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9 Things (not) to Expect from Therapy

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

Psychotherapy can be mysterious and intimidating, especially if you don't know what to expect. Here are 9 most important things you should know.

1. It's not really a therapist's job to give you advice.

They're not here to tell you if you should call off your marriage or quit your job. The real job of therapy is to get to know yourself better and change the way you're thinking, the way you're behaving, or the way you're understanding the world. The process of therapy is not to give good give advice.

Sure, they might tell you about strategies to cope with a mental illness like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, but when it comes to your personal life decisions, they're more of a facilitator.

2. They probably see a therapist, too.

I would never trust a therapist who hadn't been to therapy. Most psychologists do see their own therapists — maybe not all the time, but at least at some point in their careers. Most graduate psychology programs even require that candidates participate in therapy.

3. Most therapists don't prescribe medication.

That's typically the job of a psychiatrist or a primary care provider — not a psychologist. However, your therapist can coordinate with another provider to help you start or end a medication, if that's something you're interested in.

4. You don't have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to go to therapy.

One common misconception: "That you have to be 'crazy' to go to therapy." There are a lot of reasons why people go to therapy that have nothing to do with disorders. And when people do go because they have a disorder, that's nothing to be ashamed of.

You're going to get help and speak to an expert just like you would seeking help for any other medical condition.

It's usually this in between area — when you're struggling but not completely debilitated - that people hesitate to go to therapy because they feel like they don't need it. But if you're feeling stuck or overwhelmed or not able to function as you'd like to, that's a sign you do need to talk to somebody.

5. Your therapist isn't talking about you with their friends

Rule number one is confidentiality. Therapists have expert groups that meet every other week or monthly to discuss difficult cases and get feedback from peers. They talk about cases, but it's a stripped-down version with no identifying information.

6. Just going to therapy won't necessarily help — you have to participate.

Therapy isn't like going to your primary care doctor for a sinus infection and leaving with antibiotics. It takes collaboration — not just passively sitting back and waiting for results. If a client is prepared and willing to talk about what brought them in and what they'd like to work on, it can make the whole process more collaborative and efficient.

7. Therapy doesn't have to be a long-term commitment.

The length and frequency of therapy is very individual. It can be a one-time deal, a few months of sessions, or longer depending on what you're going through and what you're looking to accomplish.

It's perfectly reasonable to ask questions about a therapist's approach in the first session or two. Things like: What would treatment look like? How long are we going to be working together? How will I know when we're finished?

8. The right "fit" is the most important factor when it comes to finding a therapist.

What does that look like? Feeling heard, understood, and respected. The experience of therapy itself isn't always going to be fun or enjoyable. But in the context of that, you should feel safe, accepted, and heard, and at times challenged.

9. They don't have all the answers.

Sometimes people think therapists have a special ability to see inside you but we really don't. We have a particular training and understanding of how humans are, how humans behave, how emotions work, and we're able to use that to understand the specific situation someone is in. We don't have these magical skills that we're instantly going to read into you — it's a process.


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