You have finally decided that enough is enough. Perhaps you are in an unhappy relationship and you need help with decision making. Should you stay or should you go? Or, maybe you have been irritable and angry with EVERYONE lately and you are beginning to realize it might be you and not them!? Maybe you are dealing with a recently diagnosed illness, estrangement from your adult children, overwhelming anxiety, extreme sadness, impulsive or compulsive behaviors or maybe it’s finally time to seek marriage counseling.
Perhaps you simply want to engage in self-exploration — to decide how your relatively satisfactory life might be better.
The above are fairly common reasons for people to seek therapy. Of course, there are more extreme cases, but none that have ever made me fall off my therapist’s chair in great surprise.
A common fear for people who show up for a first session is that I might somehow judge or feel critical of the issue(s) that are brought to the table. I can assure you this is never the case. I am much more apt to feel empathy, compassion and concern for a person who is struggling through a difficult time than I am to feel critical.
Rarely do people come to therapy who aren’t experiencing some sort of guilt or shame over their struggle. In most cases, the guilt is inappropriate or excessive. I work hard during the first session to let people know that I feel no judgment. As a therapist, I am curious and do my best to gently encourage a person to begin to explore reasons for behaviors or feelings that are presenting challenges to everyday living.
Most psychotherapists have had their own therapy and should continue to seek supervision (which can often feel like therapy). Because of this process, most of us are keenly aware of how “scary” the first session can be. It is intimidating to walk into the office of a complete stranger with the intention of discussing highly personal information. This is not an action we, as professionals, take lightly. When I meet with a person for the first time, I usually send the initial paperwork to an email address so that it may be completed in the comfort of one’s home. There is a section where I ask about “reason(s) for seeking therapy.” The reasons for seeking therapy often tend to evolve as the therapeutic process unfolds. And many people will not want to write very personal information on such a form, if they have not met with me in the past. This is perfectly okay and natural.
It is a good idea to be certain one is invested in a relationship with a particular counselor before divulging extremely sensitive information. A feeling of “safety” in the relationship may require more than a few visits.
While the first session may initially feel uncomfortable — as you begin to explore your reasons for seeking therapy, you will likely begin to feel less inhibited. This is a very personal process and not every therapist is a “good fit.” Personal experience as a client has taught me how important it is to move on if I am not feeling confident in a person’s ability to be warm, non-judgmental and supportive. While I appreciate an intelligent perspective, it is these human qualities that keep me involved in the process and wanting to share more. Nevertheless, everyone is different and so, it’s important for you to know what it is that feels “right” so that you continue to progress and feel comfortable sharing and exploring. If you do not feel comfortable and confident in a therapist’s ability to help you, personally, then you should look elsewhere. Not every therapist will be a match for every person.
Good therapy is a partnership between two people. The therapist and the client enter into a relationship like no other — one where your innermost thoughts and feelings are considered, examined and eventually — sorted through.
As a therapist, I consider it an honor and a privilege to know others so fully, as no one else in their lives might have known them. And when I observe positive change and growth, I feel impressed that human beings possess a natural desire to be better in life.
We are all on a journey. As a therapist, it is essential for me to believe that even the most difficult and challenging times in life present themselves so that we may grow. Although the first call and visit to a therapist’s office can be difficult to initiate, the helping hand you might find there can be life altering — allowing you to experience life as you never imagined.
Good therapy can offer personal freedom — from anxiety, pain, guilt and shame. While I understand how difficult the process can sometimes feel (after all, you will need to discuss some very sensitive topics), the process, at best, can be empowering and life changing!