A Beginners Guide to Therapy.
what to expect in the first few sessions
Alright, let’s say you found a handful of therapists that could be a good match for you. You’ve had consultations with them. And now you’ve chosen a therapist. It’s time for your first official therapy session. Congratulations! You are entering what could be a life-changing relationship with your therapist. Very exciting. However, excitement isn’t the feeling you’re probably experiencing. It’s totally normal to be feeling anxious. Maybe even very anxious. You’re about to start spilling your guts to a stranger that you barely know and probably randomly found on the internet. That’s kind of a scary thing to do. You may even be thinking about not going in after all. I get it. I’m a therapist myself, but I’ve been to my fair share of therapists in the past. And even though I’m not a newbie to the counseling process, I still get anxious before the first meeting and kind of want to bail. I hope you don’t decide to do that. You should know that every therapist understands the nerves your feeling and they’ll try their best to soothe you and make you feel comfortable. And if all you want to talk about during that first session is how nervous you are or how much you don’t want to be there, then that’s totally fine.
On the other end of the spectrum, you may be super excited about having your first session. Maybe you feel like you’ve been waiting for something like this forever. Hurray! I’m really happy you’re totally into it.
Whether you’re full of nerves or can’t wait to start blabbing away on that couch, your new therapist will be ready for you and perfectly able to meet you where you’re at.
It’s really hard to write this article.
Every therapy session and every client and every therapist is different. So there is no formulaic way that early counseling sessions unfold. It depends on so many different things. Are you going for individual therapy or relationship counseling? What about family therapy or child therapy? Do you want to be there or are you being forced to be there? Is your problem about your fear of flying or because you can’t seem to maintain friendships? What kind of therapist do you have? Is your therapist strictly psychoanalytic, where you lay on a couch and they sit behind you and barely say a word? Or is your therapist sitting right across from you and asking a ton of questions? I could go on about all the possible variations. Suffice it to say, I would have to write separate articles for all the different types of situations that are possible. For now, this article is going to focus on one of the more popular circumstances for therapy. Which is individual therapy. Individual therapy is where an adult, most commonly, makes an appointment with a therapist to address a specific issue. And we are going to suppose that they willingly want to be there. Even if your situation is different, I urge you to keep reading because many of the things I mention in this article will still apply.
Everything you say is kept confidential. Well…almost everything.
The one thing that will be the same no matter what therapist you visit is that your counselor will go over confidentiality with you. You’ll need to sign a form that outlines what is kept secret and never leaves the office and when a therapist must make a report to the authorities. Be sure to ask as many questions about confidentiality as you want. It’s very important that you understand the laws around when a therapist must break confidentially. The intent around the conversation about confidentially is to make sure you feel safe knowing that you can talk about anything that’s on your mind, while also letting you know that there are specific times, especially when it comes to you or someone else being in physical danger, that it is the therapist’s duty and legal responsibility to communicate with law enforcement to keep everyone safe.
What exactly are you experiencing?
Therapists don’t judge. They conceptualize. Whether you’re cheating on your partner, failing out of school or getting into fights with your mom, we won’t criticize you or make you feel bad about it. We just want to understand your emotional experience. It’s important, especially in the first few sessions, that the therapist really try to understand what you’re going through.
For example, if you’re married and having an affair with a co-worker, it’s important to know how you’re feeling about it. Do you feel guilty, happy, truly alive, embarrassed, scared or all of the above? Do you feel justified in your actions and want to continue the secret relationship guilt free? Or do you feel completely horrible and want to end the relationship as soon as possible? Do you want to tell your partner or would you rather keep it from them? No matter the answer, a therapist will not judge your behavior or emotional experience. But if a therapist doesn’t know exactly how you feel about it, then it can be difficult to treat the issue.
Many times a client doesn’t really know how they feel about a situation. Especially with a topic as complicated as infidelity. There could be a ton of opposite and conflicting emotions happening at the same time and it takes a bit of work to sort it all out. The first sessions concentrate on digging in and really figuring out all the emotions that are on the surface and buried underneath. The therapist is like an archaeologist digging around and looking at all the findings with a compassionate, unbiased and scientific perspective.
