By: Kelly D'Souza
After having decided to start my own psychotherapy, I was bombarded with comments and conversations wrapped with sympathy. It’s common for people to assume that deciding to seek help is what you do in a worse case scenario. While leaving no stone unturned in your healing process, it’s common for people to think that psychotherapy is the last stone you turn. The idea that, "When being positive doesn’t help, when working hard enough to eliminate the problem isn’t enough, don’t forget to call a therapist," isn’t a real protocol, and yet it is one that many follow.
The truth is that the most important step in psychotherapy is the first one: choosing to start the healing process and empowering yourself. When an individual calls to book their first appointment, it’s a confirmation of them seeking to bring change. It’s a choice that comes from acceptance and courage. The person seeking psychotherapy is an active member of that change. Psychotherapy is a collaborative effort between the therapist and the client.
The joke that does its annual rounds on social media is, “Why pay your therapist to listen to you, when your friend can do the same?” A therapist is a trained professional who can use active listening skills to facilitate the process of uncovering your hidden wisdom. Friends, brimming with empathy, undoubtedly are an important foundation of our support system, but not always can they use empathy and other skills in the same way to aid in long term growth and change. My friends, like anyone else's, are my small army who wouldn’t give up on a fight for me. But sometimes, they’d say things I want to hear that might not benefit me.
During my experience with therapy, my therapist demonstrated unconditional positive regard for me and didn’t lose an objective stance. Therapists have to work on their own biases and judgments that can cloud an interaction. The professional relationship between a therapist and a client comes along with well-defined boundaries which make it easier for therapy to be focused on your personal well being.
The most important myth to debunk is, “A therapist is someone who comes up with solutions to your problem.” I remember when I began psychotherapy; it was a sign that I was accepting the possibility to heal. But it did not mean that I was accepting of the process from the first session onward. In hindsight, I had a ton of defences acting like an iron bar cage to my experiences and feelings. It wasn’t a rare occurrence for me to contradict myself in a particular session. It took a while for me to let go of those defences. That was the first step that helped with identifying the underlying problems, and with setting goals with my therapist collaboratively.
Exploring childhood experiences and early relationships helps to gain insight into your coping techniques, your perceptions, and your attachment patterns. However, an important myth to challenge from the start is that your psychotherapist is out to blame your past and family relationships. My experience helped provide a better understanding of my experiences and how they impacted my coping strategies. Being better informed about the past and the present helped me a lot. Years later, I still find them helping me in unimaginable ways when I deal with novel situations and unfamiliar feelings.
Psychotherapy is a process. There is no cookie cutter estimate of number of sessions an individual may require. It would be wise to realize that your psychotherapist is working towards helping you help yourself. Hence, it’s not true that once you begin psychotherapy you stay in it forever.
My experience with personal psychotherapy helped me discover so much about myself. I hope my personal experience with psychotherapy helped to debunk some of the myths you may have had about psychotherapy as well.