10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Therapy

As a therapist and as someone who goes to therapy often, I see a huge overlap in my sessions with clients and in my own sessions as a client.

One of the biggest things is realizing how much stuff I wish I knew before starting therapy. A lot of my clients have shared similar thoughts, so I wanted to list them here for you, in case you’ve been on the fence about starting therapy.

1. There Doesn’t Need To Be Something “Wrong” With You To Get Therapy

Thankfully, we live in a time where if someone mentions they’re getting therapy, everyone doesn’t immediately gasp in horror. Even so, there does still seem to be a misconception that to get therapy, there must be something “wrong” with you. This is not the case.  

No one is perfect, so let’s be honest: we can all benefit from understanding ourselves better. Even if you don’t think you’re depressed, anxious or experiencing any other kind of “problem”, seeing a therapist can be beneficial.

Therapy can help you process and express your feelings in a healthy manner, give you tools to make better decisions, build better relationships, and boost your self-esteem.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It kind of is, especially when you find the right fit.

2. It May Take Time To Find The Right Therapist

Ok so you’ve decided to get therapy and you’ve managed to find a therapist. After a couple of sessions, you start to feel that your therapist’s approach doesn’t really work for you. So what do you do now?

Look, I’ll be real with you. Therapy can get expensive, we all know that. You’re spending hard-earned money and valuable time. So, if after a few sessions you don’t think your therapist fits your needs, you’re allowed to find another one. You DO NOT need to sit through something that does not feel helpful, no matter how nice the therapist is.

A therapist can be nice AND not a good fit for you.

Remember, therapy is for you. Do what’s best for you.

Being transparent about this may be a little awkward, and ultimately it’s for the best. Therapists are aware and very open to this concept, so I know myself and many of my colleagues do not find this to be an offensive concept at all.

Pro-tip: many therapists offer free consultations over the phone. This is a great opportunity to ask questions before you start paying for sessions, in order to assess whether they’re the right fit for you. As you’re speaking with them, try to see how you feel.

After a phone session, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it easy to talk to them?
  • What kind of therapy do they specialize in?
  • Would you be comfortable sharing information without holding back?
  • Do you feel that you can trust them?

These might seem like tough questions to answer during a short phone call, but like many things, sometimes it’s best to trust your gut.

You may need a couple of phone consultations with different therapists to find the right fit for you.

Do your homework so you can make an informed decision.

3. Therapy Takes Time – It’s Not A Quick Fix

Once you find the right therapist, you may be tempted to think of therapy like a band-aid – just slap it on a cut, and it’ll heal your wound in no time. If only it were that easy and simple.

I’m not saying that therapy is difficult per se, but it’s not a quick fix. Like all things that are healthy and sustainable, therapy takes time and effort. Certain kinds of therapy are short-term and time-limited, but others require a more long-term investment. Depending on your unique needs, the length of therapy will vary.

So if you feel like you’re not “cured” right after your first session, it’s ok! In fact, (spoiler alert) there probably isn’t a “cure” for the problems you’re facing. Instead, therapy will allow you to develop skills and techniques that will help you manage your problems.

Learning how to manage your problems is a process, so be compassionate with yourself and don’t put time restraints or deadlines on your growth. Also equally important is to be mindful of comparing your therapy journey with someone else’s journey.

I suggest having a conversation with your therapist during your first session, in order to lay out your expectations for therapy. In fact, throughout your therapy sessions, don’t be afraid to say and communicate what you need.

Pro tip: If you find its difficult to say certain things, write it out on paper/email and pass it to your therapist to read.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Communicate Your Needs

If you think about it, the concept of therapy is kinda awkward. You’re basically laying out all your deepest insecurities, thoughts and feelings in front of a stranger. And they’re supposed to help you without passing any kind of judgement. Weird!

Frankly, a little awkwardness is normal during therapy. But it shouldn’t stop you from you telling your therapist what you need from them and therapy sessions. Again – therapy is a big investment, so it’s in both your best interests to be honest about what you’re looking to get out of these sessions.

Some people may find this easier to do than others. And that’s totally fine. As I mentioned before, therapy is a process. If during this process you suddenly realize what you need and you feel comfortable voicing it, tell your therapist.

Similarly, if you don’t like something, share that as well. Trust me, it’ll make both your lives easier. Your therapy will be a lot more effective if you’re comfortable and if you feel that your needs are being addressed.

Besides open communication, it’s also crucial to be honest during therapy.

Sarah Ahmed psychotherapist MSW RSW

Short Story Time With Sarah

I found it to be extremely uncomfortable going to a therapy session as a client. Just like most of you, I personally found it very difficult to share my thoughts, feelings and insecurities to a stranger. Even more so because as a therapist myself, I usually am on the receiving end!

So I started out by writing everything, on a paper initially and I would hand that to my therapist so they had an idea of where my mind was. Eventually, I found myself more and more comfortable sharing my concerns.

5. Honesty Really Is The Best Approach

You may be rolling your eyes at this point:

“Duh, Sarah, I’m obviously not gonna lie to my therapist.”

And sure, it sounds pretty obvious. But come on, we’re all human (right?) and as humans, we just want people to like us, including our therapist.

Sometimes, if you’re afraid to share something private and embarrassing, lying seems like the best way to save face. Other times, we’re afraid of being judged or of the consequences associated with being honest.

You also may not fully trust your therapist, which can prevent you from being transparent when sharing your feelings. This happens often in the initial session as you are getting to know your therapist.

When it comes to therapy, honestly is the really best approach to it. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your sessions, being open and straightforward really is the best option. It’s important to remember that building a trusting relationship with your therapist takes time.