In order for the therapist to really get an idea of what’s going on and how you’re feeling, they may ask some common questions. These could include:
- How long have you been experiencing the problem or issue?
- What have you tried to cope with it?
- What do you think the cause of it could be?
- How often are you suffering from it?
- What was your life like before this issue or problem was present?
There are many other questions that a therapist will ask once you start talking about your presenting problem. They’ll start out pretty general and get more detailed as the sessions move forward. You’ll be asked to really think about what’s going on and how you’re experiencing it. Some of it will feel really personal. A therapist needs to try and get to the bottom of certain issues in order to figure out how they can help. If you ever feel like you don’t want to answer a question quite yet, speak up and say so.
Often, a therapist will ask you what your goal is for therapy. It’s helpful to figure that out upfront. However it’s also okay if you don’t have a specific goal. There won’t be any pressure to try and define it early on.
While the presenting issue that is bringing you in is often the focus for the first few sessions, there are times when it is set aside so the therapist can collect your full history. What this means is that a therapist will ask you a bunch of questions about your past, which could include your family, relationships, education, social life and employment history. This assessment could also focus on your past and current behaviors, thoughts and feelings. A therapist really wants to understand your personality and how your past has shaped you as a person. They want to know what messages and narratives you picked up along the way as you grew into who you are today. This will provide the therapist with important context regarding the issue you’d like to address in counseling. It will also provide the therapist with clues as to where the issue is rooted and how it formed.
Keep in mind that a therapist isn’t trying to blame your past for your current issues. For example, a therapist would never try to convince you to resent your parents for creating a current problem in your life. While your parents and how you were raised can be a topic of discussion, and may have contributed to your current issues, a counselor will engage in curiosity with you only to explore possibilities of how your issue first developed. A therapist isn’t looking to judge your parents or make you turn against them.
You may want to enter into therapy just to process things that come up during the week. You may not have a specific issue in mind when you enter into therapy. You might just want an ally in your life who cares about you and compassionately challenges you to grow. In these cases there may not be a predictive script as to how the first few sessions start out. Many times these sessions are natural and organic and non-directive in nature.
You can guide it.
The first few sessions are super important and create a foundation for the therapeutic relationship. The therapist is trying to make sure that the client starts feeling comfortable and safe talking to the therapist as quickly as possible. Because of this, the therapist is trying their best to read your verbal and non-verbal signals. As the client, if you want to start sessions with something specific, then you should be encouraged to speak up. If you don’t want to talk about something because it feels too awkward or vulnerable, then you can change the subject and ask to table things. You, the client, can be the guide. Feel free to speak up about how you’d like sessions to go. It’s also 100% fine to ask the therapist to guide the sessions. If you don’t know what to talk about or where to start, then the therapist is perfectly capable and fully trained to take the lead.
Want some advice? Too bad.
It’s a common misconception that you can go to a therapist for professional advice. Therapists, however, are not advice givers. We are specifically trained not to give advice. Sorry for the let down. But I promise you’ll understand. Therapists want to help you figure out what you truly want to do about a situation and then encourage and empower you to do it. We would be of no real help if we just gave you advice and told you exactly what you should do. Plus, if we did give you advice and then our advice turned out to be horribly wrong, we would be on the hook for it.
Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.
During the first few sessions, as you’re digging into emotions that you may not even know you have, you might feel worse than before. You should know this is a completely normal experience. A therapist will often help you identify and bump up against strong emotions with a goal of teaching you how not to get hijacked by them. A therapist will try to make sure you’re not completely overwhelmed by your feelings. You should know, however, that feeling difficult emotions is a good sign that you’re accessing important information. As you continue to talk to your therapist, you’ll eventually start feeling relief. And you’ll be happy to know that, with time and work, those difficult feelings might not pop up as often or manifest themselves in other unhealthy ways.
After a few sessions…
After a few sessions, you’ll have a much better idea of what to expect from a session and if the therapist is a good match for you. And hopefully you’ll be settling into a trusting relationship that will help you grow and find more peace. But how can you tell if therapy is really working? Next week we’ll explore that very question.
Jeff Guenther is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR.
