Sunday, March 8, 2009

Your Therapy Experience: What to Bring with You on Your 1st Appointment

We live in this modern and complicated world. When we are beset by troubles and seemingly insurmountable challenges in our lives, we often find it difficult to consider all of the viable alternatives. Having exhausted every possible course of action we can think of, we turn to friends and loved ones for guidance and reassurance. Often this resource can be successful in terms of providing comfort and support, but the deficit, the "problem" and the associated discomfort, pain and anguish are still there.

So we reach out further from our small circle for support from our community. We enlist the help of clergy, teachers, principals, our family doctor and other authority figures that we know and are familiar with and trust in our dealings of everyday life. Often the advice and wisdom of these authority figures proves fruitful and we are able to successfully address whatever mechanism is inhibiting our quest for personal happiness.

When these interventions do not work, the next logical step is to seek "professional help." This action is, in fact, often one of the solutions that is presented by these visible members of the community that your have relied on for many years. Behavior clinic's referral sources are prominently fueled by relationships with schools, doctor's and churches.

But, alas, so many are reluctant to take this next step. Although statistically supported as a viable resource for individuals who are in psychogenic pain or discomfort, many avoid the next step of talk therapy and are destined to unnecessarily suffer through many years of their lives. There are many reasons people are reluctant to do this. One I believe is cultural. An American value is to be self-reliant and vigilant. The shame and embarrassment of baring one's soul to a stranger and of being reliant on them for help contradicts this ingrained value of independence and autonomy. Another obstacle to people seeking treatment is the stigma that is attached to having their problems institutionally addressed. As one of my client's once said to me at an initial appointment "when I think of psychotherapy, I think of 'psycho,' like I am nuts or something is seriously wrong with me." There is this old-fashioned, archaic view of the therapist picking the client's brain apart over the course of many sessions and months and the identification of some serious mental disorder or cognitive deficit.

This "couch and chair," era of psychotherapy has given way to new and exciting treatment techniques that focus on one's personal betterment and more on what is "right" with the client than "wrong." Therapists identify client strengths and assets and help them develop and utilize them to overcome admitted weaknesses, deficits and external sources of stress. Hence, you are not the "problem," but it exists in your social or occupational environment and as therapists we are here to help you with that problem.

The 1st attitude "to bring with you," to an initial talk therapy session is an open mind. Do not suppose that your experience will be akin to something you were exposed to in the media or heard from a friend. Every client-therapist relationship is unique and has a life of its own. The course, quality and length of treatment are dependent on the invested energy and mutual development of trust and honesty by both parties. Relinquish that trust in your therapist at a pace you feel comfortable with, with the rate of your disclosure being one that he or she earns based on the quality of their input and the sincerity of their reactions. Remember, we are working for you.

Another important concept to grasp when preparing for that 1st session is one of equality or parity. A therapist will engage with you in a manner which is not condescending, self-righteous or critical. We are all frail human beings and it is the therapist's task to observe your behavior but not to past judgment or make value-laden recommendations. A competent and experienced therapist has been exposed to a wide spectrum of behaviors and should be accepting of yours. If the therapist can not objectively treat you based on a difference in personal values, then it is an ethical responsibility for the therapist to refer you to another. You also have the option to request another therapist if for some reason you feel uncomfortable with the current relationship.

So when you seek talk therapy services, give the therapist the benefit of the doubt. Be assured that this "stranger" will soon be a skilled confidant. Engage with them in a truthful manner and with an air of mutual respect and be comforted by the fact that there are many years of experience, training and education in the helping professions available as a resource for you. The result will be a happier, better adjusted, actualized you. The quality of future experiences and accomplishments for you, family and friends may very well depend on what you bring to that 1st appointment.


garritygal said...

Well written information. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Jeff..I am floored at what you got here. wish i would have checked it out before. we need to talk...turned 21 in the big's about time i take control of the wheel.
-ash, apex