This can look like, letting your therapist know that you have a pressing issue on your mind however you are not ready to talk about it yet.

If you are worried about the consequences of sharing some information, ask your therapist what would happen should in a “hypothetical situation”.

Remember – a good therapist isn’t going to judge you or make you feel small after you share private information. They will guide you through your own feelings so you can learn to be more accepting of yourself. It’s a team effort that requires patience and mutual trust.

6. Therapy Is A Team Effort

On that note, it’s important to remember that therapy isn’t just a one-sided process. Yes, you’re expected to work through your problems, but you’re not working by yourself.

You’re working with your therapist. It is a team effort.

Similarly, don’t expect your therapist to tell you how to “get better”. Instead, they’ll work with you through your thoughts and emotions. It’s a dynamic, back-and-forth collaboration that requires effort from both parties. So if you feel like you’re not getting that effort from your therapist, let them know.

Also, be prepared to put in the work. If your therapist suggests certain skills and techniques you should practice outside of therapy, do them!

They’re being recommended for a reason. If you find that you aren’t able to do it, then perhaps revisiting those skills and setting some realistic techniques may be more effective.

Like any skill in life, practicing therapeutic skills makes you better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.

7. You May Experience A Therapy “Hangover”

One thing I wish I knew before starting therapy was that after certain heavy sessions, I would feel exhausted. I’d go home, and just want to sleep forever. A good strategy is to schedule something enjoyable/relaxing for yourself.

For instance, after a heavy session, grab a iced drink and sit in a park. Allow your thoughts to run through without any judgements. This is also a good time to practice some grounding skills, to bring ease to a tensed body.

As I said before, therapy requires effort. Emotional effort. And like working out at the gym, working out your emotions can be tiring.

If you don’t feel happy or free after a therapy session, don’t be alarmed/worried/ashamed – this is totally normal.

You’re not going to feel amazing after every session – especially when you’ve just talked through the rough stuff. In fact, many times clients report feeling worse before they start feeling better.

Picture this: You are walking on the street and trip on a banana peel and fall down. You have a huge gash on your knee. In order to this to heal well, you will have to clean that area, many times using an alcohol wipe. That cleaning process will sting, sometimes one wipe is sufficient and sometimes you need to wipe it 3-4 times. Each time it stings. After that area is cleaned, you are on the path to a well healed knee shortly!

Some sessions in therapy are similar to that alcohol wipe.

Be patient, be kind and give yourself the space to work through your feelings. Of course, talk to your therapist about these feelings! That’s what they’re there for.

8. Go To Your Session Even If You Have Nothing To Talk About

Some days, you’ll be excited to go into your therapist’s office and spill the proverbial tea (the tea in this case being life updates, and your associated thoughts and emotions). Other days, you may think you don’t really have anything to talk about.

And that’s ok, but before you cancel your appointment, it’s a good idea to remember that you don’t have to an “agenda” before going into each session. A good therapist will be able use the time you have to ask questions about things you may not have considered. Even if you weren’t planning on it, you may make important breakthroughs when you thought you didn’t really have much to talk about.

9. Don’t Count Out Virtual Therapy

Given that face-to-face therapy sessions are pretty rare right now, you may be inclined to put off getting virtual therapy because it’s just not the same.

And you’re right – while, virtual therapy isn’t completely new in the mental health world, it’s a pretty novel concept for many of us. That doesn’t mean it’s ineffective or that it doesn’t work. I’ve talked pretty extensively about virtual therapy before, which you can check out here.

Long story short: virtual therapy is different from in-person therapy. But it can still be extremely valuable and useful. It’ll require some adjusting, working through inevitable technological issues, and finding a private space at home. And honestly, having your first therapy session virtually isn’t ideal in any situation.

But it’s important to remember that now more than ever, we need to be ok with asking for help, even if that help is outside of our comfort zone. Therapists are trained to help you no matter what the medium – so take advantage of that!

10. Therapy Is An Investment In YOU

For many of us, the decision to start therapy isn’t easy. It can require an internal debate, lots of discussion and weighing the pros vs. the cons.

One thing that’s not debatable: therapy is an investment in your long-term well-being. It’s for you. It’s a pretty big investment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The decision to start therapy is brave one, don’t forget. It requires introspection, which can be uncomfortable. But it’s the first step you need to take to start taking care of yourself. Eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and taking care of your mental health – they all fall under the same umbrella.

Of course, it’s important that we acknowledge that not everyone can afford private therapy. Systematic inequalities do exist when it comes to accessing mental health services, but that doesn’t mean that they should exist. Many community organizations offers various kinds of affordable therapy, depending on your needs. There are also many self-help websites and books available if you prefer quick and independent options.

There are several options available on the web, however I find this resource – takecare19 – to be very thorough and helpful.

Wrap It Up

To varying degrees, we’ve all experienced some pretty lows lately. And these lows are often accompanied by changes in our mental health. In situations like this, it’s essential that we remind ourselves it’s ok to ask for help.

Whether it’s reaching out to a therapist at a clinic, or a friend or family member – talk through your feelings. You may be comfortable with one over the other, but whoever it is, reach out to someone.

Therapists are uniquely trained to deal with all kinds of problems. I may a little biased (or a lot) but therapy is incredibly rewarding, both in the short-term and long-term.

Have you considered getting therapy? What are some of the concerns stopping you from getting help?

My awesome team is always here to help, and ofcourse you are always welcome to connect with me should you have any questions, or just say hi!

Until next time,

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
WellNest Psychotherapy Services

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