What Should I Expect In Therapy?
So what happens during therapy?
You’ve made an appointment. You’ve come to the office. You’ve met your therapist, gone to the office, and are now sitting, looking at them as they look back at you. What now? Do you start talking about your childhood? Do you wait for them to speak first? What if you’re not even sure what you want from therapy?
For those who aren’t involved in counseling, the therapeutic process can seem daunting and mysterious. Below is the model that I follow, although each client will have a slightly different experience because each client is a different person.
Step 1: Figure out my client wants from therapy
You’ve come in for a reason. Maybe you know exactly what you want to work on. Maybe you have no idea where to even begin. Either way, figuring out what you want to accomplish is our first task. During the first session, you’ll help me get to know you by answering some questions about your life and struggles as well as by telling me, in your own words, what brings you to therapy. The next few sessions will be spent figuring out what you want to achieve and how you will know that you have achieved it.
Step 2: Figure out a plan
Now that we have some goals developed and a way of knowing when you have met your goals, we can work together to develop a plan to meet your goals. The fancy term for this is collaborative empiricism, which means that you and I work together to brainstorm ideas and develop strategies that will accomplish those goals. It doesn’t have to be perfect—the only bad plan is no plan!
Step 3: Carry out the plan
So we’ve got a plan…now it’s time for you to put the plan into action and see how it goes. This is where each client’s experience in therapy is going to differ the most because your goals and plan are unique to you.
Step 4: Maintain and revise the plan
Ideally, your plan works, and your goals are met (believe it or not, this does happen from time to time). Other times, though, a client’s plan runs in to some challenges. This is not a bad thing—the “empiricism” in collaborative empiricism means that you and I treat your plan like an experiment. We learn from what happens and then revise the plan if needed (or maybe throw it out and make a new one). I want to help you find what works for you.
Step 5: The rest of your life
Now that we have found a plan that is helping you meet your goals, it’s time to focus on how what you have learned in therapy will impact the rest of your life, both now and in the future. One of my main goals as a therapist is to help you become self-sufficient, to get you to the point where you no longer need therapy. That’s right—I’m working as hard as I can to put myself out of a job!
Like any model, the above is an ideal that guides my practice. Each client is different. Some problems are messier than others. Sometimes progress comes quickly and easily. Sometimes setbacks happen, and progress slows to a crawl. What matters is that you and I are in this together.
Matthew is a Professional Counseling intern at CorAspire Mental Health and Wellness Center. Matthew is completing his final year of the Master of Arts: Psychology program at the University of Central Oklahoma. He has experience working with both individuals and groups who want to overcome depression, anxiety, fear, or problematic behaviors. Matthew is passionate about helping clients to articulate their goals and then develop and carry out a plan to achieve their goals. In his free time, he enjoys reading books about psychology and trying to become a better therapist.