Going to therapy: here's what to expect
Therapy has definitely become a lot more socially accepted, so many of us might be leaning towards the idea if we need some extra support. It’s a huge step, so firstly - a huge well done if you’ve decided this is something you want to pursue. It’s not an easy decision, so that first step deserves some recognition! Secondly, therapy looks different for everyone. There are different types of therapy, different types of therapists, and there are no two therapy sessions that will be the same for one person, let alone for anyone else! We all have different experiences, thoughts, views, opinions and behaviours that are unique - that’s what makes us, us! Understandably, the advice out there can come across a bit confusing, because it really is just different for everyone. This definitely had a role to play in making me feel hesitant to take that next step. So here’s a few things I wish I knew before starting therapy, so you can get the most out of it.
It’s a process, and not a short one
My therapist tried to drill this in my head for a long time, and even to this day they still remind me. Therapy is not a quick process. It takes so much time. For a long while, you’ll just be scratching the surface! I mean, think about it: throughout your entire life (as long or short as that might seem) you have had so many things happen to you that you might not even know where to start! Not to mention all the bits in between that you probably can’t remember (disclaimer: you will most likely stumble across things you had completely forgotten about in your sessions). I would go to therapy hoping to find my ‘answers’, take them home, work on them and be ‘fixed’. But it just doesn’t work like that. It’s something that takes a lot of time, like a lot-lot. Patience is key here, all the right things will happen in time, just trust that what you’re doing now is so worth it in the long run.
Therapy is not a ‘fix’
Unfortunately, therapy is not a magic wand that we can wave to cure all our pain and trauma (but if anyone knows where to get one, we’d love to know…). There will be times that you leave therapy feeling heartbroken, stuck, emotional and just downright sad. These are all part of the building blocks - trust me! Cherish those moments, they are a sign of healing and self-care. You are showing yourself how worthy you are by showing up for yourself and working to be the best you you can be! How amazing is that? And although we go to therapy to get the help we need, it’s more about growing a sense of self-awareness, learning how to cope and accept our past - to make our future’s shine.
And it’s definitely not easy
You’ll most likely experience some very challenging feelings during, after and between sessions. Choose a time - whether it’s weekly, monthly or whatever - that you can dedicate enough time afterwards to dealing with whatever comes up. Think about it this way, a Zoom call with your department is the last thing you want to do after a really hard therapy session. I always have my sessions in the evening so that when I get home, I can focus on just taking care of myself. If I’ve spoken about some difficult stuff, and I’m feeling a bit fragile, I can then just take that evening to do whatever it is I need to feel better.
On that note…
Self-care is super important. I know, I know - we bang on about it quite a lot here. But that’s just because it’s so vital to our mental wellbeing. When we’re in therapy, we often deal with things that shake up some very challenging emotions. So, I have definitely found it helpful to have a plan in place to make sure I feel safe afterwards. Whether it’s winding down in a hot bath (pretending my troubles are floating away with the steam), watching my comfort show (if it’s not Friends, I don’t want to know), or cooking my favourite meal (don’t even get me started).
I always do something after therapy that will just make me feel a little better, even 1% is enough!
Also, it might be worth considering what time we make our therapy sessions. Of course, this all comes down to yours’ and your therapists’ schedules - but just remember that the emotions that come up can really stay with you for a while, so maybe choose a time that isn’t followed by serious work meetings or anything you need to be your best for! I like having my sessions in the evening, so that my day is nearly finished and I can spend the time after therapy just taking care of myself, not having to worry about anything else on my plate. Talking about the tough things that have happened in our lives can sometimes make us relive what we went through, and so it’s important we take time to look after ourselves when these challenging feelings come up.
Healing isn’t linear: I wish someone had told me that healing is one of the hardest parts of therapy. Talking about traumatic experiences can leave us feeling rubbish for hours, days - weeks sometimes! Don’t let that scare you off though, because as hard as that might sound, that’s what healing looks like for some people. I remember feeling like I wasn’t making any progress, that I’m going to all these therapy sessions but only feeling worse! That’s totally normal (so my therapist tells me), just don’t give up when things get hard, because that’s probably the beginning of the healing process. And that’s exactly what we go to therapy for. So stick with it, believe in yourself and know that you are doing exactly what you deserve by reaching out for support.