I’ve never really talked to anyone. I’m used to handling things on my own. Aren’t people who go to therapy weak?
People go to therapy when they have the strength to try something new. They realize their old ways of coping aren’t working so well anymore. When you have a serious pain that you don’t quite understand, why do you go to the doctor? So the two of you together can use your experience and the doctor’s training to figure it out and heal it. A therapist is a feelings doctor. People live longer, better lives when they take care of themselves—and that includes getting help when you need it.
What you’re coping with is hard enough by itself. It’s worse if you avoid getting help, out of a fear that working with another person somehow means weakness—as if being strong and being all alone were the same thing. If you grew up with nobody to lean on, doing everything on your own might feel like the only way to survive. But that was then, and now you know more. You can survive on your own, but with help you can thrive.
What’s the difference between talking to you and talking to a close friend or family member?
A therapist’s main job is to listen to you with compassion and respect, adding some perspective. We use insight to help you see things in new ways that can give you more freedom of choice, inside and out. With a professional, you can take as much time as you need, without worrying about your effect on the person you’re talking to. You can share your real feelings, no matter how “bad” you think they might sound—because you will not be judged. And therapy is completely confidential.
The people in your personal life are inside the same situations you’re trying to figure out, whereas a therapist can see them from outside. In therapy, you don’t have to take turns; you are the one we’re here to help. You don’t have to be concerned about people in your life knowing too much about your private business. And you get the benefit of someone’s expertise who has spent years learning about what people go through and how they can help each other to move forward.
Why shouldn’t I just take medication?
Medication can help to treat the symptoms. If it seems like something that might be appropriate in your case, we’ll discuss it and find the right medical professional to help you get the medicine you might need. For some psychotropic drugs can provide enough relief to allow people to work on their underlying issues in therapy. Medication has been beneficial to millions of us—but it was never intended as a substitute for human connection, so it doesn’t reach down to the wounds that are actually causing the pain.
How does therapy work? What do I have to do in sessions?
Therapy is just a very special kind of conversation. In our personal lives, it can take years before we’re lucky enough to have the kind of deep, open, trusting, and courageous conversations we really need (and when it does happen, it creates a lot of closeness; if both people can bear it, their connection is strengthened, but if one or both is scared off by the closeness, then they move far apart). Therapy is designed to create the conditions for those deep, genuine conversations that change the way it feels to be in your life, so that you can change your life.
How long will it take?
Matters of the heart are hard to measure or predict. But the expert on when you’re done with therapy, is you. Have you achieved your goals? Do you wake up glad to be who you are? Can you bear some sadness and still see hope? Are you able to enjoy things? Are you feeling less lonely and more connected? Does your life story make more sense to you? Is the future more interesting than scary, more a gift than a burden? Questions like these can help you decide when to move on.
I want to get the most out of therapy. What can I do to help?
Just be yourself. Feel your feelings. Say whatever comes to mind, without letting your judgments get in the way too much. Have respect for your own pain, and for the courage it takes to reach for a better life. Some people never get over their fear enough to get the help they need, but you’ve overcome that. That strength came from somewhere in you, and there’s a great deal more of it inside than you might at first think. The process is not always pretty or easy, but what matters is your desire to grow.
My partner and I are having problems. Should we be in individual counseling or come together?
Start with couple’s counseling. That way, if you both decide that just one of you should be the focus, you can stop couple’s counseling and switch to individual counseling for that person, without any confusion of boundaries. But relationships take two people, and that usually means they both can benefit from a shared learning experience focused on healing, understanding, and relational skill-building. Sometimes a partner doesn’t want to come to couple’s counseling — believe it or not you can begin on your own — very often the reluctant partner chooses to join.
Welcome to therapy. Our journey is beginning.