“What are you up to today?”
“Oh, you know, just going to therapy.”
Therapy. Throwing out the word in a sentence seems as common as talking about the weather these days. And that’s great! Destigmatising the access to mental health support is one of the better progressions we’ve made as a society.
There are so many benefits to therapy, but the process of finding a therapist, setting up an appointment and then actually doing the work can be extremely mystifying – believe me, I’ve been there myself.
Whether you’re somewhat of a therapy savant, or a complete newbie, there’s always going to be peaks and troughs in your (pardon the Bachelor vocabulary) ~journey~. There might be some weeks (or months) where you feel stuck, or you may feel completely out of your depth, not knowing what to expect before your first session.
But never fear!
Your Mental Health Fairy Godmother is here to give you some tried and true tips to help you find a new tack and get through a therapy rut, or equip you with the tools to get the most out of therapy.
1. Shop around
Congrats! You’ve decided to take the first step in seeking help. I’m really proud of you. Or, hey – I notice you’re feeling like your current therapy situation isn’t serving you as much as it once did, and that’s totally fine! Therapists are a bit like a little black dress – everyone should have one at one stage in their life (in my humble opinion), but what suits everyone can differ greatly, and also might change over time.
Like any relationship, we have certain needs that we need to be met in order for us to feel fulfilled. If you’re unsure about who to see, as there are so many counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists out there, start by making a list of some of the qualities or areas of specialisation that you might like a potential therapist to have. These can include anything from specialising in trauma, family psychology or grief, to attributes like warm, assertive, laidback.
If you’re really nervous about trying before buying (and boy, can they be an expensive investment!), there are databases and websites where patients can post reviews of clinics and specific practitioners too, to give you another perspective. This is a great resource – and although that’s where the link lands, the site is not specific to just Sydney psychologists.
Ultimately, though, therapists are humans just like us, and we’re each going to get on differently with them. And if you do have a few sessions with a therapist and you feel like it maybe isn’t the best fit, that’s perfectly ok! Any therapist also worth their salt should understand this. Even still, for those of you currently in therapy, our circumstances and needs can change too, and what’s served us for some time might not be working anymore, so don’t feel as though there’s something wrong with you if you feel like you need a change.
2. Be an active participant
This might sound stupidly obvious, but I can’t stress enough the importance of actively taking an interest in your therapy work and healing journey. Talking therapies can be a great way to vent to someone who you’re paying to hold space for you and your problems, but if you feel like you’re getting a bit stuck going ‘round in circles in your sessions, it might be worthwhile getting a bit ~mindful~ about things (quick, take a shot every time I use a hippy dippy cliché like mindful. Actually don’t, or else you’ll be texting your ex by sentence number 3!).
Your therapist is there to guide you through the process, but ultimately this whole ‘mental wellbeing’ thing is a daily journey. They can’t do all the leg work for you, so ask for recommendations and/or seek out books, podcasts, even therapist Instagram accounts (they put out a LOT of free content that has, for what it’s worth, informed a lot of great discussions between my therapist and I) to pique your interest and maybe even provide some new insights or perspectives.
3. Bring a list of topics… or don’t!
Look, not to be a whole fence-sitter here (blame my Libra Rising and Venus Sign guys, I swear), but this one is a bit of a two-sides-to-the-same-coin situation. Some weeks, if I’ve had a bit of a doozy with a particular thing or issue, I’ll make a note in my phone to discuss the thoughts I’ve had surrounding it (see: number 2 – be an active participant). Other weeks, I find it best not to structure things too intentionally, and let my therapist and whatever’s weighing on my subconscious (you know, the first thing I blurt out that sets me off on a tangent for 40 minutes straight) guide the session.
Find what works for you, and do it. Wow, I think I’ve just cracked the code for life!
But seriously, back to flogging the whole ‘there’s no one size fits all approach’ dead horse, there’s no real ‘wrong’ way to prepare (or not-prepare) for therapy. That said, if you’re a fresh, soft therapy newborn, I encourage you to jot down some things about yourself and what you want to get out of your session and/or why you chose to go to therapy for your first session, even if you don’t necessarily choose to read them out explicitly to your therapist. It will help with my fourth and final point, which is…
4. Be patient – and manage your expectations
God, how rude did that sound? I mean it in the most loving way possible. Truly, I feel that it might take a couple of sessions, or months (depending how often you go), to really get into your ‘therapy groove’. By the way, I call dibs on the name Therapy Groove for a band if I ever feel so inclined to make one, and also you should know that if I do, it’s a thinly veiled cry for help.
You’re not going to be ‘cured’ in your first session – and nor will you ever, really (cured is a no-no word in the therapy community, but you’ll find that out soon enough). Progress isn’t linear, and some weeks might be harder – or just downright shittier – than others. And that’s okay!
Know that you’re taking positive steps by going to therapy and doing the work, and keep going. And don’t forget to celebrate the wins, no matter how small!
Now go forth, my therapy cherubs, and be well.