In this part of our Demystifying Psychotherapy series we will be exploring what happens at the beginning of psychotherapy, and how to get the most out of your experience. Psychotherapy is an investment in yourself and your future. It is not a quick fix, or a one-size-fits-all approach. Psychotherapy takes time, commitment, energy, effort, and willingness to take the leap into the discomfort of the unknown.
Many people wonder what might happen in their first psychotherapy session. At Wildflower, your first session will be 60 minutes in length, and during that time you and your therapist will explore what brings you in, what your current struggles and symptoms are, as well as what your hopes and dreams are for the future. Based on this initial evaluation your therapist will share their thoughts with you about what your work together might entail. At every step along the way, if you find yourself with questions or queries we highly encourage you to ask your therapist, voice preferences, and share any concerns. Sometimes people wonder or worry if their therapist likes them or what their therapist might be thinking about them. Rest assured that our therapists embrace the psychotherapy journey with empathy, nonjudgment, and positive regard for their fellow travelers.
When thinking about making the investment in psychotherapy, we thought it might be helpful to compile some ideas about how to get the most out of the psychotherapy space, as well as how to set realistic expectations for yourself and your progress.
Have an open mind
We find that clients who are open and willing to create and maintain an open mind about the psychotherapy process are able to dive in and explore their inner thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to work through barriers and move towards their valued goals. If you have questions or worries about the process, please talk to your therapist! They are there for you to help guide you on your journey towards health and wellness.
The initial process of psychotherapy might feel uncomfortable and awkward in the beginning. That is ok. It takes time to adjust. Allow yourself patience with the process.
Sometimes people may expect that they will be able to instantly dive into their deepest and darkest fears and worries, and that they will easily form a back-and-forth relationship with their therapist. Know that most often it takes time. Time to get to know each other (just like any other relationship!); time to adjust to the general process of psychotherapy; time to get to know yourself. Give yourself time. It may be helpful to come up with a mantra or grounding statement to remind yourself to have patience with yourself and with the process. Some examples, might be “Just keep swimming” (my personal favorite from Dori in Finding Nemo), or “One day at a time.”
Let your therapist know how you really feel and how you are doing. If possible, don’t downplay your symptoms or struggles. Your therapist is there for you!
Many times people may worry, “What if I share ____ with my therapist, and they think something negative about me!” This is a completely understandable worry, AND please know your therapist really, truly wants to know how you are authentically doing. Psychotherapy is not the space to downplay or dismiss your own feelings and thoughts. Psychotherapy is the space to challenge yourself to be vulnerable, and to open yourself up to someone else. This can be very hard! Deep breaths. We are in this together. Trusting yourself to share how you are truly doing also requires having an open mind!
Remember that therapy is hard work. It can feel worse before it starts feeling better.
At the end of every initial session, I make sure to remind people that therapy is hard work. Oftentimes, in that initial psychotherapy session people find themselves discussing topics or memories they have not thought of, or have tried to intentionally ignore for years. This can bring up a lot. Know that is okay. We have to go through the “muck” to get out on the other side. If you notice feeling more anxiety, more sadness, more overwhelm, that can be part of the process. Please remember to share your experiences and reactions with your therapist so that you two may work through this together.
Keep a psychotherapy journal! Reflect on your sessions, jot down things throughout the week you might want to process in session, record your thoughts and feelings, any barriers, little (or big!) wins, and potential homework.
Psychotherapy is a space to hold and to honor yourself. The process is not a paint-by-numbers experience. It is nuanced and ever-evolving. It can be incredibly helpful to reflect on your journey in order to make the most use of your psychotherapy space. A therapy journal might be the place for this, or recording voice memos to yourself in your phone, or even a Google doc to keep track of your own reflections. Whatever medium you choose, we highly encourage folks to have a way to integrate reflection and personal growth into their day-to-day routines.
Make sure that you and your therapist are compatible. It’s okay to find a new therapist if you need to.
While keeping in mind the fact that therapy is a process and it takes time to develop comfortability with a new human you have never met before your initial session, sometimes you may find that for whatever reason you don’t feel that you vibe with the therapist. That is ok! Goodness of fit, and feeling comfortable with your therapist, is perhaps the most important quality of a psychotherapy relationship. If you feel unsure about the fit, you have many options. You can, of course, talk about this with your therapist. Your therapist will not be offended! Your therapist will work to explore these feelings with you and work to help you find the most effective plan moving forward. If you do not wish to talk with your therapist about your concerns, at Wildflower you can reach out to our Intake team to discuss your concerns, and they can help you get set up with someone else who might be a better fit. We are here for you in your journey. We want you to find someone you feel comfortable and safe with in the psychotherapy space.
Overall, there are many ways to get the most out of your psychotherapy journey. One of the most important takeaways is your therapist is there for you to help be your guide in the process. No question or worry is too silly. We want to hear anything and everything from you, and want to support you in your path towards emotional wellness.