Misconceptions or intimidations around therapy are quite common and in some cases may prevent people from exploring the world of therapy. We invited Frame therapist Alyssa Mancao to join us in addressing a few of those questions.
Q: I've never been to therapy before, and I'm nervous for my first session. What should I expect? And is there something that I should prepare?
Alyssa: One of the things that you could do if you wanted would be coming prepared to therapy with a list of some of the things that you’re hoping to get out of therapy, what your goals in therapy are. Oftentimes sometimes people come to the first session and they're not sure what to talk about, which then makes them feel uncomfortable. So, you could create a list of some of the symptoms that you’re experiencing and how it's affecting you. You might even want to come up with scenarios that have happened in the last couple of weeks that you want to process with your therapist.
If you journal, perhaps journaling prior to your first session about how you're feeling would be helpful. And if you feel like you're kind of stuck in the first therapy session, maybe even reading to your therapist what you’ve written in your journal could be helpful in identifying some things you’re looking to process in therapy.
Q: My coworker suggested that I try therapy because it's really helped her. Is there a point in me going, if I've never suffered from anxiety, depression, trauma, or anything else?
Alyssa: This is a common question that I hear from a lot of people, and from people who call my office to inquire about therapy. There's this notion that therapy is for people who have suffered from anxiety, depression, trauma, and while that's true, there are also a lot of people who go to therapy for personal growth.
There are a lot of people who go to therapy for just managing day-to-day stressors. You don't have to suffer from clinical anxiety or depression to go to therapy.
Something that I do say to people who are interested in therapy, but feel like they'll have nothing to talk about is, just try it and see how it feels!
Oftentimes the experiences that we go through in life are embedded in our subconscious minds, and we're not often aware of some of the nuances of how we think, how we behave and how that affects us in our relationships. So for me, what therapy is, it's like holding a mirror up to your blind spots. It helps you see the parts of yourself that you may be largely unaware of.
So, in addition to those who seek therapy for clinical diagnosable mental illness, a lot of people go to therapy for personal growth too, and that's just as valid.
Q: I had my first session with a therapist, but I feel like she just asked me questions and didn't give me any advice. Is this normal? I was hoping to make some big changes in the first session.
Alyssa: So for the first session, this is actually quite normal for a lot of therapists. The purpose of asking a lot of questions in the first session is to be able to get an understanding of what's happening in your internal world, and it sets the foundation for future therapy sessions.
It's really important to know that every therapist operates quite differently. There will be some therapists that will use the first few sessions for an initial assessment or information gathering. And what that is is they gather information about reasons that you were coming to therapy: your family history, your career, who you're closest with currently, your social support systems, any trauma that you've been through in your life, etc. It's really the opportunity for them, as the therapist, to gather information about you at the onset.
Other therapists are a lot more laissez Faire. You kind of come in and you can talk about what it is that you're experiencing currently, just in the present moment. I do think that if it continues this way for several sessions, it's an important thing to bring up with your therapist. For me, it's really important that when people come into therapy, they talk about whatever it is that they want to talk about or what they need. It's, it really depends on you and what you feel comfortable with.
I also want to talk about the notion that therapists give advice while sometimes that does happen. For the most part, what we do is we help, we ask questions to help you come to the answers on your own in a way that feels most authentic to you.
I also think it's really important to define what that means to “get the most out of your session”?
What are your expectations? What are your goals? Because if “getting the most out of the session” means having a profound epiphany, that doesn't always happen in the first session. Usually the first session is building rapport with the therapist and also talking about what is expected in therapy, and creating goals for yourself in therapy.
Typically in the first session, it's not common to make big changes, however you might feel something, like feeling a little bit better, or feeling validated, and it's important to know that that's a good outcome too.
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