It’s safe to say that the stereotype about therapy and how it’s only for “crazy” people has long been eradicated. However, most people don’t really know what going to therapy is all about and what is entails. It’s not as simple as going to a doctor, getting diagnosed, and taking home a course of treatment that will get the job done. Oh, if only it were that simple!
People who go to therapy do so because they’ve decided to take a stand, to seek help. They want to get to know themselves and take control over their own feelings and behaviors. If you’ve decided to take the plunge and you’re not sure what to expect, let us give you a brief preview of the most common stages of going to therapy.
Stage 1: “Oh no, what have I done?”
As soon as a big decision has been made, no matter how convinced you were, there’s almost always a tiny voice in your head asking what you were thinking and doubting the thought process that led to the big decision. Before the first session, you start thinking about what you’ll talk about. Your mind tries to juice out all the reasons that led you to take this step, and as soon as you get down to it, a very strange feeling washes over you; you’re about to open up to someone who is basically a stranger.
The questions that usually get asked are “What brings you here?” and “What is on your mind?” -which is usually when you start being fully immersed in the freak-out mode: “What am I doing here? Why did I come here? I don’t need this. My problems aren’t that big.” But then you start talking and your therapist takes it from there. Before you know it, the first session is over and you can’t wait to go back next week!
Stage 2: “Like me, please!”
This is the part where the initial awkwardness has been lifted a little, and now your therapist is getting to know more about you and your life. This is the part where you are allowing a stranger (who you are paying) to fully know you. All of you. The good and the bad -especially the bad, because that is where the issues lay.
But because you might care too much about being accepted, you start sugarcoating the parts you deem too dark for anyone else. You spare your therapist the ugly details; the details that would taint the picture you want to be seen in. You end up driven by your desire to be liked by your therapist and your fear of being judged. And as long as you’re stuck in that phase, any progress will be on hold.
Stage 3: “Um, what is happening?”
This is where you finally start caring more about being understood rather than being liked. Soon, you arrive to the conclusion that what you need to focus most on is your desire to get better and all the aspects that serve that purpose. In order for you to get the help you need, your therapist needs to understand the full picture.
This is the phase where you slowly transition into a trusting, talking, and not-withholding-anything-back mode. And as soon as that happens, highlighting patterns gets easier. You start identifying problems and issues; which feels weird at first, since you’re hit with all these revelations all of a sudden. At the end of the phase, your mind is left with nothing but an “um, what’s happening?”
Stage 4: “I’m not alone in this.”
This is a very confusing stage in the journey of therapy, with a lot of mixed emotions. On the one hand, you’re very enlightened; you know a lot more about yourself now that you didn’t before, and enlightenment breeds empowerment. But on the other hand, you have all this knowledge about how things might be going wrong and you now know all the reasons behind it; and it’s just very depressing. You can’t help but feel sorry for yourself, for what happened/was happening to you.
It’s a very harsh stage to be in, but it’s necessary and natural to go through it, just as long as you don’t stay stuck in it for too long. That’s why it’s usually on the therapist to drag their patients out of it; reminding them they’re not alone. You looked under the bed and saw all the monsters, but you don’t have to fight them alone. You are not alone in this.
Stage 5: “UGH!”
How frustrating it is to know what the problem is, but not being able to do anything about it. Perhaps your feelings are in the way or you’re too stuck to use whatever techniques you learned from your therapist to make things better. Something triggered your negative feelings, whatever they may be, and for the life of you, you cannot get a grip on it to do it the healthy way; the way you practiced at your therapist’s office.
During this stage, loved ones often start telling you how you haven’t changed at all and if anything this “therapy thing” is making you worse! But you can’t really explain what is going on with you and it’s all just a big bag of UGH.
Stage 6: “Whoa, am I good at this or what?”
All the frustration from the previous stages start cooling down, and you learn to become more forgiving, more patient and more understanding -especially to yourself. You begin to understand that it’s a process, learning how to deal with negative emotions, and taking things at your own pace -with trial and error of course. After this stage, your therapist might even tell you that you don’t really need to come back anymore. And after getting over the pain of attachment, you’ll find that they are right. You are going to be okay after all.