So You Want to Go to Therapy

Many of us, at some point in our lives, will reach a point where we can’t quite figure out what to do with all the junk floating around in our lives.  When this point comes, calling a counselor can be a great option to sort through the confusion.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there which can deter people from setting an appointment.

Things to know before you make the call

This article is my attempt to clear up some of that misinformation and hopefully help someone take the step of getting in touch with a therapist when they need it.  So here are a few things that I wish more people knew about therapy.

There are no fainting couches

You’ve seen it in movies, TV, and comics.  It’s short-hand for “character has reached their breaking point.”  Lying on a leather fainting couch with a middle aged man wearing a suit sitting in a chair behind them with a legal pad.  The character is usually crying about how mommy treated them or some other childhood trauma that explains their motivations. Wow, counselors really dig into that right?

No.  No we do not.

In fact, counseling on the whole has not looked like that for decades.  That was the common practice in the days of Freud (IE, the early 20th century), but it looks very different now.  Most counselors have love seats in their office and sit facing their clients.  The fainting couch/sitting behind the client dynamic was a way for psychoanalysts to create therapeutic distance between themselves and their patients while they tried to analyze their childhoods for neuroses and psychoses.

So what does counseling look like now?  It’s more active.  Your counselor isn’t going to do all the work for you.  It’s a collaborative process in which your counselor talks with you about the goals that you want to accomplish, and then works with you to reach those goals.

The client sets the pace

Again, this is something that I see a lot in movies and TV shows.  The counselor, fed up with a “lack of progress” lashes out at the client, in order to show that the character’s flaws are too deep-seated for even a Harvard educated (They’re always Harvard educated…come on fictional Harvard, get your act together) therapist.

Well…that’s not how it works.  While there is a process for a counselor to “fire” a client because they aren’t making progress, it’s not based on any personal issues.  It’s a clinical assessment of progress.  The important thing to keep in mind is that as long as you, the client, are working on your goals, then your counselor isn’t going to fire you.  If they do, there is a process to complain to the board that should be in the informed consent form you sign at the beginning of counseling.

It only works if you do

This is sort of a corollary to the above point, but it’s important enough to be it’s own thing.  Counseling is not about dropping all of your problems on your therapists lap and saying “fix me Doc!”  For one thing, most counselors are not doctors (it only requires a master’s degree to be a counselor); and also, it’s not your counselors job to “fix” you.  Because at the end of the day, regardless of how it might feel, you aren’t “broken.”

Your counselor is there to help you make progress that you might not be able to make on your own.  It’s sort of like an armory: you go in to prepare for the battle ahead.  The example I like to use is that there are 168 hours in a week, and only one is spent in counseling.  The other 167 are your responsibility.  The harder you work to make progress, the more you’re going to get out of counseling.

It doesn’t mean you’ve failed

This is not really something I see so much in pop culture as it is something I see in general culture.  Western society, especially American society, has developed a sort of hard individualism that says that only the weak need help.  This is obviously untrue, and most people would agree if you asked them; just don’t ask them to act on it.  Asking for help is basically admitting defeat, so most people only make the call to see a counselor when the pain has become so intense that they don’t see a way out.  It doesn’t have to be that way of course; when it becomes clear that help is needed, please make the call to get it.

So there you have it!  A few bits to be aware of if you are thinking about seeing a counselor!  What are some other things that you wish you (or other people) knew about counseling before the first session?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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