“What purpose does a therapist serve?”
This was just one of the many real-life responses to my decision to seek professional help to address my ongoing battle with depression a few years ago.
The palpable reactions of concern and distrust from loved ones honestly didn’t surprise me, but it would’ve been nice to have a heads-up on some of the unexpected changes that occurred immediately after I began what I like to refer to as my “couch confession sessions.”
Instead of an instant life-fixing prescription, I received homework assignments that for the first time, I couldn’t haphazardly complete with an all-nighter, faced loved ones who openly doubted my therapist’s advice, and dealt with the stress of relationship changes induced by my desire to heal with a stranger’s help. Basically, therapy came with a ton of fine print and I wasn’t prepared to read.
If you’re considering therapy, here are 7 things you can expect to happen after you take that first step to psychological betterment:
Progress won’t happen overnight.
Now that you’ve started therapy, your inner badass will instantly emerge from its cocoon to whip your life into shape with Iyanla-like precision, right? Sorry to disappoint you beloved, but that’s not exactly how this works.
Maybe it was a combination of desperation and extreme anxiety, but I was convinced that my first few sessions would yield instant results, much like an hour-long TV series co-signed by Oprah. In reality, there isn’t a quick fix for deep-seated issues that have already had a literal lifetime head start on your attempts to resolve them. Embrace therapy as an ongoing process and realize that that in itself is progress.
The first therapist you see may not be a good fit and you might be tempted to give up.
If your therapist is habitually late, monopolizes the session with personal stories or makes snap judgments before you’re halfway through your back story, don’t be so quick to forfeit your peace of mind to settle into a lifetime of dysfunction. We’ve heard horror stories about ineffective therapists, which can be a major turnoff to those who are already resistant to the process.
Instead of allowing a bad experience to completely derail your efforts, commit to going the extra mile for the sake of your well-being. Put the same energy into finding a therapist who fits your needs as you would into perfecting your bantu knot outor hustling your way to boss status.
Friends and family will challenge the process.
While the guiding light of therapy slowly illuminates the pathway to a promise land free of generational curses and self-destructive mindsets, some loved ones will struggle to support your self-care journey. For instance, your parents could view therapy sessions as a direct insult to their child-rearing skills (they raised you right, didn’t they?), or your spouse might take the slow-paced progress as a sign that you’re simply wasting time and money on an overpaid professional coddler. Meanwhile, your bestie is perpetually side-eyeing your counselor (because she’s pretty sure she knows you better than anyone else).
Even if the sentiments of those closest to you seem to come from a place of genuine love and concern, it’s been my experience that the less you share about your sessions with trusted relatives and friends, the better. I found that listening to too many opinions confused me and interrupted my progress. As someone who loves to share experiences and life lessons, this was a challenge for me, but it inevitably reinforced the benefits of having access to an unbiased individual who keeps ego and personal ideologies out of the equation.
You’ll come to enjoy therapy.
Staring down your innermost issues in the presence of a professional doesn’t exactly sound like an event to be overly excited about, but I found myself looking forward to therapy and even feeling a bit sad when I went from weekly to monthly sessions to eventually none at all.
Aside from the opportunity to partake in guilt-free venting, one major benefit of therapy is that it provided an outlet in which I put my needs before everything else without the risk of being labeled self-centered. Over time, I amassed a personal collection of go-to problem-solving techniques to address issues major and minor, and I gained a deeper understanding of myself, my behaviors and most importantly, what stood between me and mental soundness.
Your listening skills will improve.
If your pre-therapy approach to listening was of the Kanye West “Imma let you finish” variety, then you might be surprised to find that you can now patiently hear out that friend who complains about being in love with a man who’s bad in bed without feeling the need to interject an unsolicited assessment of the issue at hand, along with the solution that trumps all others.
One of the most gratifying feelings I had after leaving therapy was the sense of knowing that someone heard and acknowledged what I had to say in a manner that reinforced the validity of my voice and my story. I wouldn’t compare my listening skills to that of a therapist, but I’m noticeably more cognizant of when someone’s in need of an ear instead of verbal input.
You’ll become more understanding and less judgmental.
Several of the issues I addressed in therapy had to do with my core belief that I didn’t deserve to be protected, a falsehood cultivated by the environment in which my parents raised me. For years, I harbored resentment towards my parents and blamed my internal struggles on the ways in which they failed me as a child. But in learning to show myself compassion, I realized that my parents likely inherited the unhealthy habits and behaviors they passed onto me from their parents and their surrounding environment. In short, they suffered damage at the hands of their predecessors just like I had, and the way I coped was simply a reflection of generations past. Judging them harshly was the same as me judging myself, which blocked the road to a deeper understanding.
Some sessions will leave you emotionally and mentally exhausted.
While I will relentlessly sing the praises of therapy to anyone within earshot, there’s no getting around it: Therapy will kick your ass. It’s basically like taking part in the most intense boxing match ever, only you’re the reigning champ and the challenger. If you’re completely open to the process, it leaves you no choice but to face the deepest, most vulnerable and flawed parts of yourself, which for some, can be a downright frightening experience.
That said, give yourself some extra compassion if therapy and all that accompanies it leaves you feeling winded, hopeless and cursing the day you signed up for this dreaded task of inner demon-slaying. Right now, you’re putting in the necessary hard work and if you stick to the program, you’ll eventually develop the mental and emotional muscle to flex on your future problems before they have a chance to take you out.