What to Expect from Therapy
By Emilie Trepanier
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and do that thing everyone keeps saying is necessary for your well-being: Go to therapy. First, I want to be sappy and tell you I’m proud of you, and I admire your strength. Realizing therapy is your next step may not have been easy and choosing to do that only proves how serious you are about getting stronger. When you feel your throat is on fire and have a tendency to get strep throat a lot, you go to a professional, get a prescription, take your antibiotics, and get better. Your mind and heart are no different.
Just like seeing a physical therapist is at first painful, uncomfortable and difficult, the same goes for exercising your mind in therapy. My first week of therapy for my assault ended with me making a total fool of myself at a gathering with my friends. My advice to you; if you drink alcohol, refrain from it when you start therapy. That first week or sometimes longer causes long-buried negative feelings to resurface.
My first two weeks or so, my therapist used a technique where she would tell the story of my assault, with as little or as much detail as I opted for. What this ultimately did was train my brain to recognize this trauma from a third person perspective. At first, though, hearing my story was, understandably, painful. Feelings from the day it happened began to resurface, along with a wave of newfound anger, and more. Don’t let this scare you away. I encourage you to stick with it. Our bodies get itchy when they heal, and they sometimes hurt; but if not properly taken care of, they become infected and the pain and wound worsen. Approach your mind with this perspective and be patient with it.
It is easy for all the important discussions and advice to get lost in the muddiness of our minds during therapy. I recommend keeping a therapy journal. Taking the time to reflect and organize your thoughts immediately after each session will give you the opportunity to look back. I recommend viewing each session as an hour longer than it actually is. This way, when you put it in your schedule, you’ll have that extra hour for yourself to process what happened in therapy. Going straight to regular life after a therapy session may feel jolting. Again, remember this is a part of your healing journey. Be gentle with yourself.
Give it time. There have been times in therapy where I was sobbing my brains out, and other times I was laughing until my stomach hurt. Then, one day, I felt like a weight had been lifted. On another day, a whole other weight I didn’t think I had lifted, too. I still have little helpful nuggets I kept from going, and I use those in times of crisis or when I’m with a friend going through a crisis. I specifically remember one conversation where I was venting about a family member and at the end of it, I not only felt heard and validated; I understood the family member’s perspective. Sticking it out not only helped me feel validated and understand myself; it opened my eyes to other party’s perspectives.
This is an hour all about you. That may make you uncomfortable, as selflessness and self-centeredness don’t tend to be shared traits in one person. If you aren’t a talker, this could also be a weird transition. Try talking to your therapist about this. There are all kinds of therapy; art therapy, for instance, where you could maybe just draw how you feel. A good therapist will listen, respond accordingly, and ask the right questions.
Have high expectations of your therapist. I don’t mean you should put them on a pedestal or view them as an all-healing deity who has all the answers and will “fix” you. Look for a therapist you trust, connect with, and feel like you’re hanging out with. Find someone who you feel isn’t judging you, and who seems to understand you. I saw several therapists before finding one who really seemed to make a difference for me. I am glad I waited until meeting her before opening-up. For me, I needed a therapist who I felt I could just be me around and crack jokes with. She even entertained my interests in astrology, something I’m sure she had no actual interest or belief in. Her goal was to help me feel comfortable and understood, and that included feeling like I was just chatting with a really wise girlfriend.
Therapy is different for everyone. Healing is not the same for everyone because our experiences differ. While therapists use similar techniques to reach a similar goal, they are going to have various approaches that have similar but different outcomes. Even if something sounds like it can’t work, give it a try. We are all unique, but at the end of the day, we are also all human.
Don’t go into it thinking you’ll be who you once were. Life is meant to push us forward. Even when we are being held back, life is pushing us. That’s how I try to view the hard days. Sometimes I get snarky with life and tell it “um, not helpful!” like I told my dad as a teenager, and that’s fine. In the long run, I know I’m supposed to change over time. Experiences always change us. Trauma will change us. Therapy will help ease your pain, build new pathways in your brain, teach you coping mechanisms, help lift your burdens, build confidence and see the world with a new hope. It will change you, but it won’t change you back. That may sound harsh, but you don’t ever want to go back. Life is always moving forward, and nothing can stop you from becoming the best you.
I’m excited for you to find the best you. You got this. Now lie down on that couch and tell that new friend how this article made you feel.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.