One of the most popular questions I get from people when I talk about recovery is: what is therapy and what do I need to know about it before starting? Therapy is just a broad, umbrella term for many specific types of techniques and methods, but it doesn’t go without it’s own set of important know how’s. So, I compiled a list of what I feel is the most important know how’s of therapy, and what it is you need to know prior to starting.
- A great patient-provider relationship is a necessity. Therapy takes a lot of time and trust, and having good chemistry with the therapist you’re seeing is step one in making sure you reap the most benefits. Find a therapist who really listens, and one that you can tell they do. Every therapist is trained to listen, but great therapist hears you and make your needs, wants and concerns a priority. Think of it this way. You wouldn’t stay with your significant other if they were always doing the opposite of what you asked, or making you feel bad for your mental health. Don’t let a therapist do that to you either! If the chemistry isn’t right, open up to them about it, and if nothing changes don’t feel guilty for finding new care.
- Recovery takes time; there are no overnight fixes. Many people who start to seek therapy decide that therapy is going to be an almost instant fix. They go in with high hopes, but 2 months later quit because, “nothing has changed.” The fact of the matter is, therapy takes effort both in and out of the therapy setting, and it takes lots and lots of time. I personally have been in therapy for 4 years, and I’m still battling every single day. It’s not as frequent, but it’s still something I am actively and constantly working on. Not even a stellar therapist could work that kind of magic, so don’t get discouraged if it’s been 6 months or a year and there isn’t a lot of huge progress. This is a journey that takes time, but eventually it’ll pay off.
- Bumps in the road are not relapses because recovery isn’t a straight line. I’m guilty of assuming every time I have a hard day during a good week that it’s the start of a full blown relapse. I can go weeks at a time with minimal to no anxieties or panic, but the moment I have a three hour period of panic and anxiety my mind goes, “This is the relapse, it’s happening, and I’ll end up right back at square one.” While this point is similar to number two, recovery isn’t a straight line. It has hills and valleys, sometimes it does loops and corkscrews, but you’re always still traveling in the right direction. It’s very rare for someone to completely go back to exactly how they were before they started treatment. Not impossible, but rare. A small dip in progress is not back to zero, rather a reminder that you are human and sometimes you just need a break. Don’t get bummed out about a small fall in progress. Consider it like a day of rain in your 10-Day forecast: maybe instead of packing the umbrella like you usually do, you just decide it’s a tea and TV kind of day.
- No two treatment plans will be exactly alike. Even in the case of same diagnoses, you and your neighbor Karen will have two completely different treatment plans. You’ll likely have different causes for the panic, have different goals you’d like to achieve, and one of you may use medication while the other won’t. Just because you both have anxiety (or depression or bipolar or a phobia) doesn’t mean your struggles are the same. Much like mental health, recovery has a lot of grey areas. There will be similar traits that are seen across all areas of a certain diagnosis, but each person will experience their reality differently. When you start therapy, trust your therapist (who is hopefully great) to set up a treatment plan that will best aid you throughout your journey of recovery (that will take time to implement). And most of all, don’t compare your progress, your treatment to anyone else. Just focus on you, and you’ll notice a lot of your struggles will almost instantly fade away.
- You get out of therapy what you put in. Probably the most important part of therapy is that progress cannot be made if you do not put in the effort to make a change. If you go into therapy and don’t practice what you are learning, don’t be surprised if it seems like your progress isn’t going anywhere. However, if you take what you’re learning and you start applying it, even if it doesn’t seem to do much at first, eventually you’ll find that doing what you need to do gets easier. If you go in every week with the determination to make your life better, you will see how that makes it better. Therapy is more than just an hour a week commitment, it’s a lifestyle that has to be maintained in order to see progress.
- Medication is not required, but could be necessary – and that’s okay! There’s a quote out there that I see pop up regularly that goes, “If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store bought is just fine.” I think medication is a heavily debated topic, both in and out of the mental health community, but my personal opinion on this is do whatever you need to help you manage this better. Medication does not make you weak, or incapable of handling your struggles on your own. In fact, accepting the realization you may need some extra help makes you incredibly brave. You recognize what you need to do to make yourself better, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! My one word of caution is, medication does not cure the mental illness. It does, however, help it become more manageable so that you can focus on a more productive recovery. Always talk to your therapist prior to starting medication to make sure it’s right for you.
- You won’t go back to who you were before. So I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, you will never go back to who you were before once you start therapy. The good news? You’ll be even better than you were before. I always hear people say, “I just want to go back to who I was before…” when they talk about recovery, but the bottom line is you won’t and you can’t. Through therapy, what you are working on is creating a better, stronger, more equipped version of yourself, and they will be nothing like you were before. You’ll be stronger, because you will have survived through days, months or years of constant battles with your own mind. You’ll be braver, because you will have pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone and tried things you never thought you would. You’ll be more prepared, because therapy is just a masterclass in how to survive in the wilderness of your own mind with just some duct tape and a machete. You’ll be happier, more confident, more in control. Everything about this new you will be discovered through therapy, and I can promise you that going back to the “old you” won’t even be a thought that crosses your mind.
Therapy is a huge step in the right direction for overcoming huge obstacles in your life, and I think it’s always best to start with the right mindset going into therapy. Got a tip that you wish you had been told before starting therapy that isn’t listed here? Let us know in the comments!
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