I remember the first time I entered my therapist’s office. I felt like I was walking on uneven ground, my stomach had butterflies and my thoughts were racing.
As I sat, our glances met and I thought to myself, “What should I talk about? Is he going to be able to help me? Will he judge me? He doesn’t seem eager to see me.”
Then, in a calm and caring voice, he invited me to talk.
“What brings you here today?” he asked.
Even being a therapist myself, starting therapy was a big deal that carried a lot of thoughts and feelings. From what I’ve learned from my clients during the past decade of my practice, I’ve found both prospective and new clients have a similar experience as I did. But with the right therapist and an interest to discuss everything that comes to mind, therapy can be a wonderful opportunity to talk, think, relate and grow in countless ways.
Below are four tips to keep in mind if you’re thinking about starting or have already started therapy. These concepts are more easily said than done, but I have found that being given a heads up can be invaluable.
Be Honest and Open
When sitting down with a therapist you just met or are getting to know, it can be a difficult task to talk about the issues that have brought you to therapy. It’s understandable when you hold back from talking about your issues, especially when they involve uncomfortable feelings like sadness, shame, anxiety, guilt, resentment or rage.
These feelings, however, are what brought you to therapy. You will benefit from therapy more quickly if you share them as soon as possible. It won’t be easy, but we will be right there with you and we know how to walk with you through these moments.
Tell Us When We’re Wrong
That’s right, therapists can be wrong and you should let us know when we are. We have degrees that allow us to be therapists and many of us have training in specialties and approaches, but that doesn’t mean we know everything.
When we seem to be headed down a road you’re not on, give us direction. If we are doing something that feels like it isn’t working, let us know. If it seems like we aren’t getting exactly what you’re saying, correct us.
Following these tips is helpful in two ways. First, it shows us we need to adjust what we are doing and saying. Second, it gives you the opportunity to take ownership of your treatment.
It’s your therapy. The more you help us out in this, the better we are able to be helpful to you. What we think might be good for isn’t always what you actually need.
Therapists Are Human
There is an assumption that therapists are here to help you feel happy, calm, pleased, soothed, at peace and content. And of course, we want to help you obtain these states of mind in the long run.
We will likely sooner or later do or say something that will be upsetting, frustrating or depressing. There will come a time when we disappoint you, and that is OK.
It will happen because we are human. The bright side is that when it happens it allows us to talk about it and process what we did or said and why we said it. And it will allow us to work through what about it affected you and possibly why. It will help us increase our awareness of what happened and provide more direction on where we could be going in your treatment, what we could be talking about and what we could be doing.
Trust the Process
Therapy can be an ominous and unknown territory. Often people don’t know what to expect when they start therapy beyond how therapy is portrayed in television shows and movies that are often exaggerations and dramatizations.
Talking with us can be challenging yet rewarding work. Nonetheless, we have an unreserved interest in you, your health and your life. It’s something we are good at and it’s something we feel extremely honored to have with every person we work with. Try to trust this interest and the process that comes with it.
Finding relief from the aspects of life that cause you suffering requires your utmost intention and a therapist’s great care. We are trying to help you say what you are thinking and feeling. Let’s start there. The rest will follow.
Bio: Alan Hunt is a LCSW-R psychoanalytically-informed psychotherapist practicing for nearly 10 years, treating a wide range of issues and in multiple settings, including his private practice in Brooklyn, NY, Talkspace and outpatient mental health clinics.
Note: You will need to sign up for Talkspace to continue chatting with Alan or any other Talkspace therapist. Make sure you live in the same state as Alan before you choose him.