Visiting a counselor or therapist for the first time isn’t an easy experience. When I felt that I couldn’t manage my depression on my own last March, I asked my parents about meeting with a therapist. It was more of a last ditch effort than a concrete decision; I was scared of the stigma associated with counseling and I was convinced that I would be forced to pigeonhole my life story to the ears of a complete stranger while lying on an uncomfortable couch. However, therapy soon became a beneficial part of my treatment plan towards recovery.
More than anything, therapy is fundamentally centered around YOU. Today, most therapists focus on customized methods instead of just asking cliche questions over and over again. You’ll probably learn from a mix of specific styles of therapy, like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) instead of old-school Freud. Many of these styles utilize unexpected concepts such as meditation. While the counselors I met with may have used “How does that make you feel?” from time to time, our sessions were more about identifying my own stressors, cognitive distortions, and thinking errors. We also worked together to come up with realistic goals and plans to better manage the symptoms of my diagnosis.
To make therapy work for you, it’s important to keep an open mind. At first, I would often become defensive when my counselor questioned my thought patterns but I soon learned that compromise was more productive than conflict. H
owever, it’s also okay to ‘break up’ with a therapist and see someone new if your relationship isn’t able to get off the ground. In my case, I had to visit two different people before I found someone that worked for me.
A good patient-therapist relationship also requires that you put in your best effort. Put simply- this means hard work. It takes willpower to apply the concepts from a session into daily life. My counselor and I spent a lot of time talking but there was also a lot of doing; I was expected to keep a daily journal, record my moods, and develop weekly exercise and relaxation goals. I also had ‘homework’ assignments from different workbooks to do each week.
Although therapy was more work than I first expected, reaching out for help allowed me to broaden my support network and improve my quality of life. I was able to work out confusing questions from relationships and sexuality to managing stress in a safe place that reminded me that I mattered.