence, or are looking for a new counselor, I am hoping that these five points will help clarify what to expect:
- Relationship is everything: No matter how many years of experience or credentials a counselor has behind their name (don’t get me wrong, these are important and I am proud of mine) the therapeutic relationship is imperative. If you genuinely like your therapist, the chances you will be more receptive to their perspective, feel safe to explore yourself, and trust that this is a place for you to grow and heal increase significantly. This segues nicely into #2.
- Trust and honesty: You are more likely to get the most out of counseling if you trust your therapist and are honest with both them and yourself. An effective therapeutic relationship relies on trust between both people and the ability to share your experiences honestly.
- It takes work: If you want someone to wave a wand over your head and say “poof you’re healed”, you may need to rethink your goals of counseling. Working on ourselves is one of, if not, the hardest job. While the session is essential to explore past, present, and future a large majority of the actual work happens outside of my office; it happens within you, the client, and your internal and external environment. It is challenging to confront our past, painful to feel emotions we have been working so hard to avoid, and uncomfortable to delve into ourselves fully. However, it is also exciting and rewarding to gain new insight and understanding about ourselves and truly heal.
- Investment: Deciding to pursue counseling is a financial, emotional, and psychological investment. Counseling is expensive. It is a financial decision, especially if you are paying out of pocket, and should be budgeted for in order to prevent early termination of therapy. Counseling also takes a lot of emotional energy. Working through challenges, gaining self-awareness, and exploring the past is emotionally taxing. However, in my opinion, there is no better investment than to invest in YOU. The benefit of working through our stuff to live a more fulfilling life is well worth it!
- It’s a process: Just like a seed does not sprout overnight, change does not happen with the snap of your fingers. Often things get worse before they get better; this is healthy and normal. This means that growth is occurring within you; albeit uncomfortable, this is part of the process. Counseling takes time and frequently your goals might change as you work through one area, other insights and challenges arise, or your perspective might shift completely. Understanding that therapy is a progression and a development allows you to be gentle and kind to yourself when it may feel incredibly difficult. As long as you continue to come to counseling, work hard in and out of session, and do your best the process will work its magic if you trust.
Yes, the idea of counseling can be scary. Yes, it can produce anxiety. With the understanding of the above mentioned info, my hope is that some of that fear and anxiety will be reduced. Wherever you are in your own process, if you are toying around with the idea of starting or returning to counseling, DO IT! It most likely won’t be like what you see in the movies, you might cry, hopefully laugh, and definitely grow.