You don’t go into therapy to be frightened or to be judged, but to heal, and healing requires an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and warmth.
You want your therapist to be able to identify with the broad outlines of what you bring him – your wishes, hopes, dreams, longings, ambitions, along with your anger and frustration, worries and fears, and sadness. You want to feel that you and the therapist share a common humanity, that the therapist is not “above it all” and doesn’t project an air of “having it all together.”
3. Curiosity and empathy
You want your therapist to exercise a nonjudgmental curiosity about your inner world, and make intelligent guesses as to what you are feeling. You don’t need a therapist who is a mind-reader, but one who knows himself and knows human nature well enough to be a competent companion on your inner journey.
4. Validation and acceptance
When you courageously begin telling your story, you will reveal painful and wounded parts of yourself. It is the therapist’s job to say something like, “I can understand how you could feel like that” – that is, given your family of origin, your inborn temperament, your history and your trauma, it makes sense that you would think/feel/behave like this. This does not excuse, justify or rationalize self-harming or other harming behaviors, but it helps make them understandable, and helps relieve any unhealthy shame you might be feeling.
The therapist’s office should be an “honesty zone.” It is important that you be as honest as you can with the therapist, giving him all the relevant pieces of the puzzle. And, of course, you want your therapist to be honest with you in his evaluation and his responses – mixed together with large quantities of kindness and compassion.
6. Experience and expertise
No therapist is equally competent or comfortable with every issue, so it’s important in choosing a therapist that you provide him with a description of the issue or problem you’re seeking help for, and ask whether he feels competent to help you with this. Don’t hesitate to ask questions — the therapy is about you and for you!
Last, but definitely not least, therapy should provide you with encouragement and hope. As the proverb says, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” If you can make it to the therapist’s office and begin to tell your story, you have a good shot at healing, changing and growing.
With these seven elements, in some combination, you will be on track to have a positive and fruitful experience in therapy. If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy, call or write, and we’ll begin to do this good work together.