Recently, I was quoted in an article about what therapists wish people knew about our job. You can check that out here, if you feel so inclined. Only one of the points I mentioned was used in the article, but I think it’s worth fleshing out the rest of my thoughts because I recognize that many people really don’t know what to expect from therapy. Not to mention that portrayals of therapists on TV and in movies are really not helping our cause! They tend to be caricatures, and there's really just a passing resemblance to what therapy is really about. So, here are a few things you should not expect from engaging in psychotherapy (and a few that you should)!
Don't expect to meet your new bestie.
A particularly insidious form of stigma around therapy is that you're going to therapy because you need to pay for friendship. As I said in the article, your therapist is not a "paid friend." Your therapist is not your friend. I felt like that needed repeating. The therapeutic relationship is a special one, meant to help you learn and grow and make positive changes in your life. But friendship it is not. You are not meant to emotionally support and care for your therapist in the way that you do for your friends. And that is important, because the work that you are here to do cannot be done if you're overly focused on your therapist. Think of it as more of a partnership. You and your therapist are teaming up to fight the good fight! Do expect to form a collaborative relationship with someone who wants to help you slay your demons.
Don’t expect to be fixed.
Therapy is not something that the therapist does TO you, it's something that the therapist does WITH you. Most people show up in therapy because there are things going on in their lives that they just don't know how to handle. Often, because they don't know what therapy is about, they show up to session, arms spread wide, like "Okay. I'm here. Do it!" Your therapist is not here to change you or fix you. Frankly, you don't even need fixing! You're not broken, you're hurting. Your therapist is a collaborator in your healing, there to assist in getting you where you want to go. And your therapist does not determine that destination either, that's up to you. But, your therapist WILL help you to figure out the destination if you're not sure. You will have the space and opportunity to determine what matters to you and embark upon the journey of filling your life with meaning. Do expect to get to know and understand yourself much better.
Don’t expect to just sit back and let it happen.
Therapy is work! Probably the most important, life-changing work you will ever do. But make no mistake, this will not be a cake walk. Now, I'm not trying to scare anyone off! But I need you to understand that therapy is an uphill climb, and your therapist is merely a guide. Think of your therapist as your emotional Sherpa! The insight that therapists provide is important, very important. But doing nothing with that insight leaves you in exactly the same place you were when you started. The real work of therapy happens outside of the office. Showing up to sessions and doing nothing in the time between those sessions will inevitably lead to absolutely no change in your life. Things learned and understood in therapy must be put into action if therapy is to be successful.
Do expect to be an active participant in your own healing.
The therapeutic relationship is an important one. It's the vehicle through which tremendous healing is able to happen. Good therapy can sometimes feel like magic, but rest assured a LOT of effort goes into getting you where you want to go (and helping you create a life you can love!): yours and your therapist's. It will be difficult. You will have to face some things that you've probably spent a lot of time avoiding. You're gonna hear some things you don't want to hear. You'll even probably get angry at your therapist. It's a real commitment. But oh, man, is it worth it!