Expectations for Your First Time in Therapy
It’s my first time trying therapy…what should I expect?
For those who have never been to therapy before, the prospect of seeking help for emotional or psychological challenges can be daunting. As a therapist and a client, I know how the first time reaching out for help can be intimidating and bring a lot of uncertainty. I have found that in my work as a therapist clients often don’t know what to expect from their first time engaging in therapy. Therapy is an incredibly valuable resource that can provide the support and tools you need to improve your mental well-being and overall quality of life. Going into a new experience with realistic expectations about what is about to happen can help the therapy process go smoother and you to feel satisfied with your therapy experience. In this blog post, we’ll answer some common questions you may have about therapy to help demystify the process and make your journey towards healing and personal growth a little smoother.
What to Expect from Therapy
Therapy, also known as counselling or psychotherapy, is a collaborative process between you and a trained mental health professional (Registered Clinical Counsellor or Canadian Certified Counsellor if you are in BC) who specializes in helping individuals work through emotional, psychological, and behavioural issues. Here’s what you can expect from your therapy experience:
- A Safe and Confidential Space: Therapy sessions are conducted in a confidential and non-judgmental environment, where you can openly discuss your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with your therapist. This can be online or in person.
- Active Listening and Support: Your therapist will actively listen to your concerns, validate your emotions, and provide emotional support.
- Self-Exploration and Insight: Therapy often involves exploring your thoughts and feelings, helping you gain insights into your behaviours and patterns. Therapy can include a deep dive into your past experiences and help you understand how your past may be impacting your current experiences, relationships or feelings.
- Coping Strategies: Therapists can teach you coping strategies, tools, and techniques to manage your issues effectively.
- Goal Setting: You and your therapist will work together to set and track specific goals for your therapy. No person or therapist is the same, however your counsellor should always be checking in with your goals and reasons for being in therapy
- Psychoeducation: Information and education are empowering. Part of therapy can include your therapist sharing with you relevant information about mental health, neurobiology, attachment styles, communication styles and diagnoses.
- Genuine and Professional Care from a Human: It can surprise some people, but therapists are people too, and we genuinely care about you! We learn with and from our clients and sometimes we even talk about the relationship that we have with you as part of therapy. We know from research that relationships can be incredibly healing, and part of why therapy works is because of the therapeutic relationship.
What NOT to Expect from Therapy
While therapy can be an incredibly valuable resource for improving your mental and emotional well-being, it’s essential to have realistic expectations about what therapy can and cannot achieve. Here are some things you should not expect from therapy:meaningful and lasting changes in your life.
- Instant Solutions: It’s important to understand that therapy is not a quick fix. Your therapist won’t magically resolve all your problems in a single session. Significant and lasting changes often take time and commitment. The therapeutic process is about gradual progress and self-discovery, so be patient with yourself. Many mental health problems don’t occur overnight, and so it also takes time to change habits and learn new skills.
- Miraculous Cures: Therapy is not a miracle cure. While it can provide you with the tools and support needed to address your issues, it’s not a guarantee that all your problems will disappear. The goal of therapy is to help you develop coping strategies, gain insights, and work towards positive changes, but it won’t eliminate every challenge in your life.
- Therapist as a Friend: While a strong therapeutic relationship is vital, it’s not the same as a friendship. Your therapist is a professional who provides a specific service. They are there to help you, but the boundaries of the relationship are different from those of a friendship. Your therapist’s role is to support your growth and well-being, not to socialize with you outside of the therapeutic context.
- Judgment or Criticism: You should not expect your therapist to judge or criticize you. Therapy is a safe, non-judgmental space where you can express your thoughts and feelings without fear of condemnation. Therapists are trained to provide understanding and support, not criticism.
- Advice-Giving: Therapists do not typically provide direct advice on what you should do in your life. Sometimes it can feel good to be told what to do as we feel overwhelmed by making the wrong decision or just want someone to take the fall if they tell us to do something and it doesn’t go well. Unfortunately, this is a short-term solution and can make you reliant on a therapist to make these decisions for you. Rather than tell you what to do with your life, therapists will help you explore your thoughts, feelings, and options, empowering you to make informed decisions. The goal is to guide you in finding your own solutions rather than offering quick fixes.
- All Answers Provided by the Therapist: Therapy is a collaborative process. While your therapist can offer guidance and insights, they won’t have all the answers to your life’s questions. You are an active participant in the therapeutic journey, and part of the process involves your own self-discovery and problem-solving.
- Ignoring Effort Outside of Sessions: Therapy is not limited to the time you spend with your therapist. The real work often takes place outside of your sessions as you apply what you’ve learned and practiced in your daily life. Your therapist will encourage and guide you, but your progress is greatly influenced by your willingness to work on your issues between sessions.
