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Therapy 101

“Therapy” can be a scary word. While some people desire to share their feelings, others may be intimidated by the thought of spilling their life story to a stranger. Social stigma and economic barriers can also make therapy seem like the wrong solution to persisting problems. But therapy can be a truly cathartic experience for people of all ages, genders, and personalities. If you think therapy may be the next step in your mental health journey, here are a few tips for making the most of it.

Find a space where you feel safe

Every therapist is different. Just like in dating, finding a good match means creating a checklist of expectations for their personality and approach. Do you want someone who carries on a conversation or listens to you with quiet intention? Do you want someone who tells you hard truths right away or lets you sit in your emotions for a while? Maybe you don’t have a laundry list of criteria, but you should find someone who makes you feel safe and allows you to be the most authentic version of yourself.

If you find that therapy sessions come with added anxiety about possible judgment or negative reactions to your vulnerability, it’s time to keep looking. You deserve to sit across from someone who listens to your emotions and experiences without judgment. If you’re struggling to find a good match, try asking for referrals from friends and family with similar personalities or experiences as you. 

Set expectations

When you do find a therapist you feel comfortable with, set expectations with them from the beginning. It can be an uncomfortable conversation to have. After all, they have years of education and experience under their belt, so surely what they’re doing is right, right? Just like a doctor that treats physical ailments, therapists can take different approaches to reach the same destination. Ask them how they handle situations like yours. Tell them what you’re comfortable with as well as any areas you may disagree with their approach.

This conversation is also a crucial time to share your goals for therapy. Are you looking for healthier coping mechanisms? Do you just need to unload some traumatic experiences you’ve never shared? Maybe you don’t have any serious mental health issues but need help traversing a new stage of life. With the end goal in mind, therapy can become more productive from the very first session.

Be honest

Therapy won’t work if you don’t put in the work. Some sessions, you may be biting your tongue, wondering if that experience from high school really matters or if discussing family secrets is really appropriate. The wonderful news is that therapy is completely confidential. What you share with your therapist stays between the two of you. The more open and honest you are about feelings and experiences, the better they can help you. 

If you’re struggling to share something, let your therapist know you are mulling over a tough subject and need time to come forward with it. They will meet you with understanding and patience, and you can address the matter when you feel more comfortable.

Go with the flow

Not every session is the same. Some will come with tears and “aha!” moments. Others will feel mundane and maybe unhelpful. In the moments where you feel emotionally drained or walk away feeling worse than when you entered, remember that therapy is a process.

The road to healing isn’t linear. There will be ups and downs, bumps and bruises, and more tears and tissues than you can count. But in the end, you will be better at identifying emotions, coping in healthy ways, building self-esteem, and developing solid relationships.

Check in on your progress

Check in with your therapist every now and then. Ask them how they think you’re progressing. Be honest if you are feeling stuck or discouraged. Discuss the expectations and goals you set early on, and find ways to better improve your therapy sessions.

The more open and honest you can be with your provider, the better your experience will be. Therapy can be a bumpy road, but the destination is well worth the work.

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