Therapy can be a complete game-changer when it comes to learning more about yourself. But you'll want to go into it knowing there are certain
things you won't learn in therapy, as well as things your therapist can't magically do. And that's OK. By understanding what therapy can provide — such as helpful tools and new perspectives — you'll actually get a lot more out of it.
"In therapy, we can connect the dots. This means helping you understand self-defeating patterns,"
therapist Tanya Fruehauf, MA, CSAT, CCC, RCC, tells Bustle. "Therapy is a place where you can also make meaning of things. But changes need to happen behaviorally in order to be internalized and for lasting change to happen."
That means the real work happens outside the therapist's office, Fruehauf says, where you'll put into practice all the cool things you learned. It may take some time to break old patterns and see things differently, of course. But it can be done.
To start, you'll want to
find a therapist and form of therapy that feels right to you, since there are quite a few. "When you make the initial call to a therapist, make sure to ask questions such as what type of therapy they provide, how long a typical client spends receiving treatment, and what types of issues do they specialize in," psychotherapist Michelle Smith, LMHC, MS, tells Bustle.
Then go give it a try. Therapy may not help you immediately learn some of the things listed below, but it can certainly
steer you in the right direction.
Whether Or Not A Relationship Is Right For You
Lots of people go to therapy after a string of unhealthy relationships, while in the midst of a breakup, or because they can't seem to find the right partner. And while a therapist can help you uncover unhealthy patterns and figure out what you want, they can't choose a partner for you.
"The reason you may not learn this in therapy is it is a skill you develop outside of the therapy office,"
licensed psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, tells Bustle. It'll be up to you to take all your newfound self-awareness, apply it, and feel out situations.
Therapy can help you approach situations in a healthier way, so you don't go down the same old road towards a toxic situation. And it can help you trust your gut, so you can figure out what's right for you.
How To Fit Meditation Into Your Life
While your therapist can certainly suggest meditation as a way to manage stress and anxiety, this is something you'll need to practice on your own, and fit into your life.
"The reality of meditation is that you learn to sit with yourself and listen,"
licensed psychologist Sue Sexton, MA, tells Bustle. "It is showing you what thoughts dominate your life and what you are ultimately creating as patterns in relationships, work, and life in general." But you'll need to find time each day, or each week, to slow down and meditate.
"When you tune in and listen, you will discover your own realizations and be able to become motivated to change your life," Sexton says. "At the end of the day, a therapist offers supportive listening, but unless you begin listening to yourself and changing your life, you're going to keep creating more of the same."
Whether You're Right Or Wrong
"Therapists are trained to be objective people who provide a mirror into your inner world," Smith says. "When clients begin therapy, many are looking for a quick solution to their problems." But the reality is, you can't expect to kick back on the couch and listen, as a professional gives you all the answers.
Instead, "you will collaboratively work with the therapist to build a safe, trusting relationship in which the therapist can begin to challenge certain thoughts and behaviors in the counseling room," Smith says. And that's how, over time, you'll be able to come to your own conclusions, and better figure out how to handle problems as they arise in life.
While it'd certainly be nice, therapy won't teach you what it'll be like to face your fears with the actual people or situations you have an issue with, Fruehauf says. But it can help prepare you.
"For example, if you are a people-pleaser and have a fear of disappointing people, it's crucial for you to experience what it is like saying 'no' or establishing a boundary in real time," Fruehauf says. "You need to understand what it's like to assert your own needs," by actually giving it a try. And from there, you'll need to practice, practice, practice until it sticks.
The Correct Solutions To Your Problems
Therapy can give you the tools needed to work on certain problems and make informed decisions with a healthier mindset. But a therapist can't tell you what to do, which roads to take, or what you need to do in life.
"Therapists can make suggestions, but we cannot compel or force anyone to do anything,"
clinical psychologist Dr. Jephtha Tausig, tells Bustle. "Good therapeutic treatment of any kind (CBT to psychoanalysis) engages an individual to consider themselves, their feelings, their thoughts, their actions in new ways rather than just repeating what has not usually been working (which is why they are in treatment to begin with)."
Instead, therapy invites "curiosity" into your life, Dr. Tausig says, so you can not only consider but maybe even try to do things differently. "In that sense, self-reflection is important," she says, "as is personal exploration, growth, and even experimentation with new thoughts, behaviors, and perspectives."
How To Feel Better Right Away
While all therapy experiences will be different, it's always healthy to go into it knowing you won't necessarily feel great right away. After all, the "application of therapeutic concepts outside of the therapy room [will be] vital for lasting change to occur in your life," Smith says. And that can take some time.
It might be frustrating to hear — especially since therapy can be expensive, time-consuming, etc. But it doesn't mean it isn't worth it. If you ask you therapist about things like homework, mindfulness practices, and how to be aware outside the therapy room, Smith says you're more likely to see results.
Don't stay quiet, though, if you're worried about your progress. Your therapist can let you know how it's going, and if there's anything else you should consider doing.
What Your Goals Should Be
Since therapy is what you make it, it can help to go into the process knowing what your goals are, and what you'd like to get out of the experience. "The main goal of therapy depends on the individual,"
coach Michelle Baxo, tells Bustle.
So while you can obviously go over your goals with your therapist, and come up with a game plan, it'll be up to you to form goals, hold yourself accountable, and take action, Baxo says.
Therapy can certainly teach you a lot. "It can create a safe space for you to explore things that you otherwise deny and suppress," Fruehauf says. "You can look at patterns in your life and start challenging your ways of thinking."
There may, however, be a few things therapy can't do — at least not right away. But that doesn't mean it's any less of
a valuable experience, or something you may want to consider doing.