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Five things I wish I knew before starting therapy

I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and ADHD about four years ago. At the same time I got kicked out of Marianopolis College in Montreal. I’ve been doing therapy ever since.

It hasn’t all been easy. I’ve been on and off medication and have changed therapists a few times, so I’ve learned a lot along the way. Coming from a family that hasn’t always been open to mental health issues, I didn’t have much information going into my first session so I’d like to share with you five things I picked up that could maybe help you or inspire you to try therapy.

1. Therapists are humans too – you might not gel with one and that’s OK.

The first meeting with your therapist is exceptionally important. This is someone who you’re ideally going to be sharing a lot of information and insights about your life that you may have never shared with anyone else.

With this in mind, it’s imperative that you like your therapist. If you find their voice annoying, if they have mannerisms that annoy you, if it feels like they’re being condescending when they ask you questions, go to someone else. Remember that you’re buying a service and you are entitled to shop around.

2. Its OK if you’re not comfortable at first. You’ll get used to talking about your vulnerabilities.

In my case, social links have always been an issue. I have problems connecting with other people and this comes from my unwillingness to share vulnerabilities, something that I’ve learned is a cornerstone of building relationships.

This makes it hard for me to share with my therapist, or anyone for that matter, but it’s important to recognize that it is the client’s responsibility to paint a clear picture for the therapist, as it would be impossible for them to recognize issues correctly without one.

Furthermore, over time I’ve learned that by taking those steps I’ve reached a point where I trust my therapist with these details.

3. Therapy is expensive – make sure you know your goals but don’t feel pressured to stick to them.

Good therapists are hard to come by and they sure as hell aren’t cheap. Therapists can range anywhere from $80 to $200 an hour and if you don’t have great insurance you’ll be paying for it out of pocket. Even if you can afford it, unless you’re made of money, it’ll be a cost you’ll constantly notice and question. So you’re going to want to get something out of it.

Try to come up with goals, be it motivation in your classwork, connecting with friends or fixing broken relationships. Do this before you go to see your therapist. Think of things that are bugging you that you want to talk about.

If, however, something else comes up during your session, don’t be pressured to stick to your list. Life is a constant ebb and flow and therapy should be a place that you can go to air out any issues you may have and clean up the clutter in your mind.

4. You’ll need to put in work outside of the session.

Therapy is about cleaning up your head so that you can go out and make changes in your life. This means that you can’t just go to therapy and expect your life to change.

You have to make changes in your own behavior, consciously, once therapy has helped you identify behaviours that are hindering your ability to achieve your goals. Whether that means you have to go out and talk to random people as an assignment from your counsellor, or whether it means you start taking an extra step of thought before engaging in conversation, it will always mean that you have to put in work.

5. Everyone reacts differently – it can take time before changes occur in your life.

I had some issues that prevented me from being motivated in my classes. Once I stopped the habits that promoted this apathetic state, it took months before the people around me saw a change.

I was working hard at school and doing better than ever. But during those months of transition I, and many others in my life, questioned the validity of therapy. Eventually, as people started to see a change in me, those questions subsided. But it’s important to realize that this journey is longer than a marathon, and at times — especially at the beginning — a question. And that too, is okay.

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