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What Happens at Therapy
Posted by Emily Pazel

Even though we live in a time where going to see a therapist is commonly practiced among society, most of the time, there is still a negative stigma behind addressing mental health issues. In many cases, these bad stigmas can discourage someone who really needs help to seek out a professional. And when our mental health issues go unchecked, it can sometimes lead to creating even bigger, more serious problems, such as major manic episodes or long bouts of depression.

So, maybe you have been recommended to talk to a therapist in the past or are interested in taking the initiative yourself. Either way, it’s good to research and find out what type of therapy is best for your situation and learn a little about what happens behind closed doors to help ease your nerves.

What to Expect at Therapy

If you have never gone to therapy before, it can sound intimidating at first. You might think that sitting in front of a total stranger, telling them very personal things is something you never saw yourself doing. Fortunately, there are many people in the same boat, trying to find help through therapy.

Although every therapist or psychologist is different in the way they help their clients, there are a few things that are similar no matter where you go. According to GoodTherapy, here are a few different things you might expect during your first therapy session:

  • Waiting: As with any health-related appointment, sitting in a lobby waiting for your therapy session to begin is pretty common; while you sit and wait, they may even have you fill out paperwork and then wait for the therapist to call you back for your session.
  • Introductions: The first part of your therapy session is typically spent getting to know one another; “Your relationship with your therapist is just any other – it may work best if you’re able to connect with one another on a personal level initially. You don’t have to leap into your deepest darkest secrets immediately – feel free to talk through your favorite book or the movie you saw last week as a way to get a sense of how the two of you will communicate with one another.”
  • Establishing Needs: In order to get the best help the therapist can offer, they are going to need to know why you are seeking therapy; they might ask what type of things you would like to address during your treatment, as well as what you’ve done in the past to help with your mental health; they will want to talk through what worked and what didn’t so that they can better assess the situation and help you.
  • Asking Questions: As a follow up to understanding what you might need from therapy, your therapist might ask you questions such as: Have you attended therapy in the past? What are your symptoms? Do you have any mental health issues in your family history? How is your home life? Do you have a history of suicidal ideation? Do you have a history of self-harm? What do you hope to get from therapy? What do you want to accomplish during your sessions?
  • More Questions: Now, it’s your turn to ask the questions. Even though you are the one having the therapy session, it never hurts to ask your therapists questions you might have. Some questions you can ask are: Is this confidential? When would you need to break confidentiality? How long have you been a therapist? Do you have any experience with my specific type of mental health issues? Have you ever been to therapy yourself? What kind of things should I plan to do between our sessions?

When searching for a therapist, it’s good to know that no two therapists are the same. So, asking the right questions can help you decide whom to see. Things you might look for include affiliations, background information, costs that are involved, what type of experience they might have and what type of specialties do they do?

With something as complex as human behavior, there are several ways that therapists can approach therapy with a client. According to verywellmind.com, here are a few different types:

  • Client-centered therapy (person-centered therapy): A non-directive form of talk therapy that emphasizes positive unconditional regard
  • Cognitive or cognitive-behavioral therapy: Focuses on making connections between thoughts, behavior and feelings
  • Existential therapy: Focuses on you (free will, self-determination) rather than the symptom
  • Gestalt therapy: Focuses on the “here and now” experience of the client
  • Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy: Focuses on getting in touch with and working through painful feelings in the unconscious mind

Depending on your issue and therapy goals, your therapy sessions might last a few weeks or maybe even take years before you start to feel better. Therapy is very individualized and will depend on your own personal growth and progress. So, at what point do you feel like you should go to therapy?

When should you go to Therapy?

“Mental health issues are common,” writes GoodTherapy. “Recent statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Health show 1 out of every 5 American adults lives with a mental health condition, while 1 in 25 adults lives with a serious mental health condition.”

Unfortunately though, only about 40% of people with mental health issues actually make an effort to go to therapy and get help. And, if mental health issues remain untreated, it can lead to problems surfacing in your daily life, such as an inability to work or continue your education, difficulty in relationships or taking care of children, increased risk of health issues, hospitalization and even suicide.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people in the United States between the ages of 10 and 34. About 90% of people who die by suicide in the U.S. lived with a mental health condition,” states GoodTherapy.

Per the American Psychological Association, someone should consider therapy if:

  • Thinking about or coping with the issue takes up at least an hour each day
  • The issue causes embarrassment or makes you want to avoid others
  • The issue has caused your quality of life to decrease
  • The issue has negatively affected school, work or relationships
  • You’ve made changes in your life or developed habits to cope with the issue

Whether you are facing a significant crisis or trying to cope with a major life transition, going to talk to a professional about it can be good for your health. And, on top of individual therapy, there are also options of doing therapy as a couple or as a family when dealing with issues along those lines.

In this day and age, the world of online therapy has even taken off as the pandemic shifted many things to a virtual platform. Online therapy gives you more flexibility with meeting wherever you need to be during your appointment and the freedom to choose how to reach them – whether it’s from your phone, an app or even an online meeting platform.

So, do you feel better about making your appointment? The key takeaway is to know that you don’t have to struggle alone. If you are experiencing tough times and feel that working it out through a therapy session is the best way, then that’s what you should do. Research professionals in your own area, make the call and follow through with feeling better.