How it started.
The first time I visited my therapist, it wasn’t because of a personal crisis or a major life change. I was halfway through my life coaching certification, and one area of the training is recognizing when someone’s challenges are beyond the scope of coaching and would be better addressed in therapy.
Knowing there was a possibility that I might someday need to have this conversation with a client, I didn’t feel right encouraging a person to pursue something I wasn’t willing to do myself. As the trainers said, “You need walk the talk.”
There had been times in my life when I considered seeing a therapist, but eventually the moment passed, and I never pursued it.
So, it was more out of curiosity than anything else that I decided to pull the trigger and finally try out therapy firsthand. Admittedly I had gone through a break-up a few months prior, and I was pretty sure I was carrying some of that baggage still, but I was basically fine. (Famous last words, right?)
Meeting my therapist.
I got a referral from a friend, made an appointment, and a few days later I was sitting in the living room of my therapist’s Brooklyn apartment.
I don’t remember too much about my first session except that she asked about my family and other personal history. At some point, I explained that I was doing a life coaching training and that I just thought I would do a few sessions to get a sense of what therapy was. Nothing long term. (My therapist still gives me crap about this.)
She looked at me skeptically and responded that she doesn’t work with people short-term. I was taken back. I imagine I was worried about how I was going to pay for continuous therapy. Plus, I was suddenly not sure I was ready to make this kind of a commitment.
The first few sessions were awkward and hard. I resistant a lot of things and struggled with a lot of the questions she was asking me. I didn’t like the new feelings the were percolating up and how it was casting a different lens on experiences I had.
From mess to maintenance.
It was messy and at times unpleasant…and then it was less so. And then it was even less so. I saw a lot of my life patterns falling away. I noticed changes in the way I dealt with conflict and adversity. It was like being given a toolbox I could reach into whenever I needed. Sure, there were times when I realized I was missing a tool and had to wait for my next appointment to figure out what it was.
Just recently I noticed that therapy has become less about “doing the work” and more about maintenance and thinking about bigger things. Now that I can mostly manage my day-to-day stuff, I have the bandwidth to reflect on deeper more complex issues.
There were many times when I wanted to walk away. When it was too much of an emotional or financial strain. But deep down, I knew it was the best thing I could be doing for myself.
Would I have survived the last 4 years without therapy? Sure. But I don’t care to speculate on where I would be or what kind of state I would be in.
Four things to know if you are considering seeing a therapist.
#1 You don’t need to be in crisis to start therapy.
I was fortunate to start at a time when I was “stable” for lack of a better word. By the time I showed up at a session with an urgent problem, I had developed a trusted relationship with my therapist. While there is no bad time to start therapy, there is an advantage to creating that relationship when things are going okay. Because when the shit hits the emotional fan, the last thing you’ll want to do is start kissing frogs. Which leads me to…
#2 You might have to kiss a couple frogs.
I was lucky to find the right therapist for me on the first try, but that’s not the case for everyone. I’ve heard people say they went to therapy, but they didn’t like their therapist, so they never went back. What’s more likely is that it wasn’t the right therapist for them. Therapists are humans and they come in all varieties. I would encourage you to seek out a therapist that works for you, even if it means shopping around.
#3 It’s going to get messy before it gets better.
If your therapist is doing their job right, they are going to ask you to look at things about yourself that you have been avoiding, consciously or unconsciously. You know all those problems that you wouldn’t have if it weren’t for everyone else? You’re going to discover all the ways you’ve contributed to them and compounded on them. You'll start to think about whether you want to keep doing the same thing over and over again, or if you want to start making some changes and taking responsibility for the results.
#4 There will be scars, but you WILL heal.
Reflecting on your habits and examining your thought patterns will hopefully lead to new decisions and actions. Making changes is complicated and affects those around us. It means severing some parts of yourself, uncovering aspects that were buried, and welding on new features. But once the major work is done, the tweaking and adjustments aren’t so bad.
I encourage you to venture outside your comfort zone and make an appointment.
“Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone.”