Many people who come into therapy for the first time might find it difficult to imagine what to expect. There are many stereotypical images to draw on in the media and TV of the traditional shrink type character but is this the reality these days? Much of the interaction between client and therapist is regulated by law. Privacy, confidentiality, inappropriate contact and professional boundaries are all set down in regulation and rightly so. However, what can you expect from the process other than this? Please note that there are various methods of delivering therapy, all of which have advantages and disadvantages in their outlook and delivery. The following list is based on my experience and personal opinion. It should not be seen as criticism of such methods.
1. Your therapist will understand you and your situation. Before any framework or plan can be put together, the therapist needs to understand the client. Not just the obvious that is being said in an initial consultation but also what is not being said. This can only come with being totally present ‘ in the moment’ and listening effectively. Additionally, effective questioning adds to this understanding. Only when this understanding is gained, can the therapist make a decision about how they can potentially help.
2. The therapist will encourage a mutual journey. Therapy for me is a two-way, mutual process. Much can be learnt from the interaction between client and therapist in terms of the relationship. In my opinion, therapy has moved on dramatically from the days of the doctor-patient concept of years ago. Therapists can learn a lot about clients and themselves by fostering an open and honest atmosphere where the client feels fine with giving feedback in a constructive manner. Therapists can also learn from their own reactions to issues that arise.
3. Your therapist is an active partner in the process. Some therapy methods call for the therapist to be a passive partner in the process and give minimal input. While this may be an appropriate method in some cases, it can also take some time for progress to take place, making it a lengthy and costly business. A therapist who uses the experience and theoretical knowledge background that they have in an active manner to guide the client towards their pre-agreed goals could be seen as more effective.
4. A therapist will not be your friend. This is often an issue in therapy. Sometimes a bond is formed that gives an unrealistic view of the relationship. This can happen on both sides. Transference can be a useful agent for change. However this needs restricting to the process. Any feelings that are being generated through the interaction that might be identified as romantic or a feeling that the therapist is a friend should be openly discussed and dealt with. Many people who come into therapy see their therapist as someone that is everything they have lacked in their life and these feelings, while natural are not realistic or helpful if allowed to develop. This is where the therapist needs to identify this and set professional and personal boundaries and keep focussed. Let’s not forget that these feelings could also emerge on the therapist side as well. The bottom line is that your therapist is there to help you with your issues and nothing more.
5. Your therapist is a definite agent for change. I am a solution focussed therapist who sees little point in therapy unless clear goals are set and responsibilities are defined on both sides. I am quite happy for clients to demand professional service from me and I am happy to give it. However, I also have some expectations about them too. I fully expect them to be an active part of the process when it comes to taking definitive action to change their life. I make it clear in the early stages that we will spend as much time as needed to bring a sense of awareness but then it is up to them to take action with me as support. I do realise that we might need to revisit some parts of the process.
6. Your therapist will think before they speak. I sometimes do supervision for other therapists and of course, I hear accounts of what happens in sessions. If they can be believed in their entirety or even if only 50% of them are true, there are some unbelievable things being said in therapy sessions by therapists. I do accept that sometimes challenge is needed but some of these comments go beyond this. These are opinionated comments that are not helpful and in some cases have driven the client out of the process. I see it in the same manner as two people in a relationship in the fact that questions can be asked internally before comments are made. Is this comment I am about to make helpful or harmful to the process?
7. Your therapist is challenging in a positive manner. The main reason that people come into therapy is that they have issues they want to solve. They have often tried various methods to do this and sometimes that method involves avoiding the issue all together and internalising it. A good therapist will challenge any statements or beliefs that signify avoidance or irrational thinking. I see this a real opportunity to get the client to accept their reality and move away from the fantasy they have built up around themselves. Once reality is accepted, the work can begin to change what needs to be changed.