Losing weight, being healthy, and staying in shape can be hard. That is why there are thousands of weight loss options, diets, gyms, and career paths dedicated to helping us live physically healthy lives. Most people struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle and consider the options of turning to a professional to help them with the knowledge necessary and how to apply that knowledge into real life.
A therapist is essentially a personal trainer for your emotional and psychological well-being. Our goal is to give you the proper knowledge to understand and deal with emotional and mental issues. Then we teach you how to apply the knowledge in your life. Therapy is not just for those with mental illness or emotional disorders just as personal trainers are not just for the over weight or unhealthy. Everyone can benefit from some professional training on how to live a healthier lifestyle.
In our physical lives we cannot eat healthy once and go to the gym for an hour and expect to be “ripped”. The same holds true for our mental health. We cannot go to therapy once and meditate for an hour and expect to be mentally healthy. Becoming mentally fit is a lifestyle just like being physically fit. We want to train you to live an emotionally healthy life and change the way you live. I am not saying that you will need a therapist for the rest of your life in order to be healthy just like I would not say you need a personal trainer for you whole life to be healthy. What therapy can give you is the knowledge and skills to apply that knowledge so you can manage your own healthy lifestyle.
As a therapist, when we tell people what we do as a career, we often get told, “I went to therapy before. I think it can work great for some people it just wasn’t for me.” In fact, people can usually think of several friends/family in their lives who could benefit from therapy before thinking about it for themselves. When I ask the follow up question (as therapists are trained to do) about why it “wasn’t for them,” I tend to get the same responses every time. See if you’ve ever thought, felt, or said any of this about your prior experience with therapy:
1. I didn’t like the therapist.
I totally get this. You’re not going to jive with everyone. Whether the therapist just didn’t get you, you’re fundamentally polar opposites as people, or the therapist was seemingly preoccupied with something else and didn’t give you the attentiveness you deserve, you don’t want to waste time or money seeing a therapist you don't like.
*Jamie, An anonymous contributor said this: “I can think of about six therapists I’ve been to in my life. A few of them I saw only once or twice, tops. I just didn’t connect with them for various reasons. If I didn’t connect with them after a session or two, I’d just quit scheduling with them. Then I’d kind of just think the problem wasn’t going to be helped by therapy anyway. When things got worse instead of better [after quitting therapy] I’d eventually try therapy again. By eventually, I mean a couple of years would go by. I probably shouldn’t have struggled for that long but I was convinced no one could help me. That’s not true though because the other three [therapists] I probably saw for several months to a year each. So this was like, once was when I as a teen, then again in my early 20s and the shortest time in my 30s. Each one of those therapists couldn’t have been more different than the other in personality and therapy style. I don’t know, it was like I just liked spending time with them and felt lighter after sessions. I think what made the difference was they genuinely seemed to like me and believed in me. I always remember one therapist who said, 'I like meeting with you because you know deep down what the answer is, you just need someone to listen while you process it out loud.' That meant a lot because I felt the therapist really did believe in me. So if they challenged me at times, I knew it was coming from a caring place and I listened to their feedback. Mostly, I think each one [of the therapists] taught me to trust myself and be okay with who I am. I don’t know that I’ll need to go to therapy again in the future but if I do, I know I may have to try a couple of people before I find the right match. I know that can be frustrating but I feel like it’s just part of the process.”
2) It just felt weird to complain about my problems to a stranger.
Fair enough. Some people just don’t like to talk about their feelings. Some cultures (whether a family culture or a societal culture) believe feelings=weakness or talking about feelings makes you weak. Plus, if you have a good friends or family who listen and are there for you when your struggling, you might think that’s good enough.
Those social connections can be powerfully healing, but they also require mutual support. You may be unable to talk to a friend or loved one about your stress who is going through a lot themselves. Your therapist isn’t going to make the session about themselves or have you stop to comfort them. Or at least, they shouldn't! You get to be totally selfish in monopolizing the time and conversation while in therapy. That’s expected because it is your time and money.
Besides, sometimes family and friends, as well-meaning as they may be, are actually too close to a situation themselves to be able to give sound advice. I mean, you can only complain about your boyfriend so much before they give Tom the stink-eye every time at the next family BBQ. That may not be helpful when you’re trying to make it work and realize deep down, both you and Tom are contributing to the relationship problems!
Therapists do far more than just listen and tell you Tom is a loser and you deserve better. They are trained to know how to help you figure out why you chose to be in a relationship with Tom in the first place, and what part you can play in improving your relationship with Tom. They can stay much more neutral while allowing you to figure out if Tom is the guy for you. They can even help you learn the skills to move forward in that relationship or find better Toms in the future. They can do all this for you while not being part of the family group [gossiping] text messages you just know are happening behind your back!
3) Things got better on their own.
