What to Expect When You're Expecting Therapy

October 2022 is Healthy Workplace Month, so there is no time like the present to consider seeing a counsellor!

So, if you’ve signed up for therapy, or it’s on your mind, this post is for you.

Five things you can expect when beginning therapy:

Number 1:

You will start to feel hope.

Getting to therapy is hard, and our society puts up many barriers to seeking help. Often those who start therapy are in a state of near hopelessness.

However, the simple act of finding a good counsellor and booking an appointment are definitive action steps designed to take charge of your mental health.

When you boil it down, seeking help is ultimately based in the hope you will get better (otherwise why bother?), and therefore it puts hope into action in your life. And research shows, that the feeling of hope in-and-of-itself is responsible for 15% of all successful client outcomes in therapy. It’s a crazy powerful force.

Number 2:

You will be anxious (at first).

Let’s face it – telling a total stranger about your most intimate inner problems is anxiety-inducing.

But aside from the inherent vulnerability, pre-therapy-anxiety also comes for two reasons:

a.    The avoidance factor.

People in general tend to have their problems stuffed down prior to therapy. Showing up to therapy means actually facing the scary gremlins that have been lurking in the basement.

b.    The shame factor.

Nobody likes admitting something is wrong. Humble pie tastes awful.

If all things go well, and you get through these initial hurdles, you’ll become familiar with the therapy process, and get more comfortable with your therapist. This will dissolve the initial anxiety.

I’ve also noticed that clients often feel relief just having their issue “out there” and heard by someone, and not stewing inside anymore.

Number 3:

Things will get worse, before they get better

As mentioned above – most of us are expert “stuffer-downers.” All humans do this to some degree or another, because people are not always 100% able to cope with what life dishes out in a given moment. (Some reasons for this include a lack of coping skills, being trapped in a relationship, not having time or money, sharks in your swimming pool, etc.).

Stuffing things down is not necessarily a bad thing, as it protects us from having to deal with inner issues until we have the resources needed to do so; but it comes with consequences. One of these is that when we begin therapy, it finally opens our pandora’s box of repressed thoughts, feelings, emotions, and trauma…. it can be painful, and dysregulating.

Just know that with the courage and determination to get better, and the guidance of a skilled therapist, this phase will pass.

Number 4:

Unexpected directions

Often the main reason why we showed up in therapy, is just the surface of what is really going on.

An iceberg is a helpful metaphor. The tip of the iceberg is what you see. In therapy, these are the parts of your life that stick out and interfere with good living. (Think: drinking too much, anger outbursts, social anxiety etc.). These issues are generally what a client tells a therapist about on a first session.

For example, if you came to therapy because your relationship was on the rocks, then “relationship troubles” would be the iceberg tip.

But the true underlying reasons your relationship might be on the rocks could be dynamics totally unknown and surprising to you (the iceberg bottom). A good therapist will help you to uncover these.

Following through with the above example, some deep-down dynamics which could manifest as surface-level relationship troubles are: attachment wounds, poor boundaries, unreasonable expectations, previous relationship baggage etc.

In practice, this means you might come into therapy thinking you’ll be talking about one thing….and end up talking about something completely different. Be willing to pivot.

Number 5:

You’ll start to feel better, and get better

Once you emerge from the chaos phase, you’ll enter an “upward-track” of incremental growth towards your goals.

Whether this means drinking less and less, feeling in control of your anger, or recovering from a heart-rending loss, now is when you’ll start to both see and feel positive change. It won’t be a linear process (think two-steps-forward-one-step-back), but you’ll be well on your way.

Dedicated to your success,

Tim Garner, MC, CCC.

Walmsley EFAP