‘I really need to talk to someone…’. You may have had this thought in your head for some time, but actually arranging to see a therapist or counsellor can feel very daunting.
‘What will it be like? What if I don’t like them, or they don’t like me? What if they think I’m stupid, or a bad person? And what will people say if they find out I’m seeing a therapist?’
Chances are that many people seeking help and support for the first time are feeling some or all of this. It can seem like there are more reasons to do nothing than to reach out. But that insistent inner voice won’t go away: ‘I can’t go on like this – I need help…’.
So there you are, arriving for your first appointment. What will it be like? A therapist is, above all, a good listener. You may have experienced a difficult life event and need to share your pain and your fears, or you may have a particular issue that you want to work on and come to understand better. You may simply want to find yourself again, in the midst of a busy, distracted and overburdened life. There are as many reasons why people seek help through counselling and psychotherapy as there are clients. This is your life and your story – and no two stories are ever the same. Your therapist has an open mind and a genuine interest in helping you with whatever you wish to share with them.
Psychotherapists and counsellors are professionally trained and experienced and abide by the ethical standards set by their professional bodies. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but a counsellor tends to offer more goal-oriented and perhaps shorter-term solutions to life problems, whereas a psychotherapist works in a deeper way with issues that may have arisen early in life and may be impacting present-day feelings and behaviours. Whichever orientation he or she has, they can be trusted to hold you and your story in the confidential, safe space of the therapy room.
As the relationship between you develops, so does the feeling of trust. Your first few sessions can be a great relief, as you may have been bottling up overwhelming feelings for quite some time. It feels good to have found someone who listens and does not judge; someone to whom you can speak freely without worrying that you are going to hurt or upset them, as can be the case if you speak to family or friends.
Therapy is a process – a journey, in fact – and your therapist will walk the road with you, anchoring you securely when everything around you may seem to be in flux. The beginning of healing is communication and therapists are experienced in supporting their clients as they explore deep feelings. They will not push you beyond where you feel ready to go, but you must allow enough time for the relationship to develop.
It is important to be aware, however, that there can be a sort of ‘speedbump’ to be got over after the first few sessions. You may find that feelings are starting to come up that you are not sure you can cope with. This can feel daunting and scary and you may be tempted to cancel your session or even to terminate altogether. But this is a normal experience. Rather than dropping out abruptly, this is the point to ‘keep the faith’ and bring these fears to your therapist so you can talk about what’s happening for you.
Yes, the journey can be challenging sometimes, but so are the issues or life events that brought you here. In the end, psychotherapy and counselling are very freeing. Life is too precious to spend it in a prison of pain from the past.
And you did say, ‘I can’t go on like this’, didn’t you?
© Eve O’Kelly 2021