*Names have been changed
All of us, at some point, have heard of therapy. Perhaps we know someone who was or is in therapy. Maybe we know someone we wish would go to therapy. Thankfully, pop culture and our collective consciousness has begun to accept therapy to the point where it’s more absurd not to deal with emotional issues than it is to repress them. However, a great deal of anxiety surrounds the subject. What is it exactly? Who needs therapy? How does the process work?
According to the American Psychological Association, therapy is a health service in professional psychology that deals with individuals who are struggling with personal concerns. By using clinical psychological practices, therapists help clients improve their sense of well being, as well as resolve crises.
Rachel Zimmerman, 20, has been in therapy for four months now, and explains that it’s a completely different experience than she had imagined. “A lot of it has to do with focusing on what I can do to change rather than just handing out a prescription as a magic cure-all.”
Michelle McGrath, a registered social worker and full time therapist agrees, saying when she thinks of therapy she likes to think of it as accompanying a client on their journey through change. “It’s through therapeutic conversation and utilization of the discussions outside of session that change takes place.”
In Rachel’s case, she had to fill out an intake form at the beginning of every session that measured her symptom distress level. “The way I understand it, it’s a quick litmus test for my [therapist] to see how I’m doing week to week, and whether I’m progressing from where I was at the start,” she says. That way, over the course of the sessions, there’s a quantitative way to see the progress the client is making.
As Michelle says, practicing what’s discussed during the counselling sessions is part of the treatment. “There are numerous forms of [therapy] such as cognitive behavioural therapy, emotions focused, solutions focused – to name a few. With every client being unique, there may be a combination of techniques used. There’s no specific one-size-fits-all treatment.
As much progress as people are making in therapy, there’s still a stigma attached to it. People considering it might wonder: “Do they really need it?” Or, “What if what I’m going through is just a phase?” Michelle says that if you’re noticing changes in your emotional well-being it may be a sign that you may need some support. As well, if you’re facing a sudden change in life (a lost job, a breakup, a death, etc.) then it may be worth talking to a professional about.
*Ben, 27, was in therapy several years ago after a professional setback. “I felt like a fraud at the beginning, like I was masquerading being ill. I honestly thought it was all in my head until I started going to sessions and seeing an improvement in how I saw myself.”
There are other signs that therapy might be the solution for you. Michelle says that if you notice negative patterns in your behavior that may be an indicator that it’s not just a phase. If you notice a pattern of missing work due to not being able to get out of bed, then it may be helpful for you to reach out to someone to discuss why that is. It’s also important to remember that the sooner you can reach out for support, the quicker your recovery will be.
Finding a therapist is probably the most daunting part of it all. The best way to start is to go to your primary care provider, such as a family doctor, and ask for a referral. Most commonly, however, potential clients tend to seek out therapists based on word-of-mouth reviews. Often there can be a sliding scale – so the costs for each session are based on income, rather than a fixed price. Many insurance companies also have lists of therapists they cover. While it took Rachel months of going to different therapists to find her current one, Ben found the right one for him on the first try.
Michelle says that the relationship between a client and a therapist is an important part of the therapeutic process. “It’s important to have an openness with your [therapist] to give feedback about what’s working for you and what’s not.” Basically, the key is that the client feels comfortable enough to discuss any questions he has about the process. It’s okay to talk to a few therapists before finding the right fit.
As with anything, therapy takes patience and effort. Anyone considering it should remember that change happens slowly and to stay open to new experiences. “If you’re feeling like you need [a] change, don’t be afraid to reach out for help,” says Rachel.