What are some things therapists wished their clients knew about therapy?
- Therapy is for everybody.
Mental illness is not a prerequisite for therapy. It is important for everyone to attend to their mental health, and therapy does not discriminate on who is allowed to seek treatment. Many people talk with a therapist about relationship issues, self-esteem, life transitions, and just about every other topic under the sun. Therapy can help develop a better understanding of emotions and motivations, end negative thought patterns, and increase awareness of behavioral patterns.
- Therapy is confidential.
One of the main reasons therapy is so different than a friendship is the level of confidentiality and privacy associated with the relationship and the content of the conversations. Therapists by law cannot divulge information about what you talk about in your therapy session, except for a few mandated reporting situations. During the first session, therapists review the limits of confidentiality so you are aware of what the therapist is legally required to report. If you ever have any questions about confidentiality after the first session, just ask!
The relationship is so private that your therapist cannot even reveal he/she knows you if someone were to ask. (And no, they definitely don’t talk about you with their friends!) This confidentiality allows for the client to feel safe and supported in whatever they choose to talk about with their therapist.
- Therapists won’t acknowledge you outside of your therapy session.
Similar to the concept of confidentiality in regards to what you tell your therapist, the mere fact you know each other is private as well. Essentially, this means if you see your therapist at the grocery store or out in public, they will not acknowledge you unless you acknowledge them first. This is not because they don’t want to say hi! This is because the therapist would be “breaking confidentiality” by notifying the public that the two of you are acquainted. Think of the following situation: your therapist sees you at a coffee shop, waves, and says hi. You are getting coffee with your friend, and your friend asks you “Who was that?” This can be a potentially sticky situation if you don’t care to reveal the fact you are in therapy. For this reason, therapists won’t acknowledge you in public.
- Therapy hours are 50 minutes. (And don’t be late!)
Most people think they will see a therapist for a full 60 minutes, but therapy hours are actually 50 minutes. For example, if you schedule an appointment for 1:00pm, you will leave at 1:50pm. This ensures the therapist has enough time to write a note and prepare for the next session. If you arrive 5-10 minutes late, don’t expect to have your full 50 minute session. Therapists typically schedule clients all day and are not able to push their whole day back. Even if your therapist does not see a client following your appointment, expect your therapist to hold firm boundaries on the time. Therapy sessions are unlike doctor appointments where you may wait in a waiting room for 20-30 minutes and your appointment time is rarely accurate.
- If you have a question, just ask!
The relationship between therapist and client is a very unique dynamic and unlike any other relationship you have ever had. Naturally, questions will arise. This is a person who may hold your deepest secrets and who you are most likely confiding in on a weekly basis. You may have questions concerning your relationship, what you can talk about, and what your therapist is thinking. These are typical things to contemplate as you begin to attend therapy. You may even wonder if it is appropriate to hug your therapist, give your therapist a gift, or ask about your therapist’s personal life. These questions are completely normal! Just ask. Therapy is intended to be a safe, non-judgmental, and supportive environment. Your therapist will likely normalize your questions or concerns and inform you of their boundaries.
- Therapy is not for giving advice.
This is a very important concept most therapists want their clients to know. You cannot show up to your weekly therapy appointment and expect your life to change. You must participate.
Therapists will not tell you what to do or what not to do in your own life. For example, a therapist will not tell you to get a divorce, end a relationship, or change jobs. Psychotherapy is intended for the client and therapist to work collaboratively on issues in the client’s life. It can be very empowering for the client to have self-determination and make their own decisions and choices in their life with the support of a therapist.