We’ll define what “working” means in just a bit. What you need to know first is that it may take awhile for therapy to start having it’s intended effect. Hopefully you’ll start seeing some traction after just a few sessions. But that’s often not the case. I like to look back at a client’s progress after the 3 month, 6 month and one year marks. When you’re active in therapy for that long, you can look back on your time and really start to see some of the changes that have occurred. Sometimes you’ll get “aha moments” and experience revelations in session. But what’s more common is that you’ll experience a slow, subtle, steady change over the course of therapy.
But what does it mean that therapy is “working?” There are all different types of therapists that could give different answers about how therapy is supposed to work. So keep in mind that I am just one therapist giving my opinion on how a client can tell if therapy is working for them.
I’ll just be focusing on individual therapy for this series. But if you’re going to therapy for something else (like marriage or family therapy), I urge you to keep reading because many of the things I mention in this article will still apply.
All the different ways you can tell therapy is working
A client may experience one or all of the following outcomes of therapy. They may even experience an outcome that I haven’t listed here.
You feel symptom relief
I think most people going into therapy are looking for relief from their presenting issue or problem. If the issue is straightforward, such as a fear of spiders or feelings of sadness, then symptom relief is likely something you can track pretty easily. At the start of therapy, most therapists will take note of how intense and obtrusive your symptoms are and they’ll probably keep a sharp eye on it moving forward. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a therapist to help you rank how painful your symptoms are on a scale of 1 to 10 and then revisit that scale periodically.
Something to note is that relief from your presenting symptoms may be up and down for a bit as you start therapy. You may feel a real sense of relief and optimism after you finally talk to someone for the first time. But then the hard work of figuring out ways to cope with the symptom or treat the symptoms might be a battle for a little while. You should eventually start feeling better at a steady pace as you get further away from the first session. And of course, as the cliche goes, it might get worse before it gets better. So keep that in mind. Also, going to therapy doesn’t mean that the symptom goes away for ever.
You feel more equipped to handle what life throws at you
If you enter therapy in order to treat your regularly occurring panic attacks a therapist might take a couple different approaches. They’ll probably want to get to the root of the panic. For example, they’ll want to know why exactly are you experiencing the panic, how you developed the panic and what triggers it. And just as important, they’ll want to equip you with tools and techniques to handle the panic attacks when they arise. Getting the panic to never come back is preferable, but is not always realistic. So the next best thing is to create a tool belt of your favorite coping skills that you can metaphorically carry with you just in case panic starts to bubble up and attempts to hijack your brain. Personally, I like to make sure that my clients have at least 5 different coping mechanisms that they can count on in any situation. Everything from breathing techniques to self talk to distraction methods is on the table. There are dozens and dozens of ways to cope with intense emotions. Your therapist wants to help you find the ones that work for you consistently.
Once a client has a strong grasp on coping skills, it often creates a feeling of confidence and strength. If feelings of panic start to rise, they won’t get to extreme levels because the confidence the client feels in handling it provides relief.
You feel at peace
You might have been compelled to start therapy because of a traumatic or big emotional event. Whether it’s losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, a bad break-up, an assault, or facing persecution for who you are, you could be emotionally activated and completely overwhelmed when you start therapy. While many things will be talked about and explored in session, one outcome that will hopefully be achieved is a sense of peace. A sense of peace with the world and a sense of peace with yourself. While becoming totally enlightened and at peace with everything forever isn’t a realistic goal, it wouldn’t be surprising if you felt more peace more often in your life as a result of therapy.
Sometimes a feeling of peace can be achieved when an unwanted thing, circumstance or person is more accepted. If that thing or person is accepted in your life and you let go of negative emotions around it, you’ll often feel more peace. Peace can also come from a place of forgiveness. A more general sense of peace can make a person more resilient and is a topic that is often explored in counseling.
