Therapy can be mysterious and intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. So here’s what we in the therapist community wish people knew about counselling and psychotherapy.
1. It’s not really a therapist’s job to give you advice.
They’re not here to tell you if you should call off your marriage or quit your job. The real job of therapy is to get to know yourself better and change the way you’re thinking, the way you’re behaving, or the way you’re understanding the world.
Sure, they might tell you about strategies to cope with a mental illness like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, but when it comes to your personal life decisions, they’re more of a facilitator. Do you really want to come to therapy to give your power away to someone else or do you want to learn to have that power on your own?
2. They probably see a therapist, too.
Simply put, never trust a therapist who hadn’t been to therapy themselves. Many training programmes actually insist that students have regular weekly therapy sessions throughout their training as it's an invaluable tool in this line of work.
Not only does sitting in the clients chair give a therapist a valuable insight into how you feel, but if a therapist is unable or unwilling to understand their own emotions and processes, they will have a great deal of difficulty helping you to understand yours.
3. Most therapists don’t prescribe medication.
That’s typically the job of a psychiatrist / doctor, not that of a counsellor or psychotherapist. However, with your permission, your therapist can coordinate with another provider to help you start or end a medication, if that’s something you’re interested in.
4. You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to go to therapy.
One common misconception is: “That you have to be ‘crazy’ to go to therapy.” There are a lot of reasons why people go to therapy that have nothing to do with mental disorders. And when people do go because they have a disorder, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re going to get help and speak to an expert just like you would seeking help for any other medical condition.
It’s usually this in between area — when you’re struggling but not completely debilitated — that people hesitate to go to therapy because they feel like they don’t need it. But if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or not able to function as you’d like to, that’s a sign you do need to talk to somebody.
5. Your therapist isn’t talking about you with their friends at the bar.
Rule number one is confidentiality. A therapist would quickly lose their professional accreditations and memberships if they talked about clients outside of the therapeutic framework. They may discuss certain cases or broader themes with a small group of trusted colleagues or with a more experienced therapist in a process called "supervision" (which all therapists are required to have on a regular basis), however this is all kept on a strictly confidential basis.
6. And they probably aren’t Googling you.
Many therapists view Googling a client without their permission is an overstepping of boundaries and almost a breach of confidentiality. Clients can feel violated if their therapist brings something up in the session which they saw on the Internet and that is the opposite of what is trying to be achieved.
The therapeutic relationship is all about trust and the client needs to trust that they can bring up their issues at their own pace rather than the therapist knowing all about their lives in advance.
7. Your therapist probably won’t acknowledge you in public unless you do first.
Don’t worry about running into them at a restaurant and hearing “Hey, glad to see you out and about!” while you’re on a date. The general consensus is that therapists won’t acknowledge you in public unless the client initiates it, and even then, they won’t acknowledge that they are your therapist unless you do first.
So feel free to say hi and introduce them as your therapist/yoga teacher/neighbor, or ignore them entirely. It’s your call, and it’s something you can talk to them about ahead of time if you’re worried about it.
8. Just going to therapy won’t necessarily help — you have to participate.
Therapy isn’t like going to your doctor for a sinus infection and leaving with antibiotics. It takes collaboration — not just passively sitting back and waiting for results. It’s pretty disappointing for clients when they think that’s the way it works. They want the therapist to ask them a bunch of questions and it’s like a treasure hunt.
But if a client is prepared and willing to talk about what brought them in and what they’d like to work on, it can make the whole process more collaborative and efficient.
9. Therapy doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment.
Sometimes people hesitate to embark on therapy because they feel like ‘If I go once I’m going to be sucked in for 10 years, three times a week,’ and it feels like this huge decision. But the length and frequency of therapy is very individual. It can be a one-time deal, a few months of sessions, or longer depending on what you’re going through and what you’re looking to accomplish.
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask questions about a therapist’s approach in the first session or two. Things like: What would treatment look like? How long are we going to be working together? How will I know when we’re finished?
10. The right “fit” is the most important factor when it comes to finding a therapist.
You could be seeing the best, most qualified therapist in the whole world, but if the fit isn’t good, its not going to be as effective. What research tells us is that of all the different variables in therapy — types of treatment, education of the provider, length of treatment, all that stuff — one of the biggest factors in therapy success is fit.
What does that look like? Feeling heard, understood, and respected. The experience of therapy itself isn’t always going to be fun or enjoyable. But in the context of that, you should feel safe, accepted, and heard, and at times challenged.
11. And stopping therapy doesn’t mean you can never go back.
As a therapist, we hope that by the end of treatment, a client feels like they’ve improved their functioning, whether in their relationships or their job or as a student. That they’re feeling like they’re contributing to whatever is of value of them and not distressed by the symptoms they were experiencing.
Of course, life happens and things change, and just because you felt better for years doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily need help again in the future and that is perfectly fine to come back.
12. If you’re worried that something might be inappropriate — like hugging them or asking about their personal life — just talk about it.
Not every therapist will be open to hugging their clients, but if you really feel compelled to, don’t be embarrassed to bring it up. A client should feel free to say anything or ask anything. Ask it if it’s on your mind and then let the therapist decide whether or not they’re going to answer that. Try not to filter yourself or censor yourself.
13. They don’t have all the answers.
Sometimes people think therapists have a special ability to see inside you but we really don’t. We have a particular training and understanding of how humans are, how humans behave, how emotions work, and we’re able to use that to understand the specific situation someone is in. We don’t have these magical skills that we’re instantly going to read into you — it’s a process.”
14. Being a therapist can be hard work.
Between juggling several clients every day and helping patients through particularly traumatic events, it can be an incredibly daunting profession. Obviously it can be hard to hear difficult stories hour after hour, day after day and then still have enough energy for your own family at night. It can be a challenge, but it’s certainly manageable.
Therapists are professional secret keepers and that takes a toll after a while which is why many will schedule in regular breaks throughout the year. So if you find your therapist taking a week off every few months, it's simply a chance for them to recharge their batteries and to come back the following week in the best possible position to help you.
15. But chances are, they also find what they do incredibly rewarding.
When therapy works, and it does, you’re going to walk out of there with a new understanding and new ways of doing things. You own it. It’s yours. It goes with you for the rest of your life. Whenever a therapist is able to see someone’s growth process taking place, it brings such delight and positive feeling.
If you would like to find out more about therapy, please contact one of our team today