What is therapy?
An overview for potential clients
by Mei Bresnahan
What is therapy?
Therapy is a space for clients to receive individual support & guidance from a licensed mental health professional, so they can actively participate in their own healing. The goal of therapy is for clients to gain the insight & abilities necessary to:
– Understand & resolve their problems
– Manage, reduce, and/or eliminate mental illness symptoms
– Reach their mental health related goals
– Obtain a sense of well-being
What are the basic elements of therapy?
The therapist actively listens to the client, providing empathy, reflection & validation. The client feels heard & understood, and is able to build a trusting relationship with the therapist.
The therapist tries to remain impartial, avoid giving directives, and refrain from passing judgment on the client. In this way, therapy differs from other dynamics such as friendship. It provides the client with a relatively unbiased perspective, which they can use to form their own opinions and decisions.
Therapy is a confidential space protected by legal & professional mandates. The client is free to share almost anything they need to in order to heal, knowing the therapist will not share this information except under certain circumstances. If such an exception applies (ex: imminent danger to self/others), the therapist would inform the client that confidentiality must be breached for legal & ethical reasons.
Active Engagement & Collaboration
Therapy is a dynamic process that involves engagement & collaboration between therapist and client. During session, the therapist offers insight, support and skills training rooted in evidence-based practices (ex: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and tailored to the client’s specific needs. For therapy to work, the client must also be an active participant. During session, the client provides topics of concern, participates in discussion, and gives feedback as needed. Outside of session, the client reflects on lessons learned, practices new skills, and completes any ‘homework’ if assigned. If you are a new client and/or unsure how to participate, let us know and we are happy to help!
What does therapy look like?
Therapy sessions are 50 minutes long, and can be held in-person or online depending on therapist availability. During the ‘intake’ (first) session, the therapist asks background questions to gain a broader understanding of the client’s situation. In the second session, therapist and client collaborate to create a treatment plan; this plan has clear goals and objectives to guide the course of therapy. Further sessions are structured based on the therapist’s style and client’s preferences.
Frequency & Progress
– Beginning: Initially, therapy is usually scheduled on a weekly or every-other-week basis. During the first few sessions, therapist and client get to know each other and build a working relationship. While the client may not notice immediate change, this rapport building is essential to successful treatment.
– Ongoing: As therapy continues, the client starts making progress. It is important to note that progress is nonlinear (goes up & down), because healing is complicated and naturally fluctuates over time. Once progress is maintained, the client needs less support and sessions are scheduled less frequently (ex:
once a month).
– Termination: Eventually, the client progresses to the point of no longer needing support, and treatment is terminated. This ‘graduation’ is the final goal of therapy: for the client to achieve and maintain their well-being independently. The duration of treatment (i.e., time until termination) depends on the individual client and their circumstances (ex: commitment to change, support system, etc.). Some clients may graduate within 3 or 4 months; others may require one or more years.
Session cost will depend on how the client pays (direct/private pay vs insurance company). For the client using insurance, fees will vary based on their individual policy. For further details, please review our registration paperwork and (if using insurance) contact your provider.
4 Things your therapist wants you to know
1. In order for therapy to work, you must attend & participate
For therapy to be successful, the client must attend sessions regularly and actively participate in treatment (ex: engage in discussion, practice skills outside of session). If you have difficulty attending or participating, let your therapist know and they will do their best to support you (ex: brainstorm ideas). Please note that therapists can only provide support during sessions. If you do not schedule or show up to therapy, your therapist cannot beg or force you to attend.
2. Therapy is not a magic cure-all
If problems were a mountain, the therapist would not carry the client up or tell them exactly how to climb. The therapist would help the client find hand & footholds, and the client would test these out to scale the mountain. In this way, therapy itself will not resolve your problems for you. Instead, your therapist will help you learn coping skills and identify solutions, and you are the one who will change your life!
3. Therapy is not always fast or easy, but it is worth it!
Progress in therapy can start slow and/or fluctuate over time, because healing is a complicated process. If you do not immediately see improvement, do not lose hope! Imagine blowing up a balloon: it may grow slowly, stall, or sometimes even shrink if you lose your grip. But in the long-term, you will inflate the balloon to a bigger size than it was before. Similarly, therapeutic progress can fluctuate over time; these ‘expansions’ and contractions’ are normal parts of healing & growth. Therapy is not always comfortable or easy—sometimes painful emotions or memories may arise in or after session. This is normal and an often-necessary part of healing, like changing a bandage. That being said, too much pain may impede healing, so let your therapist know if you ever feel overwhelmed. Overall, clients who participate in therapy and communicate their concerns, find therapy to be extremely helpful in giving them insight, new skills & tools to use, and receiving support they may not get elsewhere.
4. Give us feedback!
If you are confused, unsure or having any difficulties with treatment, please communicate this to your therapist. Tell us what you like and don’t like, what’s working and what is not. We are open to feedback and want to support you the best we can! And we can only help if we know what is going on.