The unconscious becomes conscious
One of Freud’s favorite outcomes of therapy was making the unconscious conscious. The unconscious mind houses all of our memories and past experiences. Our conscious mind doesn’t have everyday access to all of that information. It’s just too much to keep track of. But much of our behavior, thoughts, feelings and ideas have been created and influenced by our unconscious mind. So if you were to explore and get access to the unconscious stuff that makes you who you are, then you’d be able to make more deliberate decisions about who you want to be or how you want to experience the world. A therapist can help you get in touch with these unconscious influences. You two could work together to bring unseen influences to the surface so that you can be more intentional about who you want to be and what motivations you want to use in order to behave or think differently.
You are more mindful, aware and in tune with your thoughts and emotions
Even if you don’t specifically go to a mindfulness-based therapist, you’ll probably naturally start becoming more mindful and aware of how you feel and think. It’s just inevitable that improved awareness will develop as you start regularly talking about your internal experience. As you get to know your therapist and see what questions they ask and how they analyze you, you’ll start doing that on your own when you’re outside of their office.
Your improved awareness of how you feel and think will help you become more deliberate in what you want to think and feel. You’ll feel a better sense of balance and more grounded. You might not feel as reactive or quick to jump to conclusions. All of these things can be super handy as you grow and develop. Practicing the skill of observing and witnessing your feelings instead of automatically being overtaken by them can create a lot of liberation and freedom.
You feel less defensive
As we get older, we often feel defensive and protective as we experience life. It’s common to want to protect yourself if you’ve gotten hurt, been taken advantage of or simply don’t feel safe. At times, those defenses can build and build to the point where you don’t trust some people anymore. That can really get in the way when you’re developing new relationships. Especially new romantic relationships. A therapist can help figure out where those defenses have come from and which ones, if any, you want to hold on to. Or maybe which ones you want to make adjustments to, possibly replacing them with more healthy alternatives. Making an intentional choice about how you want to protect and defend yourself can be really important. It’s often important to be less defensive and closed off in order to more fully experience what life has to offer.
Your relationships improve
The most common issue to seek therapy for is relationship issues. I know this because I run TherapyDen’s therapist directory and I get to see what issues are being selected by clients looking for a therapist. With relationships being a major focus in therapy, it’s no wonder relationships tend to improve while talking to a therapist. Relationships improving can happen for a host of reasons. Therapy may be making you a better communicator. Or it could be working on figuring out how you want to act in a relationship. Counseling often focuses on the client’s intimacy issues so that they can be closer with people they care about. How a client has been loved and how they want to love others is a popular topic in therapy. Getting insight into all of these things will undoubtedly have an effect on important relationships in your life.
Something to note is that through counseling a client may figure out that they want to end unhealthy relationships in their lives. Ending these toxic relationships could be a sign that therapy is working.
You feel more like you
It’s hard to explain, but sometimes you know therapy is having a positive effect on you because you start to feel more like yourself again. You may have gone, or are currently going, through a tough time in your life. If that is the case, you may have become a bit withdrawn or avoidant. You may have regressed into some old behavior in order to cope with the stress. It’s understandable to behave, feel and think differently after going through a trauma or a big adjustment in life. If that’s the case, then talking to a therapist can be a very healing experience. You’ll know that healing is taking place when you feel like you’re acting like your old self again. You’ll feel a sense of freedom and liberation from patterns that have kept you from fully engaging with life.
You may also have the experience of feeling like a totally new person. You could go through an important transformation that allows you to feel and think things that you’ve never before been able to. Therapy could help you move on to the next developmental stage of your life with the proper care and treatment.
You really trust your therapist
Sometimes you know therapy is working simply because you’ve developed a close and trusting relationship with your therapist. Having a strong relationship with a therapist is usually the key to any successful counseling experience. If you regularly look forward to seeing your therapist and talking about your week, then there is probably something good going on. Your therapist being someone you feel comfortable saying absolutely anything to, and you knowing that you won’t be judged or criticized, means you are experiencing an important healing relationship. Developing a trusting and healing relationship with a therapist usually means you can do the same thing with someone outside of the therapy office. Which will set you up to create healthy and honest relationships in life.
