So you’ve found a great therapist you feel good about working with and scheduled an appointment. Now what? Starting therapy can feel like both a relief and an overwhelming task. When you’re at a point where you seek professional help, there’s probably a lot going on you want to talk about, and it can feel vulnerable or awkward to dive right in with your biggest issue with someone you just met. So where do you start?
Many people want to know how long therapy will take, and it’s a fair question. When embarking on any endeavor, particularly one that will be emotional as well as an allocation of resources, we want to know what we’re getting into.
The answer to this question depends entirely on your reasons for seeking therapy. I often ask new clients, “How will we know when we’re done?” as a way to understand exactly what someone wants from therapy. While some people do seek therapy in an ongoing way to structure in reflection and support over the course of decades, most therapy-seekers do not want to be in therapy forever and have specific goals in mind when they start: reduce anxiety, improve relationships, recover from trauma, or get through a difficult time. These things can feel insurmountable when we’re in the thick of it, but a good therapist knows recovery is possible, as well as how to help you get there.
Everyone’s anxiety has gone up this year, and with good reason. We’re all facing new and intensifying stressors, while having limited access to ways we may have previously coped well. Here are some ideas for things you can try right now, whether your anxiety is at a 3 or a 10:
1) Breathe and recognize your anxiety is not an emergency or something to “fix” right in this moment. Often our anxiety is a physiological arousal linked to a threat, however realistic, exaggerated, removed, or unconscious. Try thinking of whatever body sensations you’re experiencing as information that is neither good nor bad. Get curious and compassionate with yourself, and remind yourself that you don’t have to take action immediately unless you or a loved one is in physical danger.
2) Try progressive muscle relaxation. It’s free, simple, and has been shown in some academic studies to reduce anxiety as affectively as medication when done routinely. If you don’t have time to do the full body routine, trying clenching your hands, shoulders, or the back of your legs as hard as you can and holding for ten seconds before releasing.
3) Eliminate unnecessary stimuli. This may be obvious things like noise or light, but could also be the presence of your phone, visual clutter, or that nagging feeling that you need to do the dishes. Sometimes a small change in your environment can have a big positive impact on your mood.
A Conversation Between Hadley Davis, LMFT, and Laurel Roberts-Meese, LMFT
Transcript under Read More
Generally, your therapist should refrain from talking about themselves. That's not why you're there or what you're paying for. But here are three things I wish every therapy consumer knew:
1) It’s not just one hour a week. Out of the hundreds I’ve talked with over the course of my career, I have never met a therapist who didn’t think about their clients between sessions. We think about how to work with your worries and issues, we confidentially consult with colleagues to give you better care, we work on treatment plans, and sometimes just send good wishes out to our clients between visits. We have genuine love for our long-term clients. It’s a different kind of love than many people might be familiar with, but “therapist love” is real and extends beyond the hours, months, and years we work with you. I still fondly remember people I saw in my very first few months of seeing clients in graduate school and hope they’re doing well.
2) We have bad days too. Some days we feel off our game, tired, headachy, or troubled by things in our personal lives. But we’ve learned over the course of our training and career how to work through – or better yet, work with – those things and keep our focus on you. After years and years of practice, we get pretty good at it. And on days we can’t, we do our best or take time for ourselves so we can replenish our reserves and come back to session refreshed.
3) We do this work because we love it. That’s the truth. We don’t do it for money or power or because we can’t do anything else. It's a calling, and we're prepared to take on what you bring in. If you’re someone who worries that you’re burdening us, or you’re too much, or that you’re stressing your therapist out, let me put your mind at ease: you’re not. We became therapists because we desire to understand the human heart and mind and experience. Sharing your light and your darkness with us is an act of profound trust and emotional intimacy that therapists have utmost respect for.
A Conversation Between Caleb Birkhoff, LMFT, and Laurel Roberts-Meese, LMFT