Adulthood often explains, and rather harshly so, that many of the solutions aren’t instant fixes. Getting a job doesn’t immediately solve all your financial problems. Your goal weight is not reached by exercising two consecutive days. Using a similar line of reasoning, going to a therapist does not dissolve your problems after the first session or even after ten. These were a few of the many preconceived notions I had to unlearn once I made the choice to go for therapy. Here are a few other things I found out along the way.
- The iconic couch popularized by Freud is not a staple in every office. Therapists’ offices come in all shapes and sizes. Some sessions are conducted from behind a metal desk with a small chair in the front like a principal’s office. Others create a welcoming ambiance with throw pillows and bean bags. I eventually took the telecommunications route and decided what my own couch is. The idea is to get talking, so go where you can make yourself feel comfortable.
- A lot of work needs to be put in on both ends for progress. I had this idea that just by entering the professional’s presence, they will fix everything. They will take care of me as I calmly float through a gentle stream of self-realization to a bay of solutions. Uh, no. It’s more like thrashing through the rapids of angst while the therapist calmly observes from the sidelines and guides you to the raft. You have to make the choice of bringing your fears and concerns to the table. And you have to make the effort of applying the suggestions given to you.
- Going for therapy can suck. Even if you signed up to talk to a therapist voluntarily, you don’t always have an upbeat attitude about it. Many times you have to talk about feelings and thoughts that are not easily vocalized. They are uncomfortable and heavy to speak and hear. You feel stupid and ashamed for admitting them. A good specialist will appreciate the effort and make sure that those thoughts are important. But because it is outside of the comfort zone, it is easy to hate coming back for more sessions, especially when there is no tangible progress.
- There are few instant-life-altering break-through moments. Remember in “Good Will Hunting” where the character of Matt Damon realizes he had been blaming himself for the childhood abuse in his last onscreen therapy session? Soon thereafter, he makes positive changes in regards to his life and relationships. Well, that doesn’t happen as dramatically or as cleanly as portrayed. There are a series of moments of realization, many of which need circling back to. Fighting your old habits and thinking processes is a roller coaster and a battle. The fears that held you back can still have their grip on you even after you understand the reasons behind them. Each breakthrough can be followed by a long and messy process of healing. You should not feel disappointed because your recovery is not swift or dramatic.
- The road to betterment is not always lined with quirky exercises. I was disappointed when my therapist didn’t encourage bike rides with her to discuss my long held fears. Or give me assignments to chat up strangers to help with my social awkwardness. All I got was repetitive mantras and positive self-affirmations. Which actually helped if I used them regularly. I learned there are different types of mental health professionals each with different techniques, and I was free to question them and go to those that make me feel comfortable.
- You can switch between therapists. Although this is a bit hard on the wallets, going to a different specialist can be so helpful and eye-opening. If you feel like you are not getting what you expect out of your current session, talk to the therapist. And if that does not work, start looking for a different one. It seems like a huge chore to restart the process but what is the point of continuing if it does not lead to anything. Perhaps a new friendly face will take you where you need to go.
You don’t become a whole new person after seeing a counselor or therapist. There are gradual changes which can take a while to manifest. After years of being wrapped in a specific thought bubble, untying the knot will take time. The experience differs person to person and we’re just holding ourselves back if we have unrealistic expectations of the journey.
Please note this article is based on the writer’s experience and is not soliciting professional medical advice.