When people commence working with a psychologists, whether for the first time or if you have engaged with a psychologist before, it can be a daunting prospect; What’s it going to be like? What are they going to ask me? Will I like it? These are all nature and expected questions. After all, you are going to be talking about some personal difficulties. The truth is, for each person, the experience is different, however there are some commonalities you can expect when engaging in therapy.
When engaging with a psychologist, whether the first time or not, the goal of therapy is about talking through mental health concerns with the aim to heal, grow, and move towards a more productive, psychologically healthy life. It generally involves working with a psychologist in a safe, caring, and confidential environment where individuals explore their feelings, beliefs, and behaviors, work through challenging or influential memories, identify aspects of their lives that they would like to change, better understand themselves and others, set personal goals, and work toward desired change.
What this looks like and how it is done, varies greatly depending upon the client’s issues, the personal beliefs of the psychologist, what techniques, strategies, practices the psychologist uses and the individual needs of the client. Therefore, no two therapies will look exactly the same, however, this is what you can expect.
The first session
The first session usually involves you and the psychologist “getting to know” one another. The session may start off with introductions and some ‘housekeeping’ like the limitations of confidentiality, the charter for clients and others bits of information regarding costs and the requirements of the referral process. Your psychologist may then follow up with asking questions about you and your past experiences, current situation, family, job and friends. Your psychologist will not push you to delve into private matters, but needs to obtain enough information about your individual needs in order to determine a course of treatment.
In some cases, the problem will be quite evident to both you and your psychologist, e.g. experiencing a traumatic events that now inhibits your functioning. However, in some cases there may be an underlying issue you are not aware of, e.g. feeling unhappy with your life without knowing why.
The importance of assessment
It is important for your psychologist to assess the problem and decide the best plan of action. The first step is to determine what the problem is. Once you and your psychologist have both developed an awareness of the situation, you can start to work together to determine why the problem is present. From here, you will be asked what would you like to achieve. Establishing clear goals will provide direction as to what needs to be achieved. Finally, your psychologist will implement a program to try to solve the problem.
To help to monitor your progress, your psychologist may conduct a psychological assessment as a means of tracking and/or further understanding your difficulties. These assessments may be conducted several times throughout the intervention and provide good insight into your progress.
Goals are important to the process
After the first session, your psychologist will implement specific goals for each session. This will include a broad overall goal as well as more focused goals that may change from session to session. For example, your broad goal may be to decrease your anxiety levels, the specific goals of one individual session may be to focus on developing relaxation techniques, then the next maybe to focus on thoughts. By breaking the overall goal into session-by-session objectives, it helps to focus on specific parts of the program to make sure all aspects are properly covered. It also makes it easy to identify which specific parts you are having difficulty with and what you need to work on more. Keeping the overall goal in mind will help you get past times when you feel like giving up on the therapy.
One of the key ingredients of success in therapy is the ‘therapeutic relationship’. The bond between the client and your psychologist. It is very important that you are comfortable and happy with your psychologist. Qualities to look for in a psychologist include warmth, empathy, patience, genuineness, honesty and the ability to be upfront yet caring at the same time. And most importantly, choose a psychologist you feel comfortable talking to. You are going to be talking about some personal issues, so you need to feel comfortable in discussing these issues with them.
In having these qualities, it will help you achieve the important goal of self efficacy; the belief and trust that you have that the therapy is helping, which will increase the likelihood of you achieving your intended goals faster. Psychologists that are rigid, critical and uninvolved are not as effective. Talking to someone who you dislike and who seems to be judgemental will often hinder your progress.
Remember that, although your psychologist may be directing the sessions, you are the one in control. If you feel that the therapy should take a different direction, discuss this with your psychologist.
Therapy sessions typically last between 50 and 60 minutes. The frequency and duration of therapy will depend largely on your needs, treatment goals, and progress. However, when commencing, most early sessions occur frequently and as the interventions progress, they become less regular.
Many difficulties can be resolved with short-term therapy, however, other chronic or more complex concerns may require long-term commitment before improvement is realised.
I hope this de-mystifies some of your questions or concerns regarding the process of therapy. If you still unsure or concerned about engaging in therapy, please feel free to contact Prosper and hopefully one of the friendly will be able to re-assure any queries you may have.