Why would I tell my problems to a stranger? Isn’t that pathetic? Shouldn’t I have a friend or family member to help me?
Great questions! First, your therapist is only a stranger the first time you meet. Hopefully, you will quickly feel at ease in her presence and look forward to your sessions. Therapy is the one place where it’s “all about you” and your therapist is specifically trained to help!
The difference between a therapist and a friend or family member is 1) the mental health professional is trained and experienced in talking to people about difficulties and helping them work through them effectively, 2) therapists must abide by confidentiality ethics so you won’t have worry about others “knowing your business,” 3) you will not run the risk of burdening family and friends who may not have the emotional resources to hear your distress, and 4) you will not run the risk of feeling embarrassed or weak around people you see every day after being vulnerable and disclosing private matters.
A mental health professional can help you approach your situation in a new way– teach you new skills, gain different perspectives, listen to you without judgment or expectations, and help you listen to yourself.
How does it work? What happens in sessions?
The first session is called an “intake.” During the intake, your therapist will attempt to help you relax and get oriented to treatment. She will explain her background, describe how therapy works including the benefits and limitations, and clarify what you can expect during treatment. You will briefly discuss your family history, physical health, medications, and other pertinent information so she may complete a thorough bio-, psycho-, social-, spiritual- assessment to identify strengths, barriers to wellness, and areas for growth. Part of this assessment is diagnosing mental health disorders if present. Therapy is collaborative so the therapist will ask getting-to-know-you questions to discover what prompted the call for therapy, the background of the issue(s), and what issues you would like to resolve.
Subsequent sessions are about creating a relationship between the Therapist and Client and working toward therapeutic goals. Primarily, we do this through conversation with the therapist introducing tools, skills, psychoeducation, and reflections to help the client move forward.
What if I don’t have a diagnosis? Can I still get help?
Absolutely! Often, clients begin services when they are feeling deeply depressed and/or anxious to the extent that a medical diagnosis is appropriate. If a client meets the criteria for a mental health diagnosis the therapist will discuss this with the client. Other times, clients are sufficiently managing mental health symptoms, but they need a “coach” to keep them focused on their life goals, to help them take their business to the next level, or to create sustainable relationships. In these cases, life coaching services will be offered. The appropriate service will be recommended by the clinician completing the initial assessment.
How often do I have to come and how long will it take?
The length of treatment and frequency varies. Some issues are solved in 6-10 visits and others require a year or more. The issue(s)-at-hand, the person’s background and temperament, and their resiliency are factors. Therapy sessions will be weekly when you begin treatment with a few exceptions, but most people begin spacing sessions further apart as they build confidence, skills, and emotional health. The frequency of life coaching sessions will vary depending on the package selected.
For therapy, frequency and duration of treatment are part of an on-going discussion between the therapist and client, and therapy services must meet criteria for “medical necessity” when billing insurances. Life coaching services are not covered by insurance and will be provided through pre-packaged self-pay pricing plans.
What can I do before or between sessions to make the best use of my time?
Our lives are often hectic. It is not uncommon for the day a person has therapy to be the day their mind is overwhelmed or blank! You can maximize the effectiveness of your time by investing 10-15 minutes prior to sessions thinking about specific issues or thinking patterns you want to discuss, including any situations that came up since your last visit that were problematic or bothersome. Many clients keep a brief sentence journal during the week where they jot down an incident, what they were thinking, how they were feeling (including emotional symptoms like “bawled” or “felt like I couldn’t breathe”), and what happened. Or they may write “talk to therapist about…” to remind themselves to bring up an important topic or conversation. In some cases, clients arrive for sessions and don’t have words for what they are feeling, in which case, the therapist will help fill in the blanks. Therapy and coaching clients are often given “homework” assignments to complete between sessions. The homework will be a continuation of the client’s treatment learning and reinforcing new skill sets. The therapist strives to move at the client’s pace so homework is client-specific and manageable.