Anonymous asked a question:
Hey there. so I’m going to be starting counseling soon and I’m kind of anxious about it. Do you have any advice on opening up to a new medical professional?
Hey dear friend, that’s great news you’re getting counseling. If it were up to me, I wish we could all have a mental health scholarship to get a counselor.
In my experience here’s what I’ve found to be helpful in a therapeutic alliance. It’s a lot, but of course, you don’t have to memorize these or anything. Maybe even one thing here will give you some peace. And friends, if I missed anything, please comment below.
– Please note that while I’ve had extensive training as a hospital chaplain, I am not a medical professional nor a therapist. I’m also using the terms therapy and counseling interchangeably. –
– It’s okay to be anxious. You’re opening up your life to a stranger. It’s daunting. But there’s a lot of truth in the idea of the “intimate stranger.” The fact that the therapist is a stranger is often more helpful than less.
– A good therapist will validate your feelings but also challenge some of your thoughts. At first, most therapists will validate everything. But if they don’t begin to gently challenge some of your notions, you probably won’t grow. Please know, a therapist ought to only challenge thoughts, not necessarily feelings. No, not all feelings are a green-light to act, but your feelings are coming from somewhere real. A therapist will explore your feelings with you, will explore if they’re exaggerated or covering something, and hopefully explore different options you can act on.
– You’re allowed to shop around. Finding a good therapist is hard. Sometimes it takes more than once. Don’t expect perfect, but do expect to click.
– Do the work. I’ve known people who try therapy and say, “It didn’t work for me.” And while that can be true sometimes, I often find that the person expected the therapist to do all the work. They didn’t disclose anything, didn’t self-examine, didn’t go into the hard stuff like trauma and family. Therapy is not a ranting session (though it can be that occasionally). It’s not a blame-shifting validation. It requires you be engaged with working on yourself.
– Make a lot of space for yourself around your appointments. Therapy is hard. You’ll probably cry a lot. You might be raw the rest of the day. Meet up a friend, or make room for rest. However you need to recharge, it’s a good idea to make those plans in advance.
– Be careful in pathologizing yourself. Your therapist might offer a diagnosis. Be careful in that you don’t make it your entire identity. I’ve known people who were given a different diagnosis every time they got a new therapist. Psychology is not an exact science. It’s so important to name what you’re going through, but at the same time, this is not all of who you are.
– You might get ridiculed. You might have friends and family who make fun of you. That’s natural. Mental health is still stigmatized. Keep a distance from them for now.
– You will experience side effects. Therapy can have a lot of unexpected side effects. You might have sudden spurts of growth followed by catastrophic failure. You might start diagnosing other people. You might get mad that no one is listening to you like your therapist. You might start wearing therapy like a trophy. You might start yelling at people to get therapy. These are mostly normal reactions. In all these things, be gentle with yourself and others.
– Some red flags. A therapist can self-disclose a little bit (talk about their own lives), but if they do this too much, I would probably find someone else. I once had a therapist who talked about their other patients: that’s a no-no. If a therapist instigates your conflicts or eggs you on, that’s not good. Also, all good therapist will be seeing a therapist.
– In the end, celebrate yourself. You’re really doing it. You’re getting help. You’re seeking to get better. Be excited. God bless, dear friend. I’m happy for your journey.
Photo from Unsplash