What to Expect in Therapy: Part One
by Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC
Looking to start therapy but not sure what to expect? Perhaps you're already in therapy, and you're wondering if what you're experiencing is "normal?" Well, you're not alone. Thousands of people are seeking therapy each week and they have no idea what to expect when they walk through the door. Now, every practice is different and there are many levels of care, but that's just therapist jargon for "there are many forms of therapy to serve people who have different types and severities of need." Regardless of all of that, there are a few things to anticipate when you go in to see your therapist for the first time and when you continue to attend. I'm going to share some of this information, below.
- Paperwork: Whether the practice/agency has you fill out paperwork online or in person, it's a necessity. This is a safeguard for both you, as a client, and the practice. They'll likely give you information regarding privacy practices, releases of information, a client-therapist contract, policies and procedures, a list of services provided at the practice, and so much more. You'll be responsible for signing some of them and providing some information about yourself. We all know paperwork is not exactly fun, but it is necessary.
- Cancellation Policies: I don't know if I've ever encountered a practice/therapist who does not have one of these. While the cost for "No-Showing" or cancelling your appointment late and within what timeframe may vary, the fact still remains the same - your therapist is at their office, waiting for you, and if you do not cancel within a reasonable amount of time, then he/she cannot fill your spot. I know this kind of stinks that you end up having to practically pay for a session that you didn't attend, but guess what? When a client does this once, they aren't likely to do it again because that adds up. Your therapist's time is precious, just like yours and they deserve compensation for their time spent. If you aren't sure what your practice's policy is, please ask. Each practice is a little different.
- Intake/Assessment/Evaluation: This is likely a time when you'll sit down with a clinician to answer some questions. This clinician could be the therapist you'll be working with, or could be an intake specialist - either way, their first session (or two, or three) with you is intended to get to know you better. Something important to remember here - if you are not completely honest, open, and aware of what you may need to work on, what you've been through, and what you want out of therapy, this makes the future therapy sessions a whole lot harder for you (and your therapist). You will absolutely not get your needs met if you are not willing to share what is actually going on in your life with your clinician. Be open, from the start.
- Come Prepared: Your are the expert on you, hands down. Your therapist may be an expert in clinical practices or theories, but no therapist is successful without your story, wants, and needs. Provide insight and feedback to your therapist. Share what you want to work on. Your therapist is not a mindreader (as much as we sometimes wish we could be) - so your openness and honesty is crucial. When you bring up a topic, be prepared to share more information about it, to process it, and to potentially be open to making changes. Your therapist will help guide you in the process of how to do these things, but it's up to you to give the initial information. If you expect that therapy is going to "work for" you, yet you're not willing to give your insight and perspective on what is going on in your life, then you're not going to get very far in therapy. It's not the therapist's job to FORCE information out of you. You guide treatment. Your therapist will go at the pace you set and can only work with what they're given.
- Be Ready to Change: This is what therapy is all about, right? Isn't the whole reason why you go so that you can make changes? I'd have to say that's it - at least from what I've heard. Your therapist may give you homework, assignments, and things to try once you get home. Be open. Give them an honest effort. And if they don't work the first time, try, try again. Don't forget that you cannot come to therapy and hope that the therapist will change your husband for you. Your therapist may teach you skills on how to become more aware of your emotional reactions to others, or how to show empathy, or enhance your communication and listening skills, but you doing those things still may not change someone else. The truth of the matter is, it's important to be open. It's important to give things a try more than once. It's important to tell your loved ones about your journey of change and ask them to support you while you try new things. I'm not kidding you when I tell you that this whole process is about communication and willingness to change.
So, there is quite a bit to expect in therapy, isn't there? You get to decide what your experience will be like, not me, but I wanted to share some with you. This is not an exhaustive list. I know that there is a lot of information here to take in, so I'm doing this blog in several parts. I want to keep you in suspense (just kidding)! What I really want to do is to break it down in digestible parts because I know that understanding what to expect in therapy can be a lot to take in. Part One, Continued can be found, here.