Therapy changed my life. Anyone who’s met me more than a handful times has likely heard all about that (sorry). I just can’t help myself — I’m that amazed by what a difference one-hour sessions once a month (though, sometimes, once every two weeks) has made on how I think and, therefore, how I act.
But it took me years to even get started on all the mental unpacking of the past. And it was all because I couldn’t manage to find a therapist I clicked with.
I went to one who gave me homework that I didn’t do so I felt guilty at the next appointment. Then, I went to another who I felt had no compassion (or display of any emotion, for that matter) and who, throughout our session, kept looking at the clock. While those might not have been problems for some people, for me, they meant that I didn’t feel totally at ease. This is what I later learned is vital to be able to truly benefit from therapy.
So, if you’re considering it and wondering more about how it works, I thought I’d help by sharing my experience along with expert advice from Nancy Sokarno, a psychologist at Lysn.
How Do You Know If You Need Therapy?
Firstly, you probably want to know: do you even need therapy? According to Sokarno, yes. “The biggest misconception is that you have to have a breakdown or huge ‘issues’ to visit a therapist, and that’s simply not true,” she says.
“Therapy should be approached in a similar way to approaching your physical health. We all know that to maintain a level of physical health and fitness, we need to consistently exercise and eat right. Therapy should be viewed like a gym for your mind — you might visit a gym or personal trainer consistently to keep in physical shape and the same should go for keeping in mental shape.”
Sokarno says, ideally, you need to visit a therapist consistently and not just when there’s an ‘issue’ or something you want to ‘fix’. She also addresses the misconception that you don’t need to see a therapist if you talk regularly to your friends and family.
“It’s true that some people have strong relationships and in-depth conversations with those close to them, but the truth is you’re likely not going to talk to them about everything,” she says.
“While it’s super important to have a strong support system, therapy offers a different kind of support. When talking to a therapist, you don’t have to filter your true feelings or let a therapist talk about their own feelings in turn. You also get insight into processing emotions, finding more adaptive ways to thinking and behaving.”
How Do You Find a Good Therapist?
Once you know you want to try therapy, next comes finding a good therapist. As I mentioned, I only gave it a few sessions with both therapists before I cut my losses. Plus, on the mental health care plan here in Australia, you only get 10 Medicare rebate-applicable mental health sessions so I didn’t want to waste them on sessions with someone that — and this sounds funny to say — I didn’t see a future with.
Turns out, Sokarno says a few sessions is in fact the right amount of time to give it to determine if a therapist is right for you.
“Studies show that 80% of therapy success is related to matching with your best psychologist,” she says. “So that shows how important it is to find someone that you click with and, if not, change your therapist. You can tell if you’re clicking with your therapist because you’ll feel comfortable opening up, feel as though you’re being ‘heard’, have your boundaries respected and be receptive to the things your therapist has to say.”
“Ultimately, if you simply like your therapist as a person, this is a really good start. Even if the conversation begins on a surface level yet is flowing naturally and freely, this can be a great sign.”
Sokarno also suggests considering online therapy options, like Lysn, where she works. There, they match people to therapists based on personal interests and skillsets.
What Should You Do in Therapy?
You know you want to do therapy and you’ve found a therapist you click with, now what? Well, you’ll want to try to approach each session with an open mind and ultimately be ready to try new things and to make some changes, says Sokarno.
“Try to remove any expectations and preconceived notions about how it should go and be ready to expect the unexpected,” she says. “Be open and honest whenever you can and try to remove any barriers you may have put up.”
Again, like how you work out with a personal trainer at a gym, therapy is a collaboration. Once you’re in a session with your therapist, your path to wellness needs to be a team effort, Sokarno says. While your therapist can be the person who guides you, you still carry the responsibility of opening up about the difficult aspects of your life.
“The best way for your therapist to get to know the real you (with the intention of helping you), is for you to be completely honest about your thoughts and feelings,” she says.
What Can You Expect from Therapy?
And finally — what can you expect from doing therapy, results-wise? Well, if it works anything like how it has on me, a lot. But I do have to mention that, like Sokarno says about it being a team effort, I have really given it my all. I wanted to lead a different life and so I tried everything I could to get there.
I truly believe therapy is for everyone because everyone can benefit, says Sokarno.
“Whether it be a place to help you better understand your emotions, work on habits you’d like to change, develop coping strategies for certain situations, practice self-awareness or simply explore your feelings without judgement, you really can get a lot out of therapy.
“It’s also an incredibly important option for those who might be struggling with things like addiction anxiety, relationship issues, emotional difficulties and really for anyone wanting to make changes for better emotional health.”