I never said you’d be happier
I made sure not to say that you’d know therapy is working if you feel happier. While happiness is sometimes a wonderful side effect of therapy, it’s not always the goal. Therapy is meant to provide insight and analyzation. A therapist will care about you and show you compassion when you need it. A therapist will help you dig into your past, think about your future and help you be at peace in the moment. Therapy is great for feeling relief from symptoms and liberation from old defense mechanisms. Therapy will challenge you to be more honest in relationships and live as a more authentic human being. It will provide you with the support that you may have missed out on as a child. All of these wonderful things can take hard work in therapy. Counseling will challenge you to be honest with yourself and practice discipline when it comes to making big changes. It’s a therapists job to challenge you and encourage you to grow. Not to make you happy. As a therapist, I truly want all my clients to be happy. I’m happier when I see smiles on their faces. But I would rather ask you hard questions instead of tossing you happiness soft balls. You’re paying me to compassionately push you to grow and be honest with yourself. Not to make sure you walk out of every session smiling. I wouldn’t be a good therapist if that was my priority.
Have you ever wondered if it might be helpful to “go talk to someone”?
Investing in psychotherapy involves time, money, and a desire to make changes with the help of a qualified clinician. Everyone has considered counseling in response to a life transition, a break-up, a death, or feeling like they have less control than they’d like.
“But can’t I get better on my own? Do I have to go to psychotherapy?”
There are, at the very least, things you can do which will move you along from where you are now. And if you so choose, will prepare you for work with a therapist and possibly make it even more quickly effective.
When you were getting to know your partner at the beginning of your relationship, you loved that they could do the things you weren’t as good at doing.
He automatically jotted down the amount for the tip when the bill came, something you always disliked having to calculate.
She was natural at making plans for you both with your friends- which was great because scheduling wasn’t your favorite.
You’d always been perfectly competent to check and calculate the bill. Throughout adulthood, you’d done it, before meeting him.
You had enjoyed your social life, met up with friends regularly, and gotten yourself to appointments successfully. For years, in fact!
But now that you’ve been together for awhile, you notice that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t do some of the things your partner is so good at. Because “he’s the ___ one.”
This happens sometimes with siblings. Well-meaning parents can label their kids- even in positive terms:
“Andrea is the pretty one.”
“Nicole is the smart one.”
Great for parents to know these attributes of their kids. And great that parents tell their kids, and others, about how wonderful their kids are in these specific ways.
Hearing it enough times, Andrea naturally translates that she is NOT smart. Nicole gets the message that she is NOT pretty.
I see couples who are great matches and who, as individuals, limit themselves in this same way.
“Megan is the active one! She runs a bootcamp and is always the one walking our dog. She takes the kids to the park all the time- fitness is like, her thing.”
It is no surprise that Megan’s partner is struggling to be more active. Megan’s partner wants to exercise more and be “less of a bum.”
This perspective of oneself as “a bum” is aggravated by deeming Megan “the active one.” So therefore, I am NOT active.
Does one person’s excellence cancel out another’s proficiency?
I have a friend who took piano lessons since she was 5 years old. Kara grew up playing piano and singing in choirs- at church, at school- anyone would look at Kara as a musician. Or at least, someone you’d associate with music more so than most people. The thing is, Kara’s husband plays guitar at a major metropolitan church. He has performed in other countries, is in a doctoral program for composition, and it known worldwide for his musical expertise.
Though I’ve known Kara for a couple of years, I didn’t even know she played piano until recently. When she told me, I asked why it almost seemed like a secret she was keeping. She pointed to her husband and said she doesn’t see fit to talk about her musical experience since it pales in comparison to his.
In what ways would you describe your partner?
Are you describing him/her this way because it is something you DON’T see in yourself? Do you describe him/her this way because it is something you wish you were better at?
Could it be possible that you are good at something your partner is great at?
All characters, though based upon attributes of previous clients, have had details changed.
Now that it is officially fall, and pumpkin spice/smell/flavor is popping up, it is only a matter of time until pumpkin pies/cookies/cakes will, too. So, what better time to examine the binge/restrict cycle so common in American culture? Those fall flavors are going to carry us right into Thanksgiving before you know it, so let’s think about our relationship with food before we even get there.
“How come everytime I try to lose a few pounds, I lose control and eat exactly how I don’t want to eat?!”