Again, this makes sense! Sometimes situations do spontaneously improve! That difficult boss you have might get transferred. The marital stress may turn a corner and improve. You might get on an antidepressant and feel a lot better!
Another thing to consider, however, is that you may have been unconsciously putting things out there (such as a lack of assertiveness) that was subtly attracting difficult relationships. These subconscious driving forces may be things that when addressed in therapy, started leading to the "spontaneous" life changes you were seeing! But therapy is not just about improving life problems in the short term, but also preventing them from becoming recurring life problems and decrease your susceptibility to stress and struggles over time. The therapy work you were doing could have been the catalyst for your new, improved life!
I would encourage you that if you’ve given therapy a chance before, but didn’t like the therapist, felt weird about talking about your problems, or life just suddenly improved, consider going back if you even THINK you might need it. If you want to be happier, feel more confident, think about the past less or worry less about the future, call us. Family Solutions Counseling has several therapists you are welcome to “try us out” before finding the one you connect with and make the lasting changes you deserve.
*Name was changed to protect confidentiality
If you’ve never been to therapy, or, it’s been awhile, perhaps you don’t quite know what to expect. There are many types of therapists with all with different styles of interacting. Most therapists have specialties in different types of therapy, and we use them with the clients we see. However, there are some things that are standard practice for all therapists. So, if the fear of the unknown is holding you back from what you (deep down) know you need to do, here is what you expect from therapy:
Luckily, paperwork has gone higher-tech in the past several years. If you have an email address, we can simply send you all the intake forms you’ll need through a secure client portal. We have you do this paperwork so we can get a idea of why you are coming to see us but also inform you about general information- such as privacy and confidentiality or payment and cancellation policies, etc. You can also request to have the therapist do the intake with you in the first session, if you don’t have an email or struggle with reading comprehension. Just let us know what you need, and we will walk you through it.
2. The first couple of sessions are a little different
As therapists, we are trained to start with figuring out what the problem is before trying to help you solve it. Even if you think you know the root of the problem, we like to get a full picture for ourselves before delving in. Besides that, we need to figure out a solid plan for treatment: What do you want to accomplish? What steps can we take to reach those goals, what skills do you need to stay the course and what skills do you already have that we can rely upon? Your treatment plan building should be a cooperative process, so both you and the therapist knows what it looks like and how you know when you’re done with therapy. The first couple of sessions are usually geared towards understanding the problem, and coming up with a plan of action.
3. It’s okay to disagree
At any time, you can tell your therapist you disagree with them or want to change the direction of therapy. Many people will just stop coming to therapy when they disagree, rather than potentially hurt the therapist’s feelings or to avoid confrontation. Or, rather than clarify something the therapist said, they might just feel misunderstood and not come back. Most therapists I know are totally open to feedback and working through miscommunications. As the “client,” you are the most important piece of the therapy process. So just tell us what you’re thinking! That is what you are paying for, after all.
4. Sometimes, a therapist will “tell it like it is”
Most of us don’t love to feel “called out” on something. We may feel defensive and misunderstood. A therapist may gently or even very directly say to you that you are doing something that is going to negatively impact you reaching your goals. I rarely have to “call out” my clients. I find that most people already know what they need to change and as they talk through it and process with the new skills we are working on. They come to their own conclusions. That said, there are occasionally times when someone isn’t understanding why they aren't making progress and needs a more direct approach. Most of us therapists, are still kind, supportive, and solution-oriented even when being direct.
5. If you are not sure you want to or are ready for change, tell us.
One hurdle people have to jump is the shift from wanting to change their lives to actually changing their lives. Change stinks. The process, of it, anyway. It can be painful. We may have to pull up emotional stuff we had long since put away. We may have to remove unhealthy but reliable coping skills and relationships we’ve been hanging on to. Talk openly about your fears to your therapist. Your therapist should not be pushing you faster than you are ready to go. You set the pace and if it’s going too fast for you, say so!
6. You should not be in therapy forever
Many people worry that they will be stuck in therapy forever once they get started. That’s simply not true! You and your therapist should be talking from day 1 about how long you plan on going to therapy. Some people go to therapy to talk about a very specific issue. Maybe they just want objective help making a difficult decision in their lives and just need a couple of sessions. Others have a diagnosable mental health condition and they need new tools in treating it. This can take a little longer. Most often, you’ll start with weekly sessions for a few weeks and then step back to every other week and then move to occasional check-ins to make sure you are continuing to do well. The days of being in weekly therapy for months on end are over. Together, you and your therapist will help you figure out how much therapy you will need.
Therapy is a mystery for anyone who has not been before. However, it’s one of the most common treatments for mental health or other life struggles. The struggle is real out there, but therapy is part of the solution. Call to schedule an appointment for your first step in moving forward today. 435-799-5035.
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