What Therapy is Like…And What It’s Not

By: Monica Jacob 

Telling people I work as a psychologist is often followed by expressions of surprise and curiosity: “So what exactly do you do with your clients? Do you just talk and solve their problems?”

Psychotherapy being called ‘talk therapy’ possibly propagates the myth that therapy is just talk. Every individual experiences therapy differently, but there are common myths that are widely believed.

Myths about Therapy

  • People who seek and attend therapy are weak and dependent
  • Therapy will ‘fix’ me
  • My therapist will have the answers to all my problems
  • All my issues will be traced back to my childhood
  • Therapy is just commonsense
  • Once I start therapy, I cannot leave

What I can Expect in Therapy?

Therapy is not meant to be a passive process where you talk and the therapist listens and takes notes. It is a collaborative journey which involves understanding your story, your beliefs about yourself and the world, and your existing coping strategies, among many other factors.

If you’re thinking about therapy, it might be helpful to know that you might ‘feel all the feelings’. It is not uncommon to feel relief or have a good cry when you can share your emotions within a non-judgmental space. You will also learn helpful strategies and skills to manage crises that are more acute in nature.

Many of us find it rather difficult to sit with distressing emotions as it is might not be something we are used to doing. In therapy, you will expand your capacity to be more comfortable with these feelings and not see them as being ‘negative’ or ‘bad’. You will learn how to contain acute emotions and not push them away. However, you will never have to share anything before you feel ready. You will not be asked to confront things before you feel like you can handle them. Therapy will progress at a pace you are comfortable with, and this is something that you can communicate to your therapist.

What Happens in Therapy?

Firstly, a detailed assessment will give your therapist an idea of how to tailor-make a treatment plan for you. Mutual goals are agreed upon and there is a shared understanding of what is being worked on. Sessions will broadly focus on achieving these goals but it is not always a rigidly structured process. What you say is always kept confidential, and the therapist will respect your worldview. Anything you want or need to say will be accepted.

Some of us might expect solutions to be found and decisions to be made for us, but gaining a sense of agency is also something that your therapist will encourage you to develop. Along the way, you might uncover fears, dreams, desires and conflicts. It is likely that you will process old memories and discuss challenging relationships. You might explore themes across our lifespan and our styles of attachment. You could even conduct behavioral experiments to test out some of your beliefs.

Every therapist and individual is so unique, and this makes it challenging to describe a ‘typical’ therapy session. What you talk about will be based on your situation and the goals that are set. However, regardless of your therapist’s orientation, they will provide a non-judgmental approach where they bring their expertise to help you work through your challenges. Therapy is so beautifully multi-layered and will take your whole experience into account. It’s fair to conclude that talk is a big part of the process. However, it might be crudely reductionist to say that therapy is merely talk.

Where Can I Start?

If you have been considering therapy and are unsure, here’s your nudge to pursue that curiosity. You can begin by looking for a psychologist either based on what you’re struggling with, their area of practice or your location. It might be the path to gaining greater insight and awareness into your inner world, and providing you with the support you need.

If you are interested in connecting with a mental health professional at our practice, here is the link to an enquiry form.

Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.

About the Author: Monica Jacob is a psychologist with the Centre for Effective Living, who is passionate about understanding each individual’s unique journey and walking alongside them. Her experience includes mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use and adjustment difficulties.

Feature image: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash 

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