3 Things to Understand Before Starting Therapy

psychology session sign vectorAs humans, we go around with assumptions that often create our reality and our expectations. However, life doesn’t always live up to these expectations and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Therapy, in particular, is a big issue where people come in thinking it’s going to look a certain way, but it ends up looking radically different (for the better, ideally) – if you let it. These 3 things I’m going to point out are important to know before starting therapy or really any process that is meant to induce change. It could be applied to a career change, personal growth, anxiety, depression, fill in whatever issue you’re trying to change. Let me explain what I mean…

      1. You’re not always going to see change immediately.

Some individuals come into therapy consciously or unconsciously looking for a quick fix. This is completely understandable, and if it were up to me, I would love to provide that quick fix, but it’s not always that easy. It takes time to understand the issue and the complexities. When you go into the doctor, you get a blood test and that tells you all the vitals and what systems may be affecting what. Unfortunately, there isn’t as “easy” of a tool in psychotherapy. By the time someone come into therapy, there is already a deeply ingrained pattern that has affected multiple systems. If that weren’t the case, the couple, family, or individual wouldn’t be coming in – it would be something they could probably fix on their own. This means that as much time as it took for this issue to fester, it’s going to take some time to undo the knots and get you on the path you want to be on. And to get on this path…

     2. You’re going to be asked to do something you haven’t done before.

You’re going to be asked to stretch beyond your current capabilities. Things may not happen right away and it may take a period of trial and error, but that’s part of the process. When you go to the doctor, sometimes it takes time to find the medication that works for you. Other times though, it does happen quicker. It’s the same idea here. As I said earlier, there is a deeply ingrained pattern that is usually underlying any issue that a person presents in therapy. The initial goal of therapy is just to begin understanding what this patten is. You may think that you’re the victim in this patten, but I want to ask you to consider that even the victim plays some role in the development or maintenance of the problem (Note: this is not true in all cases, especially those of trauma and tragedies). You may not have intended to be a part of the pattern and that’s ok. Life happens. There’s no need for blame, but I’m asking you to acknowledge your role. Notice the difference between blame and responsibility. It’s ok to say that you may have been responsible for something without the blame. There is no judgment or shame associated with that. It takes courage and strength to do so.

Whether doing couples therapy or treating someone individually, a therapist will ask individuals to do things that they may not have done before. It may be psychologically painful at first, but that’s how it is when trying to do something new. The analogy I like to use is if you want to build a lot of muscle but have never been to the gym, you’re going to have to start lifting some weights. But you can’t start lifting the 100lb dumbbell. You have to start where you are and at your own level. What happens when you start lifting weights? You stretch. You get sore. You may be in pain. But what happens underneath that pain? It tears your muscles apart so it can rebuild. What does that mean psychologically? You have to shake up the foundation underlying the surface to rebuild the muscle you want. Like I said though, you can’t start by lifting the 100lb weight. You have to start with where you are. Pick up the 5lb weight and see how that feels. Adjust accordingly. And then as you begin to grow, you can begin handling more resistance. You have to take it step by step and think, what is the next best decision I can make for myself? Don’t get wrapped up in the end result. Focus right here. Focus right now. What’s the next best decision?

      3. Stay open. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

This may be the most important point I want to make throughout this blog. As we begin to grow through the process of change or therapy, it will be challenging because you are being asked to stretch beyond your current capabilities. You may even be challenged (psychologically speaking). As a therapist, the main advice I could give someone is to stay open to the process. I see a direct correlation (just my observation) between how open someone is and the amount of change they experience. If you’re not open to feedback and ways of changing, then there is little that a therapist can do. However, those that receive the most benefit are often the most open to hearing new ways of being and doing.

Therapy won’t always look the way you want it to look like and you have to be willing to stay open to what can happen. Be willing to release the need to control for how therapy will progress and trust the process. None of this means to become a passenger in this process – speak up if something isn’t working or if your therapist isn’t doing what you want, but also trust that there is someone else (the therapist) who sees things that you may not see. They are trying to guide you to places that you have not been. It may be emotionally scary and it’s not always going to be easy.

At the end of the day though, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. As Gabrielle Bernstein has said, “You can change a pattern only if you’re willing to change it.” Willingness is the key and if it’s not there, there isn’t much else to do. You can try. You can go at it from different angles, but each person is on their own path and that is ok. Listen to the feedback others give you. It may be subtle, but those are the clues into new ways of being that may ultimately give you the change that you want.

Before I finish with this post, I want to make sure of one crucial thing. Don’t take this post at face value. Apply these principles to your own relationships – it doesn’t have to be therapy. Often in our lives, we want our life circumstances to change quickly. We want it to fast. We want to be this person we’ve always to be, but to do that, you have to stretch. You have to grow. Without resistance, you won’t build the muscles necessary for you to go forth with your life.

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Rubin Khoddam, Clinical Psychology PhD student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Blogs by Rubin, Child & Family, Relationships, Therapy

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