As a psychotherapist with over 25 years counseling experience, I’ve developed some habits, for better a worse, as a counselor. One of the better habits is ending the first session early to leave more time for wrapping up and preparing for the next session I usually start by saying something like, “We need to close this session for now. Congratulations, you’ve survived your first therapy session.” Invariably, my client’s shoulders relax and they start talking about how nervous they felt to begin and how surprised they are at how comfortable it was. I think it’s important for a client to be able to talk about that, so I reserve that time to process their feelings.
Fear is the Biggest Obstacle to Seeking Counseling
It’s natural to feel apprehensive about starting therapy. Among the reasons people are hesitant are:
Fear of the Stigma of Going to Counseling
There is still stigma associated with going to therapy. Fear of being labeled with a mental health disorder or being called “crazy” or “weak.” Some people fear what will happen if they are given a diagnosis and how it might effect their ability to get jobs or how their insurance rates could increase.
Fear of Being Judged in Counseling
Sometimes people fear that if they allow themselves to be vulnerable in therapy, they will be judged or misunderstood by their therapist. It takes courage to disclose their fears, hurts, or “ugly” thoughts. You may feel intimidated to share with someone deemed an “authority figure.” This is especially true if you grew up in an unhealthy family where being vulnerable brought shame or where your family used your vulnerability to exploit or ridicule you.
Fear of Change
Sometimes people don’t know what will be asked of them in therapy and the idea that they may have to do things they don’t want to, or that by making changes they risk losing their current lifestyle or support system can be very scary.
The Reality of What You Will Find in Counseling
After all these years, I think these are the most important things you can and should expect from counseling:
First, it takes courage to go into therapy so you don’t just get it when you start. You start therapy because you muster the courage from within yourself. I hope you will honor your own courage to begin. You are stating an intention to change your life and you put your faith and trust in someone you just met. That is all your courage, my friend. And, hopefully, your therapist will respect and honor that courage and your willingness to trust them. Hopefully, by working with your therapist, you develop more self-assurance and courage to grow.
Understanding and Validation
Often you start therapy when you are in a dark time in your life. Sometimes when you feel great pain and wonder what is wrong with you that you suffer so much. Often a therapist’s most important first job is to help you see that you’re in pain because your situation is absolutely painful and that your pain is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Or that the defenses that work against you now were absolutely essential ways of surviving in a dysfunctional home. In other words, therapy will help to dispel your shame for being the way you are and help you learn to understand and have compassion for yourself.
Often, we think we are the only ones who struggle, especially in this day and age of the perfect social media lives. A good therapist can help you feel normal for being the way you are but also assure you that others have walked a similar path with great success.
New Perspective and Insight
Sometimes, just by speaking aloud about your life, you begin to develop new ways of seeing it. Sometimes it is up to your therapist to help point things out to you – like how you always feel more depressed after a visit to a critical parent’s home or how you go above and beyond with people hoping to seek their approval. It is valuable to get the perspective an objective, caring outsider who is in your corner but has nothing personal at stake in what you choose.
Especially when we grow up in dysfunctional homes, we learn unhealthy ways of being with people. We may learn that it is not OK to say no when we want to. We may learn to stuff our feelings rather than stand up to a bully. Your therapist can point out these patterns and help you learn that it is OK to set limits and boundaries. They can encourage you to stick to your boundaries, even when your loved ones don’t like it. As my own clinical mentor said to me one time, “It’s difficult to change when you live in a dysfunctional family. When you start getting better, the family will label you as the ‘crazy’ one. They don’t like that you upset their system.” It’s important to have the support of a therapist to reinforce and support your health changes.
A Way Out of Suffering
I wish I could guarantee that therapy solves all your problems or that you will not feel pain. I’m afraid not, my friend. What I can tell you is that therapy will help you find a way out of your pain or, if that is not possible (say you have a chronic illness or there is a family member you are not willing to sever ties with), therapy can help you find ways to stop struggling against things being the way they are and learning to accept that which you cannot change and give you tools and skills to manage and even thrive.
At Marietta West Cobb Counseling, you will find a therapist to meet the needs of almost everyone in your family. We work with children ages 3 and up, teens, adults, couples, and families. We are all allies to the LGBTQ+ adults and children. And we are here to support you and your loved ones in living your best, most successful lives. Contact us today to begin your journey to success and happiness.