Q: What is therapy?

The less aware we are of our thoughts, feelings, motives and behaviors, the more they control us. Therapy helps clients understand their “stories”; the experiences that shaped them, the defenses that have helped protect them and the patterns or habits that are now preventing them from living a satisfying life. Therapy is a dialogue. The client presents data, the therapist offers ideas about its meaning, the client responds with his/her interpretation, and so on. It is important that therapy progresses at a pace that is comfortable and safe for the client. Change can feel frightening or overwhelming, and may not occur quickly.

Q: What can therapy do for me that a self-help book can’t?

Self-help books contain generalizations, based on someone else’s story, or on a combination of stories. While self-help books play an important role in our culture, they don’t offer the flexible, individualized approach that is often needed to bring about lasting life changes.

In addition, books do not offer the therapeutic relationship that can encourage us and hold us to a greater level of accountability.

Q: What can I expect from my first appointment with a therapist?

Many people feel nervous before their first appointment, wondering what their therapist will ask, or what they should tell their therapist. Your therapist will primarily want to hear the reasons you made the appointment, what you have already done to try to solve the problem, and what you hope to accomplish in therapy.

To better understand you, your therapist will likely want to know how things are going in the important parts of your life (relationships, work, school, etc.) as well as information about your background. If you and your therapist decide to continue working together, you will begin developing goals for therapy.

If you do not feel comfortable with your therapist for any reason, please say so, and your therapist will be happy to provide you with a referral to another therapist.

Q: Can I expect to feel better right away?

Some people begin to feel better as soon as they make their appointment or at the time of their first session. There can be a sense of relief when you make the commitment to address an issue that is problematic. More often, however, people do not feel better immediately.

Therapy is sometimes emotionally painful because it involves an active effort to look at yourself and your life situations in a very deep and honest way and to make some difficult changes. If the problems that bring you to therapy were easy to solve, you would have solved them without the guidance of a professional.

Though the short-term distress of addressing problems and making changes may feel challenging, keep in mind that the potential long-term gains can feel well worth it. When therapy is successful, the positive gains in self-esteem, improved relationships, and coping skills will far outweigh the distress of making changes.

Q: How will I know when I’ve been in treatment long enough?

Often, a person enters therapy with some specific goals in mind. One of the things you will do with your therapist is periodically review, clarify, and, if desired, adjust your goals.

When your goals are met to your satisfaction, you can decide to discontinue treatment, remain in treatment to make sure you maintain your progress, or set new goals. Remaining in therapy is always your choice.

Q: What if my therapist thinks I may need medication?

Although our training is to treat you using sound therapeutic skills, there are times when a medication referral is warranted. If your therapist thinks that medication might be helpful, she will discuss a referral to a health professional who is trained in working with emotional and behavioral issues – most often, a psychiatrist.

At other times, there may be medical issues your therapist believes should be addressed, since feeling good requires being physically as well as emotionally healthy.

As with other aspects of treatment, whether or not you choose to accept your therapist’s recommendation is ultimately your decision.