Though according to the National Eating Disorder Association, only 10 million American women suffer from eating disorders, it is rare to find a girl over the age of 13 who hasn’t “watched what she ate” in attempts to change her size or shape.
For many, this insistence on restricting certain foods or on eating less than usual creates 1) a sense of control and 2) the likelihood that over-eating– especially on the restricted foods- is soon to happen.
I’m looking at you, too men! Though less advertised, men struggle with body image issues, obsessions with food and exercise, and feeling out-of-control when they eat.
Which of these can you relate to…
I eat differently when I’m alone than when I’m eating with other people.
Sometimes, I feel guilty when I eat.
Sometimes, I feel so guilty for what I ate, I do something to make up for it.
If I don’t eat the way I planned, it really messes with me.
Other people have expressed concern about my relationship with food/eating.
I wish I thought about food less often.
If you can relate to any of the above statements, your relationship with food is more complicated than it has to be.
Believe it or not, many people who used to feel this way are now able to:
eat what they want and need to eat
when they want and need to eat it
and not think about it unless they want to think about it!
Obsessing about food is a waste of your brain space. Feeling guilty about food is a waste of your energy. And these problems are totally solvable.
There are lots of professionals in Central Texas who know how to help!
It’s time to get over the stigma against mental health.
Did you know there is an entire organization devoted to supporting mental health and reducing the stigma against it?
The mission of NAMI Austin—the Austin affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness—is to improve the lives of all persons affected by serious mental illness by providing support, education, and advocacy throughout the Metropolitan area of Austin, Texas to individuals and families affected by mental illness.
Why might this matter to you?
NAMI provides 100s of FREE groups and trainings to folks recovering from diagnosable mental health disorders AND THEIR LOVED ONES!
Not sure how to be around your partner/daughter/son/sister/brother, especially now that they have a diagnosis? NAMI CAN HELP!
Founded in 1984, NAMI Austin is dedicated to supporting the inclusion of individuals with mental illness throughout the organization. We will provide guidance, coordination and resources to promote communication and education in Central Texas by:
- Combating stigma through education and raising public awareness that mental illnesses affect everyone and treatment works;
- Joining all partners of the mental health system toward the common goal of a comprehensive, recovery-based model that meets the needs of all persons with serious mental illnesses in the community;
- Empowering interested community stakeholders to become informed participants at the national, state, county and local level.
Dr. Gary Chapman narrowed down the different ways we show love to specifics:
~acts of service~
~words of affirmation~
Knowing what you naturally do when you want to show your affection is useful in understanding yourself in relationships. Possibly more helpful, is understanding how your partner naturally shows affection. He or she may be showering you with love without you even realizing it!
Additionally, if you know your partner’s style, you can try things that may be outside of your wheel house, which will affect your partner in ways they most readily feel the love you want to show.
Find out your style on the 5 Love Languages site.
When being The Good One hurts everyone involved
One of my favorite topics in the work that I do, because its function is continually fascinating to me, is codependence.
Because this word is so readily assumed to refer to relationships involving alcohol and drugs, the word may not be the best way of referring to the nature of what I mean when I say “codependence.”
My own history of codependent behaviors proves how unnecessary drugs or alcohol are for codependence to exist. To this day, I can count on one hand how many times either of my parents has had a drink, that I know of. I didn’t grow up in “an alcoholic household,” and I’m not an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. So why in the world would I do all the things listed in Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More in my early relationships?
It was thanks to eventually dating an alcoholic/addict that I pursued my own recovery. Thanks to my “qualifier” giving me the excuse to attend AlAnon because of his drinking/drugging, I was finally able to see that I was doing the same needy/martyred/controlling things with him as I had done with my previous teetotaling boyfriend. My behaviors did not have anything to do with alcohol. They had to do with ME.
This idea that part of the problem in an addictive relationship is created by the person who ISN’T USING may come as a shock. It can come as a shock to the user who, in recovery, comes to accept their culpability in the problems in their life. And it can come as a shock to “the good one” in the relationship, who has been motivated in large part, by the fact that they get to identify with being “the good one.”
