By Kamna Chhibber
People frequently equate therapy with ‘simply talking’, just like you would with a friend or a family member. To us therapists, it is far more than that. A therapeutic setting creates the environment for you to explore experiences, thoughts, feelings and ways of responding within the context of your life, your work and relationships. The process with the therapist – a neutral, unbiased, non-judgmental observer – enables you to explore aspects of yourself and your life which you may not think to look at.
If you decide to embark on this journey, there are facets of therapy you need to know of. Multiple times in my years as a therapist I have crossed paths with clients seeking therapy harbouring notions that are far from the truth. What follow are my thoughts on the quintessential things you should be aware of as you prepare to embark on this journey.
There is no quick fix. Often when people come for a first session and I enquire about what brings them to therapy, they share a simple problem statement, something like: “I am having panic attacks. I need you to make them go away”. Before they leave my chamber their final question is “In how many days will I be fine?”
I help them understand there is no quick, easy way to make things better. Therapy requires a lot of work. There is nothing prescriptive about it. It is a process of working through a lot that was and is going on, things you anticipate may happen and factors you think may cause them to happen. It takes time. The first session is for us to situate you within the context of your life. The real work starts after we know you, understand you and have an understanding of where you come from. It can take us weeks, sometimes months and then even years to resolve, work through and close the loops with you.
Also Read: Ask the Experts: Understanding Therapy
The past catches up. Everyone likes to steer away from the past, even if they recognise the role it played in getting them where they are today. We work through difficult situations by moving past them as quickly as possible, but this does not eliminate them from our mind. There are fewer things in our conscious awareness than what exists within the deep recesses of our minds –- the unconscious. These unconscious aspects play a significant role in shaping our views, thoughts, feelings, responses, reasoning and anticipation. When getting into therapy, be prepared to look at the ‘things of the past’, not because the therapist wants to but because your mind will push you to.
You must develop a bond. A crucial factor determining the success of therapy is your comfort and relatedness with your therapist. A realistic assessment of how your therapist understands you, helps you articulate thoughts and identify feelings is critical to the trust you develop which will help you resolve issues.
The questions to ask yourself at the end of the first session are: “Did I feel comfortable? Was I able to express myself with ease?” As you progress through therapy you need to ask yourself: “Do I feel understood and are my feelings identified accurately? Is there movement with respect to the problems I approached therapy with?”
You will arrive at the answers. The methodology of therapy is assumed to be a process of questions and answers – questions put forth by the client and answers provided by the therapist. In reality, the role of a therapist is to facilitate skill development and enhance coping strategies. Fostering dependency by becoming your personal crisis interventionist is not the goal. Your therapist will help you arrive at solutions
Things might get worse before getting better. A dilemma in therapy is that often things get worse before they get better. The reason involves the necessity of looking at the much avoided past which can leave a blemish on the present. Additionally, working through uncomfortable issues is a burden likely to make clients experience a worsening of symptoms. However, as therapists it is our responsibility to ensure that things are not out of control and making you feel shattered or distraught.
Share what you feel about your therapist. We often elevate people who help us to a pedestal which can prevent sharing of thoughts about them or how they are with us. It is a misnomer that clients cannot share things about their therapist. In contrast, it is a key to enabling therapist effectiveness in therapeutic interactions. Flexibility to adapt to each client is an essential skill of being a therapist and your feedback is instrumental in ensuring it.
About the Author:
Kamna Chhibber is a Clinical Psychologist, Heading the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences for Fortis Healthcare. She is a cognitive behaviour therapist, with a particular interest in relationships, trauma, abuse and the impact of personality-related variables on mental health. She has been in practice for the past decade.
Feedback is welcome: Tweet @Kamna_Chhibber @healthcollectif
Disclaimer: Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for expert advice from a trained professional.