What to Expect from Psychotherapy
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a process in which the therapist and you as the client talk and work together to try to resolve your personal problems or mental health struggles. Through psychotherapy, psychologists help people of all ages live happier, healthier and more productive lives. Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between you as an individual and your psychologist. Grounded in dialogue, it provides a supportive environment that allows you to talk openly with someone who’s objective, neutral and nonjudgmental. You and your psychologist will work together to identify and change the life patterns that are keeping you from feeling your best. Over the course of therapy, you will not only have recovered from or solved the problem that brought you in, but you will have learned new skills so you can better cope with whatever challenges arise in the future.
It's normal to feel nervous when you head off to your first psychotherapy appointment. But preparing ahead of time and knowing what to expect can help calm your nerves. A typical psychotherapy session lasts about 50 minutes. To make the most of your time, make a list of the points you want to cover in your first session and what you want to work on in psychotherapy. Be prepared to share information about what is bringing you to see the psychologist; even a vague idea of what you want to accomplish can help you and your psychologist proceed efficiently and effectively. For your first session, bring with you the paperwork you have been sent to fill out prior to your appointment, including if relevant, any referral letters you have been given by your doctor. You may want to bring a note pad to jot things down during the session, and a diary to make further ongoing appointments.
The First Session
Don't worry that you won't know what to do once the session actually begins. It’s normal to feel a little anxious in the first few sessions. Your psychologist has experience setting the tone and getting things started. She is trained to guide each session in effective ways to help you get closer to your goals. In fact, the first session might seem like a game of twenty questions. Sitting face to face with you, your psychologist would start off by acknowledging the courage it takes to start psychotherapy. She will also go over logistical matters, such as fees, how to make or cancel an appointment, privacy and confidentiality. This first appointment is primarily an information-gathering session for the therapist, as she needs to learn a lot about you and your history in a short amount of time in order to properly evaluate your concerns and arrive at an understanding on how to best help you in therapy.
What Happens Next
As therapy progresses, you will feel more at ease with the relationship with your therapist and the nature of your difficulties will become clearer. Often through therapy, the client realises that issues other than the initial presenting problem are causing them distress, and if so, this may change the focus of therapeutic treatment. However the outcome goal remains the same – for the therapist to help and guide you through and out of your distress. Over the course of therapy you will increase your self–awareness and understanding of your problem/s and have opportunity to discuss painful experiences or negative feelings in a confidential setting.
The Therapeutic Relationship
The therapeutic relationship is seen as one of the main therapeutic tools for achieving client change. Whatever therapeutic processes are involved in the client-therapist relationship, research has consistently shown a significant association between this relationship and outcome for the client. The therapeutic relationship is unique, in that for many clients it is the first intimate connection they have had with another person where profound feelings, beliefs and thoughts are exposed. Psychotherapy should provide you with an open and safe setting that emphasizes self-exploration and change without feeling the need to censor or conform. Although it is important to feel that your therapist is supportive, compassionate and caring, that does not mean that difficulties or challenges will not emerge in psychotherapy or in the therapeutic relationship. For example, sometimes clients may feel therapy isn’t helping or that they are stuck, or even feel angry or upset by something the therapist has said during a session. Research on psychotherapy reports that clients frequently leave therapy prematurely because they don’t want to address these concerns. Whilst under no circumstances should a client feel pressured to return to therapy if they wish to leave, it is important to note that negative feelings towards the therapist and the therapeutic process are not unusual. Worked through they are opportunity for learning & insight, so I encourage clients to risk voicing all negative feelings, particularly those they feel about the therapy process & therapeutic relationship. For example, if a client can successfully process uncomfortable feelings they hold towards me, this increases his or her chances of being able to process difficult feelings towards significant others in his or her life. Thus I welcome clients’ concerns and challenges, because they are often therapeutic opportunities that contribute to their further growth and reparation.