Newcomers to therapy may feel a little bit uncomfortable about certain things they are unaware of or don’t understand. As with any new experience or relationship, there will be unfamiliar territory to navigate in the beginning. That shouldn’t stop you from getting the therapy you need, however, and any good therapist will be able to help you overcome any fears or answer any questions you may have. Here are a few examples of some misconceptions people commonly have about therapy in general.
My therapist will be a robot that doesn’t understand me.
Unlike the impersonal professional you may envision, a therapist is often called to the field because they’ve had experiences of their own that led to self-discovery, and they tend to have a deep capacity to empathize with others as well. Of course, the therapist is a human being who has gone through life stages and inevitable challenges—failure, loss, relationship trouble, the death of a loved one among them. In all likelihood, particular experiences have shaped the direction that a therapist has chosen to take his or her career. While most therapists go through a somewhat similar type of education and training to make them qualified to be in their position, their unique personality and approach will determine whether you find them a good fit. Just like clients, no two therapists are exactly alike. In the unlikely event that you have a therapist who seems like they’re just going through the motions and don’t really “get” you, you’re free to find yourself a better match. Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions to help develop a level of trust, and ensure you’re understood.
“You deserve to trust your therapy to someone trained, licensed, and experienced. But it’s not their job to pass judgment on you. Instead, you’ll more likely be met with empathy, compassion, and understanding.” – P. 68
I’ll be hit with a large bill I didn’t expect.
Like any doctor’s visit, there will be a discussion about how you will handle the financial obligation of therapy and an expectation of payment at the time of service. It doesn’t need to be an awkward conversation, however, and your therapist should communicate ahead of time any fees and arrangements that are expected or available to you. Your bill should never come as a surprise, and both you and your therapist have a responsibility and a right to communicate any concerns that arise.
“No matter how much you come to like your therapist, payment is a good reminder that you are there to receive professional care, not to make small talk. This isn’t a friendship, it’s a service—and one that should be well worth the price.” – P. 34
I will be pressured to talk the whole time.
Therapy is meant to help you de-stress, not stress you out. How much and what you choose to share will be up to you, even as you’re asked questions to keep you on the right track towards your goals. If you need some time to collect your thoughts, silence is certainly welcome. Remember that you are paying the therapist, and it’s appropriate for the focus to be on you. However, that doesn’t mean you need to fill the air with nonstop talking. Unlike in social settings where reciprocation of communication is expected, in therapy, silences are welcome. Long pauses are part of the process, and give you a chance to think, check in with how you feel, and get clear on what you’d like to say. Your therapist is trained to guide you if you need help—but you won’t be forced to say anything you don’t want to say. “Quiet as they may be, your therapist will not be passive as you disclose. Don’t stress about it. The therapist is trained to make you feel comfortable and safe and to guide you through the process.” – P. 48
My therapist will speak in clinical terms I can’t understand.
There may be some words and phrases that your therapist will use that sound foreign to you. For instance, you may hear your therapist “invite” you to relax and begin when you’re ready. Quite simply, this is your cue to take a deep breath and let him or her know what’s on your mind and in your heart. You may be asked to “reflect” on something that was discussed in your session, or offered an “insight” to help you see things in a new way. As always, your therapist will talk you through any prompts, suggestions or observations, and answer any questions you may have. For more about what therapists say, consult my new book, Starting Therapy.
“Trust that well-chosen questions are being asked for a reason. Your therapist wants to know more than just the facts. They’re searching for meaning, and that tends to be revealed with careful observation.” – P. 76
For more information, check out my new book, Starting Therapy: A Guide to Getting Ready, Feeling Informed, and Gaining the Most from Your Sessions. This easy-to-read guide is a quick primer for anyone who wants to know what to expect before they hit the therapist’s couch.