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New to Therapy? How Therapy Works and What to Expect

Jessy Wrigley

Jessy Wrigley

Friday, 23rd March 2018

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Talking about your ‘shrink’ might be a run of the mill everyday type of conversation stateside, but casually drop in a mention of your therapist down your Friday night local over here and you’ll probably be met with a vacant stare. Or at least I was. Whether it was the uncomfortable nature of having thrown a gung-ho reference to the state of my mental health or a genuine response of cluenessless, I can’t be sure. But I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. Nor would I want to imply we’re in someway behind our friends across the pond. The reality is, we just don’t really know what therapy is over here. And it’s normal to be afraid of the unknown - even more so when it comes to the still a-little-bit-awkward topic of mental health.

Times might be changing, and the conversation around mental health widening, but we’re still somewhat clueless when it comes to finding the right support. For the most part, only those of us unlucky enough to find ourselves at ‘breaking point’ have found our way to the therapist’s chair, understanding what it’s all about and wondering why we didn’t make it there before.

As with all things health (both mental and physical), prevention is paramount. Not just because it avoids a crisis point, but because lots of crisis points actually are avoidable. And the sooner we can address what’s up, the better chance we have of living happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives.

Below we’ve decided to lift the lid on some therapy home-truths:

Why therapy?

Whether we feel comfortable with it or not, mental health is a fact of life. Our most constant companion. Sometimes it’s a great companion, our biggest, bestest cheerleader supporting us through the thick and narrow. Other times it’s not such a great companion, nattering criticisms or clouding us in self-doubt.

The point is, it’s not going anywhere. Taking care of our mental health then means getting to know it better and getting comfortable with these fluctuations. Of course, when things are going well for us maybe we don’t need to take care of it much at all. Life floats by swimmingly and everything feels positive and hopeful. But when things take a turn for the worse, life can get a little bit hazy and perhaps not so clearcut. Maybe a relationship turns sour, not being quite as it used to be - or the loss of a job sparks a crisis of identity - or losing a loved one instils a heaviness that feels too hard to bear. Maybe it’s an amalgamation of things that build up leaving you not quite enjoying life in the same way.

We all get stuck from time to time. And the above are just a handful of reasons people might end up finding their way to therapy. But we don’t need to wait until breaking point to benefit from finding a fresh perspective.

Perhaps therapy’s best seen as a mind “MOT”. By checking in and taking the time to unravel some of the layers, we naturally become more self-aware. That extra clarity let’s us see things for what they really - where we’re doing well or where we’re doing not so well. And the magic of self-awareness is that it allows us to enact real, lasting changes in our lives.

So instead of seeing therapy just as a place to fix things, we can see it as a place to get to know ourselves that bit better. By becoming more familiar with who we are underneath it all, we open the door to working towards becoming the very best version of ourselves.

Finding the right therapist

Good therapy starts with finding the right person. To get started, head over to our questionnaire and run through a few simple questions centred around your condition, what you’re looking to get out of your time in therapy and the style of therapy you’ll feel most comfortable with. Once completed, you’ll be connected with up to ten therapists nearby that best match what your own needs. If you want to learn more about choosing the right therapist, run through our step by step guide on choosing the right therapist.

Preparing for your first session

So you’ve found your therapist and booked your first session, what next? Most people feel a bit apprehensive about starting therapy but there’s really nothing to worry about. The thought of opening up to a stranger can feel intimidating at first, but it helps to remember that most therapists have gone through hours of therapy themselves (hundreds of hours, in fact) so they’re well-versed in what it feels like to be on the other side of the couch.

If you can, it helps to have a bit of a think around what you’d like to get out of therapy. It might be as simple as ‘I want to learn how to manage my anxiety’ or ‘I want feel more positive and hopeful about the future’. You might find that you start therapy looking at one area of your life, and end up somewhere else entirely.... There’s no one-way route. But starting off with some kind of goal will give you a good marker on your progress as you move through your sessions.

Open-ended or goal-orientated (or maybe a bit of both)

Not all therapy looks the same. How your sessions pan out will depend on the type of therapy your therapist works with, and also the kinds of issues you’re looking to explore. Some therapies - such as CBT - are short-term and goal-orientated, focused around fixing symptoms quickly. In this case, your therapist will normally lay out clear goals with a set number of sessions for your treatment. On the other hand, if you’re looking to explore more open-ended ended questions that are more self-exploratory in style, you might opt for a more long-term form of therapy that allows you the space to fully open up and explore different issues. Head over to our types of therapy section to learn more about the different approaches and what they offer.

The cost of therapy: investing in yourself

Sessions tend to range anywhere from £30 - £120, depending on where you live and also the level of training and experience your particular therapist has. Be careful not to assume that a more expensive therapist is any better than someone who charges a smaller fee. Focus on finding a therapist you feel comfortable with, and who feels like the right match for you.

At one point or other, most of us will have passed therapy off as ‘too expensive’. And it’s true: therapy’s not cheap. But there’s a strange satisfaction that comes with the commitment to invest in your own mental and emotional wellbeing, especially when you start to see those benefits ripple across different areas of your life.

If money’s tight, never let that hold you back from seeking support. Lots of therapists offer what's known as a sliding scale meaning they can offer a discount according to your financial situation.

There’s an end in sight

Once you get past the initial apprehension that inevitably comes alongside starting something new, most people find that they actually start to look forward to their sessions. The excitement of progress and the relief of clearing away old baggage starts to far outweigh any of those initial concerns around opening up.

That said, there’ll naturally come a time when you reach a level of progress that choose to no longer continue your sessions. This might mean a relief in symptoms e.g. you don’t feel so anxious anyone more. Or maybe you went to therapy to look at a particular area of your past and you’ve reached natural closure with it.

Having a good relationship with your therapist means having clear lines of communication. You should both be checking in every now and then to discuss how you’re getting on - where progress has felt slower, or specific areas you’d like to be working on more. When you check in periodically it’ll become much clearer when you reach a natural end to your treatment.

Some people prefer to end therapy in a final way, others feel more comfortable gradually easing out. That might mean moving sessions from once a week, to once every two weeks, to once a month and so on. You might decide to drop in once or twice a year for an “MOT” and to keep things on track.

If you're looking to start your therapy journey, speak to one of our team for support in finding the right therapist today.