Understanding these limitations can help you approach therapy with realistic expectations. While therapy can be a powerful tool for personal growth and healing, it’s not a magical solution, and it requires effort, time, and active participation on your part to see meaningful and lasting changes in your life.
How Does Long-Term Therapy Work?
Long-term therapy typically involves ongoing, regular sessions over an extended period, often several months or even years. The duration and frequency of these sessions depend on your individual needs and the therapeutic approach used. In long-term therapy:
- Deep-Rooted Issues are Explored: Long-term therapy allows you to delve deeply into complex and longstanding issues, such as trauma, chronic anxiety, or personality disorders.
- Lasting Changes Take Time: It recognizes that lasting changes in thought patterns and behaviours may take longer to manifest.
- Strong Therapeutic Relationship: You’ll develop a strong therapeutic alliance with your therapist, which can be instrumental in your healing process.
What Is Different About Long-Term and Short-Term Therapy?
Short-term therapy, often called brief therapy or solution-focused therapy, typically lasts for a limited number of sessions, usually around 6-12. It focuses on specific, immediate issues and goals. Long-term therapy, as previously mentioned, is more extensive. Here are some key differences:
- Short-term therapy is more solution-focused and aimed at addressing immediate concerns, while long-term therapy explores deeper issues.
- Long-term therapy allows for more in-depth self-exploration and personal growth, while short-term therapy is goal-oriented.
- The choice between long-term and short-term therapy depends on the complexity of your issues, your personal preferences, and your financial and time constraints.
How Soon Will I Feel Better?
The timeline for experiencing improvements in therapy is highly variable and contingent on several factors, including the nature and severity of your concerns, your commitment to the therapeutic process, and your therapist’s approach. Here’s a breakdown to provide a better understanding:
- Short-Term Therapy: In short-term therapy, designed for addressing immediate concerns, individuals often begin to observe improvements more swiftly. For example, if your goal is to alleviate general anxiety symptoms, you might start feeling better within a few weeks to a couple of months. Short-term therapy is structured to provide rapid relief and practical solutions for specific issues.
- Working on Specific Issue: If you’re focusing on a particular anxiety-related challenge, such as a phobia or social anxiety, you may experience progress more rapidly than when addressing generalized anxiety. By narrowing the therapeutic scope, you can develop targeted strategies to manage and overcome that specific anxiety, potentially seeing tangible results within a shorter timeframe.
- Long-Term Therapy: On the other hand, long-term therapy takes a more comprehensive approach, recognizing that deep-seated and complex issues, like trauma, PTSD, or attachment disorders, require more time to resolve. In cases involving these profound emotional challenges, it’s important to understand that therapy may extend over several months or even years before you achieve enduring transformation.
Whether you’re engaged in short-term or long-term therapy, patience is a fundamental virtue. Therapy is a journey, not a quick fix. Recovery times are highly individual and can’t be predicted precisely. Every person’s progress is influenced by their unique circumstances and personal dedication. It’s crucial to grant yourself the grace to allow the therapeutic process to unfold at its own pace.
Understanding these timelines can help you set realistic expectations and navigate your therapy journey effectively. While therapy can provide invaluable tools for personal growth and healing, it’s important to remain patient and committed, especially for deep-rooted issues that demand the extended support of long-term therapy.
How Do I Know That My Therapist Is the Right Fit?
The therapeutic relationship is vital to the success of therapy. To determine if your therapist is the right fit, consider the following factors:
- Trust and Comfort: You should feel comfortable discussing your concerns and trust that your therapist respects your confidentiality.
- Effective Communication: Your therapist should communicate clearly, actively listen, and provide feedback that resonates with you.
- Qualifications: Ensure your therapist is a licensed, qualified professional with expertise in the area you need help with.
- Personal Connection: It’s important to feel a personal connection or rapport with your therapist.
What Do I Do If My Therapist Isn’t the Right Fit?
If you find that your therapist isn’t the right fit for you, don’t be discouraged. Therapy is a personal journey, and it’s okay to explore other options. Here’s what you can do:
- Communicate: Discuss your concerns and feelings with your therapist. They might be able to adjust their approach to better meet your needs.
- Seek a Second Opinion: You can consult with another therapist to see if their style and expertise align better with your requirements.
- Trust Your Instincts: If you don’t feel comfortable or heard after open communication and trying alternatives, consider finding a new therapist.
We hope that this post has answered your questions about your first experience in therapy. It is exciting and vulnerable to reach out for the first time and so we hope that this can help set you up for success in therapy. We may not have answered all your questions and so if you are wanting to know more please reach out to us and we’d be happy to answer any questions about how therapy works and what to expect in therapy. Alternatively, just as we suggest if you have already begun therapy asking your counsellor about the process and clarifying your expectations is always helpful!