I’ve never been in therapy…

I’ve never been in therapy…

We often get our view of reality from television but it only takes one hospital visit to learn that real life is not like Grey’s Anatomy.  Likewise, if you’ve never been to therapy, it’s a dangerous plan to assume it might be what you’ve seen portrayed on TV or in movies.  So, what can you expect? First of all, you don’t need a mental health disorder to come to therapy.  In actuality, most people seek counseling for a host of regular life problems: relationship struggles, major life transitions, parenting challenges, etc.  Yes, there will be questions to determine the severity of the issues you are facing but your therapist does not see you as “sick” or “crazy”.  A good therapist regularly sees her or his own counselor, for that matter.

Choosing the right therapist has two components: First – finding someone with the appropriate knowledge and skill for your particular concerns.  Second – finding someone with whom you have a personal chemistry.  That second component is tricky as it is difficult to predict who you will “click” with but this is such an important requirement.  It is possible to sit with a perfectly competent therapist but not make significant progress in your work due to a lack of connection between you and the therapist.  This is why Phenix offers a free initial consult to all new clients.  Hopefully, you have a network of friends and/or family to whom you can turn for referrals.  They know you best and can likely predict who might be a good fit for you.  Check the recommended providers’ websites to see what they specialize in. Finally, give your prospects a call to discuss what you are interested in addressing so that you can get a sense of how well you might connect to this person.  A few questions you could ask are:

  • What experience do you have working with this issue?
  • How do you typically approach helping clients with this issue?
  • What resources do you most often recommend to your clients?
  • How has your own personal therapy informed the work you do with clients?

Your first several sessions are usually quite different from subsequent sessions here at Phenix:

  • Our free consult gives you the opportunity to ask the questions needed to determine if you have chosen the right person to work with.  We also will complete basic mental health screenings to ensure that tele-therapy is the right level of care for you.  We intentionally utilize only a one-page information form prior to the appointment because we understand that we cannot expect full disclosure from someone we have not met and we have not yet established a therapeutic relationship.
  • If you choose to initiate therapy after the free consult, you will receive full disclosure documents electronically so that you can see the details of our therapeutic relationship but you do not have to sign it until after your first appointment where you can clarify anything that does not make sense to you. During this first therapy appointment, we discuss your goals and the potential ways in which we would be helpful to you, finalizing a tentative plan for moving forward if that is agreeable to you.
  • Intake documents are shared electronically after the first therapy appointment for you to complete.  By this time, you have met with your therapist twice and can feel a little more comfortable sharing detailed information.  The second therapy appointment is what we call an “intake” during which we ask a number of questions designed to obtain the details of your concerns as well as the context in which these concerns occur: social, physical, emotional and mental history as well as current status.  If you wish to include your spiritual journey – that is discussed as well.  This gives your therapist a window into your complex world.
  • At the third appointment, your therapist will generally offer a summary of all that has been shared as well as their understanding of the presenting concerns and it’s underlying components.  Often, your therapist connects dots, pointing out dynamics that may have gone unnoticed.  This is a collaborative process in which you participate to shape an overall narrative that then drives the action plan to be created.  You and your therapist establish goals and agree upon interventions for pursuing them.

From that point forward, appointments typically involve: discussions of progress, exploration of emerging insight, expressive activities (non verbal interventions such as art), skill learning and relational check-ins (monitoring your relationship with your therapist).  A sacred space is created where you can be fully who you are, saying/expressing exactly what you need to say with privacy and no judgment.  Your therapist guides these interactions according to the goals you established at the beginning, though those goals may be adjusted along the way.  Each time we meet, you create action plans for applying what happens in therapy to your daily life.  It is these experiments in your world that become a main topic of our meetings – determining what is working, what is not and why.  Clients always have control over what they wish to discuss though your therapist will challenge the areas you tend to avoid as they are often most relevant.  Even so, you are always in the driver’s seat.

There is no standard length of time for therapy.  The number of sessions clients come in for varies wildly. Much depends on the complexity of their goals and the depth they are willing to go in transformation of self.  Some clients reach a satisfactory level of growth after a few months…some clients who wish to tackle long-term, traumatic issues attend therapy for years – albeit spaced out such as monthly appointments.  Again, you determine how far you want to go and for how long. Hopefully, this helps bring clarity to the therapy process.  We are much more likely to take a new path if we have some idea of what to expect!

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