What to Expect When Everything is Unexpected
4 Keys to Manage Big and Sudden Life Changes
A friend got pregnant at 41 with her husband who’d had a vasectomy. They already had 2 boys, 9 and 11, and were about a year and a half into the long adoption process for a child from another country.
It is generally seen as a positive scenario when a pregnancy happens to a committed couple with the resources to support the new life. This friend was definitely in that scenario. But it was not what she and her family, at that point, had imagined would be happening.
They had not intended to get pregnant. And yet, here they were.
Viewed initially as a negative or positive change (my friend has definitely come to view her new son as a positive!) the unexpectedness of a change can wreack havoc to feeling empowered in our own lives. It may have taken tons of work to begin to feel a sense of control with our schedule, in our relationship with a child or a partner, or with our bodies. And then along comes a major life change, out of the blue, just when we thought we’d gotten it all figured out.
So now what can I do?
As with all changes, in time we learn how to manage. And often, we are able to see the positives of what we may have initially only looked “bad.” In the meantime, here are a few tips to keep you operating as your best self during the adjustment.
1. Keep what works.
Maintaining the things that do bring comfort, or if not comfort- regularity, can ease a transition.
If your morning routine is normally to get up, make your coffee, brush your teeth, then let the dog out, continue to do exactly that, if you can. If you normally do some stretching before bed, don’t let that fall by the wayside. X, Y, Z can be unexpected and crazy, but you will know that you can still count on your morning cup of coffee. Or your evening meditation. Or your weekly walk with a friend. Or whatever you may have already in place that you count on to happen regularly. Regularity provides comfort.
2. Phone a friend.
Or text. Or just prioritize your social networks. “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is so 5 minutes ago- we now know that depending on each other is the way we were intended to operate. And the way that we truly flourish. And really, there is no doing anything completely on one’s own, unless you are literally stranded on an island. We exist in community, so don’t underestimate how sustainable the friends and neighbors around you make your existence.
And by that, lets remember that we are living inside a BODY. This doesn’t mean find time to embark on a new exercise endeavor. It means connect with your physical self. Breathe into your belly and feel what your lungs do against the back of your chair. Stretch your legs (see No. 1 re: stretch before bed) and notice what sensations there are when you do. If exercise is your jam, do that as much as you are able during this time of transition- now is NOT the time to let physical activity fall by the wayside. There is empowerment in feeling connection to our bodies, in knowing the vehicle we are driving.
4. Allow reliance on faith.
It can be very lonely, even terrifying, to think that I alone have to will something to happen. To think that I alone have to ensure my own or my loved ones’ well-being – how could little ME possibly assure that? Believing in the possibilities of all that is greater than ourselves can be such a relief when we get wrapped up in the mindset that I am the biggest, baddest entity in my own world. Other people do things that contribute to your success. Weather conditions affect the happenings in your day. Traffic allows you to be one place or another at any given time of day- or not. YOU alone have only a small part to play in how your life is affected. You can choose to place your faith in the goodness of all that is greater than you (it is okay to call this “God,” if that isn’t too scary) that allows you to focus exclusively on what you have control over. And therefore do your very best at that.
With major change, the last thing we usually want is more things we have to DO. Think of the above as 4 Key Focuses, during this time of change in your life. When we choose what is most helpful to stay focused on, the resulting actions end up getting us where we are focused on going.
One of the top topics in my psychotherapy practice is WORK.
Looking at the Top 5 Reasons for Happy Employees and the Top 5 Reasons for Leaving a Job, it is no surprise to me as a relationship therapist, people want help with their workplace!
Top 5 Reasons for Happy Employees Top 5 Reasons for Leaving a Job
1. Relationship with co-workers
2. Contribution of work to organization’s business goals
3. Meaningfulness of the job
4. Opportunities to use skills/abilities
5. Relationship with immediate supervisor
1. Minimal wage growth
2. Lack of opportunity to advance
3. Excessive overtime hours
4. A work environment that does not encourage teamwork
5. A boss that doesn’t allow you to work flexibly
What do you see that these have in common?
All of these fall into categories of Meaning, Purpose, and Relationships.
Interestingly, each of these categories also contributes greatly to a person’s level of life satisfaction.
