What to Expect in Therapy

Listen Tell Me More: Episode 3

(Music fades in) If you’ve ever struggled with depression, anxiety or relationships and feel you might finally be able to reach out for help, today’s podcast is for you. (Music picks up)

There’s no better time than right now to take that all important first step to better mental health. I’m Susan Brozek Scott and in this episode of Tell Me More, we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us all learn more about what to expect in therapy and how to find the right therapist for you.

SUSAN: Don good to be with you today.

DON: Thank you Susan, as always it’s a pleasure.

SUSAN: Don, for a lot of people therapy may seem like a completely foreign process where they will have to share parts of themselves that they’ve never really shared with anyone before (music fades out). Talk us through how therapy actually works so people will know what to expect.

DON: Sure, good therapy provides a safe and creative space where people can explore their problems and issues. Most importantly it opens a space and time to be heard, acknowledged and understood. And that’s what we want out of life. We want to be acknowledged and understood. And let me know say this too Susan, it’s not like what you see on TV or in the movies, sometimes they get it close but most often they don’t. The other thing too is that psychiatry and psychology have done a monumental job – this is something that I say all the time – they’ve done a monumental job out of making things a little more complicated than they need to be. The therapeutic process itself, it sheds light on how we are who we are and gives people a greater understanding about living as fully, mindfully and compassionately as possible. Therapy enables people to explore their lives and be open to the choices that are available to them. Whatever the reasons are that people choose therapy, it means taking a greater more truthful look at ourselves. Through closer exploration of our anxieties, fears, hopes and dreams, therapy is a life-changing opportunity to transform our attitudes towards living and really makes some life-long changes.

SUSAN: Everyone is different, how does a person go about finding the right therapist for their needs? How do they pick that professional they can comfortable enough with to share all those personal and very private issues?

DON: As I tell my students and supervisees it’s all about the relationship. In real-estate Susan, as you know it’s location, location, location. In therapy, it’s the relationship, relationship, relationship. It takes real courage for someone to reach out and share their most intimate fears, darkest shadows and their hopes and dreams. A good therapist wants to build a relationship with you – not just provide a quick fix or give you homework that you could’ve gleaned from in any self help book. A good therapist sees you as a whole person, not just a set of symptoms or worse yet, a diagnosis. For me, good mental health starts with a strong therapeutic relationship and ends with a person creating a life worth living.

SUSAN: Are there any guidelines that suggest how long this relationship should last?

DON: As much as it is about the relationship Susan, there are some boundaries, and a good therapist will establish these with you from the first session on. How to contact them between appointments, fees treatment planning if needed and – the million dollar question – how long am I going to be in therapy? Everyone is different. There is no one-size-fits-all nor should there be. Let me give you an example, you go to the doctor and you get an antibiotic and if you’re like me after a few days maybe a week you start to feel better and you start to question – do I really need to take this for 14 days and the answer is yes! You do. Therapy is no longer a forever thing. Let’s get that straight. On the other hand if you start out and you’re making progress and then you stop abruptly – let’s go back to that antibiotic example – what is going to happen there? It’s most likely your issues and problems are going to circle back around on you. Just like life itself, it has a beginning, middle and an end and a good therapist will discuss how the course of therapy will run in that first session or two.

SUSAN: From your experience Don, as a licensed psychotherapist, do people always know what their problems are when they start to talk about them? Do they often think they have an issue in one area when it really might be something else?

DON: That’s a great question and the long answer is yes and no, spoken like a true therapist right. But life is like that. Everyone is different and we’re all the better for that. Some folks come into therapy with a very driven agenda and that can be helpful but it can also reflect on why their relationships in the real world sometimes feel strained, rushed or even distant. Some folks look to therapy as ways of gaining better meaning into their issues and some people want to use therapy as way to figure out what’s wrong with the world or with their family and that may signal someone who doesn’t want to take on the responsibility of choice or even life itself. We all don’t do pain or change very well. It’s how we’re built and as a result we create false narratives around how and who we are. That’s an extremely creative process and one that obviously doesn’t happen overnight. So channeling that creativity into designing a new narrative is something I strive to do with every client I work with. I believe a strength based approach while acknowledging limitations but not bowing to them is the most creative and mindful way for therapists to engage others.

SUSAN: How can intervention at a critical time in a person’s life and the right treatment plan change lives?

DON: It’s so important for people to take that first step and it is an act of courage. But if you think about it this way Susan, if I am pushed up against a brick wall and I am face-to-face with that brick wall I can’t see up, I can’t see down, I can’t see to either side of me, all I can see are these bricks in front of me and that feels hopeless. By taking that step, and engaging with a therapist in creating a meaningful relationship, a creating a meaning therapeutic relationship, means taking a step back from that wall. Being able to get some perspective on this problem and this issue – having someone walk along side of you and help guide you through the process, well that’s life changing.

SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks for helping guide us through the steps to live our very best life. (Music fades in)

DON: Thank you for having me Susan.

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This podcast does not provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

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