3 Questions to Ask Before Therapy
There are lots of reasons to consider going to therapy. You may have a mental health issue, like depression or anxiety, that needs to be addressed. You and a spouse may have trouble communicating and need a professional to help you figure out how to talk to each other again. Yet many people still resist making that appointment because of the persistent stigma that surrounds therapy and related treatments. One study estimated that as many as three-fourths of Americans and Europeans do not receive the mental health care they require.
Deciding to go is hard, and if you make it that far, you should feel proud. But you should also ask yourself the following questions about therapy.
Who are you doing this for?
Say a couple walks into the office for their first session. One is happy and eager to be there because they think it will help. The other doesn’t want to be there and makes that very clear from the start — therapists see this quite often. Before you get into therapy, you have to ask yourself why you’re going. “Because my spouse said they would divorce me if I didn’t go” is not a great reason. In fact, experts say many couples wait until their issues have reached a boiling point before they seek help. By that time, emotions like anger and resentment have built up to the point where it can be hard to find anything left to salvage in the relationship.
This dynamic is more common in couples counseling, but it’s still possible to go to counseling solo because you’re trying to get someone in your life to stop bothering you about it. You must be an active participant for the process to do the most good. When someone thinks about searching for a “therapist near me”, they have to be focused on the “me” just as much as the “therapist.”
What can you realistically accomplish?
Any good mental health professional will tell you that you shouldn’t expect to leave therapy a completely different person than when you came in. For instance, if you come in as someone prone to depression, then therapy can help you develop better-coping strategies, but it’s not likely going to prevent you from ever experiencing depression again. A capable therapist can help you become a better version of yourself, and more capable to face future struggles.
Your therapist will talk to you about your goals. They might ask you where you’d like to be six months from now. What about a year? Five years? If a patient comes in with flashbacks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, then a therapist can help them work toward having those flashbacks less often. Let’s say the patient experiences flashbacks a couple of times a week at the beginning of therapy. A year later, maybe those flashbacks are only happening once every two or three months. That’s still real and valuable progress, and it gets better with more time invested.
Can you be honest with your therapist?
There’s more than one way to be dishonest in therapy. Evidence suggests that lying by omission is more common than outright fabrication. Lying by omission would be something like seeking help for intimacy issues, then not mentioning the fact that you’re cheating on your boyfriend. People lie because they’re embarrassed, or because they’ve convinced themselves that it’s really not worth bringing up.
If you aren’t sure if something is relevant, then say so. Chances are, your therapist would rather hear the information and decide for themselves how much it matters. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing all your secrets in the very first session, then give yourself a little time to build up a rapport. But eventually, you should be able to trust your therapist enough to discuss the genuinely uncomfortable topics.
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