A quick guide to therapy- what are you really in for?

There’s an empty, awkwardly stiff couch waiting for you. There is a therapist with a clipboard in hand, and they are already taking notes. A confronting diagnosis awaits, suspended from all the hurdles you have experienced lately. Well, at least, that’s what you think you are in for.

What are you really in for? What is Therapy?

A formal definition of therapy describes it as a collaborative form of treatment, where the relationship with a psychologist helps an individual resolve inflicting thought patterns, behaviours and experiences.

To me, a therapist is like a map, a form of guidance through the peaks and transient toughs of life. But this map is only useful if you have the key. You need to know how to use therapy as a tool before seeing the imposition of the positive changes you deserve.

CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most common form of psychological and social intervention prescribed to anyone seeking treatment. This might sound like a pavlovian experiment, but it is a simple, harmless process in actuality. CBT is based on the principle that psychological problems can be caused by learned patterns of unhelpful behaviour or thinking and, therefore, can be repackaged and reprogrammed.

I like to view therapy as a long ‘In an Out’ process. You will need to travel inwards before you start to notice the outward, external changes. This means that the first few sessions will involve a lot of answering and reflecting, reaching into the crevices of your childhood, recent romances and daily life. Your therapist will guide you through this introspection, creating a space for you to layout your troubles, so you can inspect them as multi-dimensional parts of your life. You might start to see the interconnectedness of these issues, heck – you might even cease to see them as issues at all.

A therapist will help you get to the crux of an affliction – is it a case of personality, circumstance, or environment. Is the relevant solution a case of perception, emotion or behaviour? With this insight, not only will you be able to identify the emotional and cognitive patterns that are holding you back, but you will be able to remodel these learned behaviors. Your therapist will recommend remedial long term lifestyle changes and some acute coping mechanisms for unexpected emotional dysregulation and /speed bumps. Only now will you begin to see poignant changes in your everyday life –your reactions may feel less turbulent, your anxieties may subside, and ultimately, you will be met with an overall sense of stability and groundedness.

Here, it is important to remember and understand that you will only get a return for what you give. Therapy is not transactional in the conventional sense, but your honesty and vulnerability is your currency. The more you reveal about yourself, the greater the relevance and compatibility of the advice and insight that you will receive. Therapists are mostly bound to confidentiality and have your best interests at heart, so I would go in with an overall sense of openness.

Before your first session, it might be best to note down some reflections– what do you hope to see a change in your life? What has led you to this moment? Why are you reaching out? You could keep a journal or a log before your first session, tracking your intuitive feelings and emotions, easing you into the communicative aspect of therapy. At the end of this session, you may leave with some homework, certain questions to meditate on, and even some acute strategies to implement.

It’s also important to remember that no session will be the same. Some appointments will be difficult and emotionally laborious, leaving you feeling even worse than when you started. Some will be completely and utterly life-changing. Don’t be disheartened if the first session does not leave you a changed, enlightened being. This is nothing if not normal. Give yourself time to learn and understand, and at the end of this journey, you will have become your own therapist.

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