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Therapy

Therapy Isn’t Grubhub

Four guideposts when the right help feels like its taking forever.

Key points

  • The first stages of therapy: deciding to get help, finding a therapist, and making tangible progress, can be challenging.
  • Relief from suffering doesn't always happen quickly, but we can maximize healing through specific mindsets and proper support.
  • Therapy is worth it. It's a proven form of relief and support when we encounter loss, stressors, pain, and trauma.
 Shutterstock/Eldar Nurkovic
The beginning steps of therapy can be hard but are worth it in the long run.
Source: Shutterstock/Eldar Nurkovic

Deciding to go to therapy takes courage. You wonder:

  • How long will it take?
  • Is something wrong with me?
  • Can I trust someone with my secrets?

Finding a therapist takes savvy. You press on, taking on the persona of Nancy Drew: solving the mystery of how to get an appointment with an actual.decent.therapist. in the middle of a global mental health crisis that accepts your insurance, has a verifiable license, and knows something more than the 32 podcasts you’ve binged and all those Google searches on “what to do when I’m having an existential crisis” and “how do I know if I’m having a panic attack?”.

You cross fingers and toes your new therapist will get you and have something beyond the collection of unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family, the ones that have clearly not watched Brene Brown’s RSA empathy video, telling you that you’ll be fine, that you should just pick up a hobby, or try hot yoga.

You wait in line with the full determination of a Disney World patron.

The scheduling Gods align, and you have your first appointment.

Your fifty minutes are up, and to say that you are unsettled is a gross understatement:

  • Were they judging me?
  • Did they really see and hear me?
  • Can’t I just skip this?

The irony isn’t lost on you. You realize that the very reason you need therapy is to work on your anxiety and intrusive thoughts, but still. During moments like this, it’s hard to sort out whether to press on or exit stage left.

The first stages of therapy can be bumpy. Here are four key considerations to help you stick with it and maximize your experience:

1. The urge to bolt is common.

Being able to trust a process like therapy, one that has long carried negative associations and connotations, takes courage. Starting therapy can be provocative, stirring up a feeling of being a cautionary tale or a hopeless case. While trepidation is a natural part of beginning anything new, therapy can bring a whole new meaning to fight or flight.

Fear can grip us during these early moments, and patience can seem elusive, given the fact our primitive instincts to run and avoid can be so pronounced in the early stages of therapy. If this happens to you, you are not alone. Many people feel this way but eventually find their groove and are glad they stuck with it.

2. Therapy isn’t Grubhub.

The benefits of therapy take time. We must resist the Grubhubilization of Society: Sure, if we want Pad Thai or Dominoes, they’re already on their way, but thinking we can have better mental health delivered within 45 minutes can set us up for royal disappointment. It’s not to say it takes years of emotional excavation: many find immediate relief in finally getting help and begin making progress early on.

Therapy is a process that differs depending on many factors. It can help to see therapy as a marathon, not a sprint, and to work closely with your therapist to set up goals that help you sustain realistic, tangible progress.

3. It’s worth the climb.

You might not leave every session belting out Miley Cyrus, but over time, the relief of having a confidential, trained person that helps you leverage strengths, heal from trauma, regulate emotions, improve skills, learn helpful behaviors, and unlearn unhelpful ones can be a game-changer and life safer.

Modern brain science reveals the incredible capacity we have as humans to heal and cultivate resilience, especially through the right combination of psychoeducation: learning evidence-based strategies that help us name and navigate emotions and circumstances, together with supervised skill practice: having a trusted, kind, experienced person or group who encourages and holds us accountable. This can help us realize positive, sustained behavioral change and recovery in due time.

4. Don’t go along to get along.

Ask for what you need. Many of us seek therapy because it’s difficult asking for what we need. We get cold feet, are afraid to be too demanding, or hurt someone’s feelings. Therapy is a prime place to learn the skills of self-advocacy and effective communication. The therapeutic relationship is the very place to build trust that can help you speak up if you’re not getting what you need. An ethical and professional therapist will know how to help you decide what steps make sense. If you can speak up for yourself in the therapy room, it will help you do it in your relationships.

Therapy is a proven resource that can help us heal and recover through a wide range of painful human experiences brought on by adjustment, stressors, loss, and trauma. Finding the right therapist and remaining patient through the initial stages can help maximize its benefits in the long term.

*This discussion is not a substitute for medical advice. It offers general guidance and tips but does not speak to every unique situation that can arise in one’s health. Please consult with a trusted licensed practitioner for recommendations that best suit your care needs.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Lee, K. (2022). Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World. Boulder: Sounds True.

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