Despite the fact that after the chaos that was 2020, therapy has become much more “mainstream” than it has been in years past, for many people, there is still a significant stigma around seeking help for their mental health. But whether you’ve come to this blog post by chance or via active seeking, I am here to tell you that the work is worth it. If you decide you need therapy and you aren’t sure why, or if you are actively looking to address specific issues, many therapists work in ways that will meet you where you are. However, it can be daunting to embark on any kind of new relationship, so I wanted to dispel a few of the persistent myths that surround talk therapy.
Myth: You need a specific goal in order for therapy to be “successful.”
The truth is that there is no one right reason or correct way to start therapy. It’s perfectly valid to come into a therapeutic relationship with a set issue to address, or a specific goal in mind, but it is equally valid to come into your first session without knowing precisely what brought you there in the first place.
Myth: Only people with “big problems” should be in therapy.
Many people feel ashamed that they’re in therapy because other people have bigger problems than them, but the important thing to remember is that your pain is still real, and you deserve to get the help you need to work through it. Just because I’m in the ER with a broken leg and someone next to me is having a heart attack doesn’t mean my broken leg doesn’t hurt. It’s important to acknowledge your relative privilege, but at the same time, you must also acknowledge that your problems are real and valid and that you deserve the space to talk about them. This isn’t pie—just because you take your share of the resources doesn’t mean there are less for other people.
Myth: It’s silly to spend money to talk about yourself.
This type of thinking is reflective of our culture of shame. Therapy is self-care. Therapy is an investment. You get out what you put in, both emotionally and financially. It is an investment in your health. It can feel frivolous like it’s just an expense spent on you, but it has reverberating effects, not only for yourself but for the people closest to you.
As you look for a therapist, perhaps for the first time, and embark on a new therapeutic relationship, it’s important to keep a few things in mind so that you enter into it with an open mind and the right expectations. Here are some things to remember:
The most important element is the therapeutic relationship itself.
No matter what type of therapy you’re choosing, it’s vital that you feel safe and comfortable with your therapist. This may require a phone session ahead of time, or a trial period. If you don’t think it’s a good fit, it’s perfectly normal for a therapist to give you a referral elsewhere. Therapy can only be successful if the relationship between you and your therapist feels like a good fit.
Not all therapeutic relationships develop the same way.
Each of us enters into relationships with people determined by environmental and genetic factors, determining our attachment styles, and a relationship with a therapist plays by those same rules. It may take a long time for you to warm up to a therapist, or you may feel comfortable with them right away. There’s nothing wrong with how you feel at all, no matter how you feel. For some folks, new relationships may feel very scary, others may shut down after they feel they’ve “shared too much.” The way we attach to our therapists is the way we attach to other people in the world, and it gives us great insights into our patterns.
Not all first sessions look the same.
Some therapists will do a full intake with you early on in your time together, asking for the details of your history, while others will simply ask, “What brings you here?” and get the details of your history organically as you go. Neither of these approaches is wrong, but you should know that approaches run the gamut, and asking a potential new therapist what the first session with them might look like is a great way to know what you can expect going in.
We all need a safe space wherein we can be unabashedly ourselves while we work through our stressors and traumas, and a good therapist can provide that for you. It isn’t silly to invest in yourself in this way, and there is no one right way to do it. You deserve to be met where you are, with gentle curiosity and compassion. Wherever you are, you’re already ready. I hope you embark on this process.