Common questions about therapy
How do I find the right therapist?
Finding the “right” therapist can be a bit like dating. How do I know I found “the one”? The answer, like in romance, is that there probably isn’t “the one”. Believing there is “the one” might actually add to the anxiety around this process. In reality, finding the right therapist might involve a bit of trail-and-error. So if you didn’t find the right person right away, don’t get too discouraged.
To this end—there is no guarantee I’m the right therapist for you. My style works very well for some and doesn’t for others. That’s normal. There is no one-type-fits-all therapist.
What I can say is that more than the specific technique or modality or background, what’s most important is that you feel safe and supported by your therapist. Which isn’t to say that you will always feel comfortable. There will be times in therapy when the conflicts you have in the outside world will recreate themselves with the therapist—you might find therapy stagnating, you might feel frustrated, stuck, and unhappy with how therapy is going. A good therapist will be able to spot these dynamics and address them with you. It might be a sign of it not being a good fit, but it also might be a sign of resistance: things that come up that keep us from engaging in an authentic, open way (which is completely normal and should be expected).
Don’t give up right away when things start to feel frustrating, but also don’t deny or minimize your feelings when they come up. Give an honest try to exploring these feelings before making a decision to move on. A good therapist will be able to accept feedback and as a result, the relationship might actually strengthen. Giving feedback takes bravery and courage—and can be a beautiful experience, because a lot of times in life we’ve been taught out of being honest about our feelings. Instead, we learn to side-step ourselves, placate others, flatter them, reactively blame/attack, or keep our views silent and express them anonymously.
To those of you who don’t really like the intuitive “try and see how you feel” approach, start with self-reflection. Your future therapist is a person who is going to dive deep with you, see you in some of your most intimate, hidden places. And so, this is a person who should be someone you can trust.
What qualitities do you want this person to have? Is gender/age/background important? If so, who would I feel most comfortable with? What would be their values? Philosophy of mental health and the human struggle? Life experience?
Now having some criteria, you can start your research.
How does therapy work?
Therapy works on the basis of repairing connection where there wasn’t any before. Trauma teaches us that when hard things happen, we have to go it alone. If it happens enough times, that belief gets wired into our brains. The belief of being alone in your struggle is something, if you sense how it lands in your body, doesn’t feel nice—it feels stressful, lonely, and hard. On some level, many of us operate this way in the world even if we know or don’t know why we do (not just individually but collectively and culturally the idea can be built in that you need to figure things out on your own and if you can’t you are broken/weak/incapable/etc).
Many of us haven’t had wise, engaged, calm guides in those hard places. Of course, it’s not realistic to expect someone to always be around and for help to always be available. We have an extremely intelligent and resilient body that can adapt to even the toughest conditions. But the only way we understand and learn how to move through hard things is by first having a calm, attuned adult with us in that place. Someone who listens, who understands us accurately, who views us with compassion and acceptance.
What are the sessions like?
The first few sessions are pretty predictable in the sense that we are getting to know each other. You might find that I’m listening more and offering reflections, to get a sense of your story and the main themes of your life. We also discuss your goals and what you want to see on the other side of your issue.
Ongoing sessions vary greatly. Some sessions involve talking things through. Some sessions will involve body-based, emotional work and you may find these feel deeper and more impactful.
How do I know I’m changing?
This one can be tricky. We are usually not very good judges of our own progress, because we have lots of ideas about what progress “should be” that might actually expectations we pick up from others, society, etc.
I think one of the ways you know you are changing is when your relationship with yourself and your struggles starts to be more productive, compassionate, kind, and forgiving. You feel you have more choice, more agency in your life, over yourself and your behaviour. You really feel “like yourself”, or at least you know what that is.
It’s not that you will come out of therapy being completely “perfect” and “healed”, but that you come out knowing something important about yourself and others that you can access and apply in your everyday life.
There are so many different types of therapy out there. What’s the best one for me?
I think all kinds of therapies have some cross-over in their assumptions about human behaviour and what helps people change. Some are more researched than others and so you might see some therapies being advertised as “evidence-based” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you. There are less studied modalities that can be just as helpful as the more popular ones. Bottom-line: there is no one-size-fit-all kind of therapy.
Some of us are more emotional creatures and prefer emotion-based approaches. Some of us are more analytical and prefer those modalities. Some of us are more spiritual and prefer therapists with a transpersonal perspective. At the end of the day, I’d recommend focusing more on how you feel with the therapist and the therapist as a person versus choosing someone specifically for their modality.
I also think it’s very important that in whatever therapy you choose that there is a healthy balance between validation and challenge. An approach that completely disregards EVERY experience you have as “resistance” or a “distortion” isn’t helpful. Neither is therapy is that accepts every experience on a surface level without digging deeper and exploring underlying emotional dynamics.
What can I do to get the most out of therapy?
Engage. Take risks. Consider what would make the hour meaningful to you. You don’t have to push yourself to share where you’re not ready, but also try leaning into being more honest than you would allow yourself to be in your everday life. If the things that take root in you, stay alive in you, don’t get talked about in sessions then therapy in general might not feel very helpful.
After sessions, plan to rest. Therapy is similar to a physical workout in many ways (what my therapist told me when we first started working together and I haven’t been able to prove her wrong yet!). You are using muscles you haven’t before and they will hurt after, you may feel exhausted. It’s important to give yourself plenty of time to recharge. Journalling is a great practice, and it can give you ideas for what to bring up next time in session.