1. Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting Therapy
Often when people first start therapy they aren’t sure what they want or what to expect. They know they aren’t doing well and want to get better but feel at a loss about what to do or how to make changes.
Part of the role of a therapist is to help you recognize just how much you already know. It’s not about giving you the answers but helping you discover them on your own. In answering these four questions, you will be able to share a lot about yourself and quickly start to see the changes you’re searching for.
• Why now? If this situation has been going on for a couple weeks, months, or years, what happened recently that led to you deciding to come into therapy now?
• Looking ahead, what do I want to see different in my life? What specifically are you hoping will change now that you’ve started therapy? Are you looking for new strategies to cope with a particular challenge? Stronger boundaries? A change in behaviour or mood? Greater personal insight?
• What have I been doing up to this point that’s helped me? What were all the things you’ve tried before coming to therapy? What are some of the ways you take care of yourself or keep going? How have you been managing?
• Who do I have in my corner? Who are your supports, people who care about you, or want to see you get better? Be creative! These can include your friends, family, and therapist, but also your doctor, colleagues, neighbours, online communities, and even your pet!
2. Finding the Right Therapist
Research consistently shows that the biggest predictor of success in therapy is not the clinical approach, it’s not the therapist’s training background or years of experience, and it’s not based on whether the therapist has lived through experiences that relate to what you’re going through. The biggest predictor of success in therapy is finding a good therapeutic fit.
But what is a good therapeutic fit? How can you tell when you and your therapist are a good match?
• You feel understood. Even when your therapist doesn’t fully understand, they make efforts to figure it out and don’t make any assumptions.
• You don’t feel judged, ashamed, or embarrassed. Even with tricky topics, your therapist is able to make you feel as comfortable and respected as possible.
• The focus is on you and your life. If or when your therapist shares anecdotes or personal experiences it’s relevant to your situation and ultimately helps you.
• Your therapist offers new ways of thinking about things and helps you gain greater insight by seeing how things are connected in your life.
• Your therapist works at your pace. Realizing change takes time, they are able to manage the tricky balance of challenging you without pushing you too hard or too quickly.
itself can be challenging. It can be uncomfortable at first but it doesn’t need to be. Finding the right support in therapy can take time but when it comes to getting better it can make all the difference.
3. What to Expect in the First Session
If you’re like most people considering going for therapy, you probably have some questions about what to expect.
Your first session is a chance for you to share a bit about yourself and what brought you to therapy.
Some therapists choose to use a structured assessment that asks a series of standard questions as a way to get a comprehensive understanding of you. Other therapists may opt for a more flexible session during which they ask more general questions such as “what brought you in today?”.
In either situation:
• Feel free to ask questions. This time is for you, and it’s important you feel comfortable.
• Remember that everything is voluntary. In an effort to get to know you better, your new therapist will likely ask you a lot of questions. If at any point you’re uncomfortable with answering the question, remember that everything is fully voluntary and it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’d rather not talk about that topic or would like to wait until you feel more comfortable before answering that question.
• Share what’s helped and what hasn’t been as helpful before. This can include lessons from past therapists, as well as other strategies you’ve used to cope up to this point.
• Give feedback to your therapist. Remember that this is your time and as such, it’s important to let the therapist know how they can best help you.
• Expect that you may show different feelings during therapy. Some people feel embarrassed if they start crying or show other emotional reactions, but it’s important to remember that these feelings are understandable as you’re purposely focusing on topics that are often uncomfortable, painful, or can make you feel vulnerable. Take your time when sharing and remember that your therapist is not there to judge, but to support you and your emotions.
I always encourage my clients to take care of themselves after their first session. While it’s important to practice self-care at all times, it can be especially helpful to do so after your first few sessions of therapy. It can be a strange experience talking openly to a stranger about difficult areas in your life. Expect that this level of vulnerability may stir up different feelings for the next day or two after your initial session. Try to go easy on yourself during this time.
If you have any other questions, consider booking a phone consult to talk directly with your potential new therapist. This is an easy way to ask more questions and start to decide if they are the right person to support you.