“It won’t be an easy journey – do not expect it to be. But the easy journeys are not worth the leather on the soles of our shoes, boy. It’s the journeys that test us to our very core – the journeys that strip the clothes from our back, mess with our minds and shake our spirits – these are the journeys worth taking in life. They show us who we are.”
― Justin Somper, Demons of the Ocean
I remember going into my first therapy session feeling confused, afraid, worried, and a little bit hopeful. There was a conflicting sense of excitement and dread when I mustered the courage to face my inner demons and ask for help. Going into therapy for the first time can be both a rewarding and scary experience. It takes a lot of courage and strength to admit we have issues in our life worth addressing and to ask for someone to help us see through it. Therapy is a unique experience that allows one the opportunity to look at our entire selves, assess what we like/don’t like, and begin to make positive changes to better ourselves. Here are a few tips to prepare yourself for the work ahead.
Take the Entire Hour: Most therapists call it a therapy hour but it’s usually only 50 minutes. Get your money’s worth by arriving at least 10 minutes early to catch your breath, reflect on why you are here, gather your thoughts, and mentally/emotionally prepare for your session.
Assess Your Goals: Why are you coming to therapy in the first place? If you have a goal to be happier then what would that look like for you and how would you notice a difference occurred? Most clients come in with very broad and unmeasured goals and, sometimes, a good amount of our sessions have been spent narrowing those down. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed at the thought of this, try and think about what you are actually willing to do and how motivated you are to accomplish these goals. Generally, I often refer others to the realms of self-care in order to help provide guidance on what we actually want to focus on and where our priorities lie.
Adjust Your Expectations: Therapy takes work and time. It is very possible that you might actually feel a bit more stressed or uncomfortable after the first week or two as you begin to work through issues you may have kept buried deep down. Try to not be so hard on yourself and remember that change is a process not an event, good things are worth waiting for and working towards, and, most importantly, that you are worth it.
Be Honest, Open-minded, and Willing: A crucial piece in change through therapy is addressing what is really going on and then working towards a solution we are willing to follow through to the end. It is very likely that there are many behaviors and/or patterns in your life that have become unhealthy, self-defeating, and/or crippling to your growth. One of the major pieces of therapy is to begin to identify and modify the beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors that bring us down so we can begin to become more confident, healthy, and hopeful.
Some well thought-out advice on opening up to a therapist
Ask, Ask, Ask: If you don’t understand what your therapist is saying or why they are suggesting something to you then ask. Sometimes, clients will censor their own questions thinking it would be embarrassing to ask, asking may be against the rules, or that they are violating an unspoken rule of therapy. In reality, you are allowed to ask whatever you want and let your therapist set their boundaries if anything is inappropriate. It is also important to begin asking yourself why you feel a certain way, where your thoughts/values/beliefs are coming from, etc. Most of the true work and change as a result of therapy actually transpires outside of the therapy rooms as you begin to implement your growth and self-awareness into the world around you. Becoming curious about yourself and the way you see it and then changing these outlooks to better your life is one of the most exciting benefits of therapy.
Pat Yourself on the Back: As aforementioned, it takes a lot of courage to ask for help. True strength arises from those that face their issues, self-doubt, and past instead of burying them deep until they spill out in toxic ways. Therapy is a lot like enrolling a class where you are the subject. If you are open and willing to work on yourself, it can be one of the most rewarding classes you will ever take.
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Nick Overbeck is both a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. Nick has nearly a decade of experience in mental health including college counseling, trauma-informed treatment, career counseling, suicide prevention, crisis intervention, addiction treatment, promoting mental/emotional wellness in working professionals, and working with loved ones of those affected by addiction and/or mental illness.