Think over how you feel about different periods of your life. You are most fulfilled when
1)there is meaning in the things you do,
2)when you know you have a purpose, and
3)when you are an active participant in rewarding relationships.
No surprise that these things make or break your work life!
Which of these have you been most fulfilled by?
Which have most bothered you about your current position?
May 18, 2018
Therapy made my life do-able.
This is what I hear consistently from my own clients and from friends. My own life has been made so much more fulfilling and comfortable than I imagined it could be- thanks to the therapists I’ve seen over the years. So it comes as no surprise when I hear it from others. Though I’m continually delighted to hear it!
I can’t be loud enough about how meaningful and relevant AND NOT JUST FOR PSYCHOTIC PEOPLE psychotherapy is.
The demand that we get rid of the stigma against psychotherapy is tremendous. That’s why I was thrilled to learn that the editor and creative director of Print magazine, Debbie Millman also proclaims that
“the best investment I’ve ever made was in psychotherapy.”
In Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors, Debbie says therapy “changed and then saved my life in every imaginable way.”
She offers some suggestions to consider, when embarking on psychotherapy:
Therapy takes time. It takes dedication, stamina, resilience, persistence, and courage. It’s not a quick fix, but it saved my life.
Tell your therapist everything. If you edit who you are or pretend to be something you are not, or project who or how you want to be seen, it will take that much longer. Just be yourself. If you are afraid your therapist will judge you, tell them. All of these things are important to talk about.
There is no shame in feeling shame. Almost everyone does, and psychotherapy will help you understand it. There is nothing like understanding your motivations and insecurities to help you integrate those feelings into your psyche in the most healthy and authentic way.
Yes, it will be expensive. But what is more valuable than better understanding who you are? Breaking intrinsic bad habits? Getting over much of your shit (or at least understanding why you do it in the first place), and generally living a happier, more contented, more peaceful life?
Have you experienced the changes available from psychotherapy with the right clinician for you? What tips do you have for others who are on the fence about getting started, or who are embarking on that journey?
*Did you know you can do things BEFORE you get to your therapist’s couch? Things that might make getting started with him or her more efficient?
May 12, 2018
So you feel like you need a getaway.
What is it you want most from a vacation?
Seeing new things?
What is it that drives you to yearn for a vacation? This is a clue into what will allow you to function better day-to-day.
I have a client, let’s call her Lana. Lana talks about begging her husband to go on a road trip ASAP. As we explore her desire for in a road trip, she describes how glorious sunshine would feel. She says she’d love being in nature.
It is no irony that Lana recently started a new office job where she has no window nearby. She does not leave work for lunch. And she starts her workday before the sun rises.
Lana has come up with some things she can try immediately. She is using this cue that she needs more connection to the outdoors- not just for a weekend, but regularly. Lana will step outside for just a moment each time she takes a bathroom break. There isn’t time to leave work for lunch. But there is a place outside where she can take her food. She’d like to try doing that a few times each week.
Hopefully, she and her husband will soon be on the road to Enchanted Rock, Port Aransas, or Big Bend. In the meantime, she can get the Vitamin D, fresh air, and a few moments to clear her mind and refocus that we all need as living creatures.
Studies have shown that taking breaks improves productivity. More is accomplished when we take breaks in our workday than if we had pushed through without stopping.
If we can take notice of what we crave most in a getaway, when we are craving a getaway, we can take better care of ourselves in everyday life. So that the getaway serves as icing on the cake instead of a way of keeping your head above water.
Other simple examples of applying your vaca craving to daily life:
Wish you were on a trip so you could justify doing nothing?
What help can you recruit in order to DO NOTHING in the comfort of your own town?
Family? Friends? A local hire? You can figure out how to get some of your tasks off of your plate without leaving town.
Wish you could leave town so you could break out of your norm and see and do something new?
There is no way you have seen all there is to see in Austin. I am a huge proponent of getting out of the bubble of one’s hometown. And when that isn’t immediately possible, find a new shop, park, museum, performance venue, or restaurant. There are so many right here in the 787 to check out.
Maybe even, venture north/south of the river!
Since day-to-day life happens more often than vacations, we might as well figure out how to use them wisely.