what's it like
to experience therapy?
Susan* has been feeling out of sorts. She's been anxious and preoccupied, and some of her friends have expressed concern about her not being her usual self. She's not sleeping well, she's irritable, and not enjoying the things that used to make her happy. Susan's partner has felt the change too, and recommended she might want to talk to a professional about it.
Susan did a little research on the internet, and made several phone calls to therapists she thought might be a fit. She called me, we chatted, and Susan decided she'd like to schedule her first session with me. She filled out some paperwork online before we met and we confirmed her appointment.
She’s a little nervous when she arrives in the waiting area, but I greet her with a warm smile, a handshake, and welcome her into my office, offering her a cool glass of water. She settles into the couch, rearranging a few cozy pillows, takes a sip of her water and a deep, nervous breath.
I reassure her that it's totally natural to feel a little uncomfortable when you start meeting with a therapist and assure her that I'm really not that scary. She chuckles a bit and starts to share about a nagging pattern of worry and some disturbances in her relationship with her partner. I reflect back to her my understanding of her challenges and check to make sure I have it right and I encourage her to share more about the circumstances leading up the current situation. She can tell I am interested in what she’s sharing and that I want to truly understand where she’s coming from.
Once I feel like I have a good understanding of Susan, including her history and some of the challenging things she’s experienced during her lifetime, we work together to define some goals. The "getting to know" you and history taking stage can take a couple of sessions, so Susan and I agree to meet weekly for at least four weeks to get things rolling. Each week we meet at the same time for 50 minutes. I follow Susan’s lead and see what feels most important to talk about each week, guiding her back toward her goals when necessary, but I'm flexible about taking detours that feel important. Susan experiences me as safe, attentive, calm, caring, unafraid to laugh at the funny things, and unafraid to cry with her about the really hard things.
Susan and I explore how her past experiences affect her in the present and I help her understand and heal from these experiences, so she can leave them in the past. Together, we come up with ideas for things she can do differently to help improve her current situation, as well as different perspectives she can adopt to decrease her inner turmoil. Woven into our discussions, we explore mindfulness, she learns some calming and grounding exercises, I teach her how to tap into the wisdom of her body’s clues, we practice alternate ways of thinking and reacting, and we strategize ways she can increase her self-care and support systems. Susan tries things out and sees what works best for her and finds new ways of thinking and being that help her to feel better.
When Susan has achieved the goals she began therapy with, she either decides to end therapy or recognizes new goals and chooses to continue to work on those…but either way, we celebrate the progress she has made! She feels better, notices less overall worry, and finds that she is more effective in her relationships. She has found more useful ways to manage the things that used to trouble her and she is grateful she made the choice to come to therapy!
*Susan is not a real person,, but the experience described is fairly typical of an experience working with me.