In the journey of life, we all stumble at times. During such periods, mental health therapy can serve as a lighthouse, helping us navigate through the stormy seas of distress and confusion. Let's delve into the world of therapy, its benefits, setting therapeutic goals, addressing uncertainties about what to discuss during sessions, and when you know a therapist is a good fit for YOU.
Understanding Therapy for Mental Health
Mental health therapy, also known as psychotherapy or simply "therapy," is a broad term encompassing various techniques used to help individuals overcome emotional challenges, mental health disorders, and stressors in their life. The goal is to promote overall well-being and functionality through the use of well-structured therapeutic conversations and activities.
Therapy can take many forms, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy, or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), to name a few. The type of therapy used depends on the individual's specific needs and the therapist's area of expertise.
The Benefits of Therapy
Therapy provides a safe, supportive space for individuals to explore their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors under the guidance of a trained professional. It can help:
Manage symptoms of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, trauma, or OCD.
Navigate stressful life events, such as bereavement, divorce, or job loss.
Improve interpersonal relationships and communication.
Enhance self-understanding and foster personal growth.
Develop coping mechanisms and resilience towards future adversities.
Setting Goals in Therapy
How Do I Set Goals in Therapy?
Setting clear goals in therapy is an important step towards progress, it also helps guide you to finding a therapist that best fits for you (see later in this blog). Here's how to do it:
Identify your concerns: Begin by reflecting on the areas in your life causing distress or dissatisfaction. This might be an emotional issue (like persistent sadness), a problematic behavior pattern, or a challenging life situation.
Define specific goals: Once you've identified your concerns, try to articulate them into specific goals. For example, "improving my mood" could be broken down into "practicing strategies to manage depressive symptoms" or "engaging in activities I used to enjoy."
Make them achievable: Ensure your goals are realistic and achievable. Breaking them into smaller, manageable steps can help.
Your therapist will help identify what makes a goal achievable such as outlining steps to reach your goal with your input.
Review and refine: Goals can evolve over time. Regularly review your goals with your therapist, adjust as needed, and celebrate your progress.
I always like to point out that having an idea of your goals is great with getting started in therapy. But sometimes you just know something is “off”. A therapist can help explore what you are feeling and help you “clear the path” to a goal. You don’t have to have it all outlined before getting started in therapy.
What If I Don't Know What to Talk About in Therapy?
If you're unsure about what to discuss in therapy, remember that therapy is your space, and there are no 'wrong' topics. I repeat, no wrong topics. You can talk about current feelings, past experiences, hopes, fears, or even your uncertainty about what to discuss. Here are a few prompts to help you navigate this question:
Discuss your week: What were your highs and lows?
Share your dreams: What did you find intriguing, disturbing, or memorable about them?
Explore your relationships: Are there any conflicts or patterns you've noticed? Are you having an issue with a friend, partner, or family member?
Reflect on your moods: What triggers changes in your emotional state?
Review your goals: I have heard this question often from my clients in therapy. It has turned into productive sessions! One thing I have done is to go back to our starting goal(s) in therapy and see how we are doing.
A good therapist will help guide the conversation and explore topics that might benefit you. The key is to be open and honest, remembering that this is a process of exploration and growth.
How Do I Know A Therapist Is A Good Therapist For Me?
Choosing the right therapist is an important step in your mental health journey. The right therapist will help you feel comfortable, supported, and empowered to make progress.
Here are some factors to consider when determining if a therapist is a good fit - really the list below is helpful in determining if a therapist is a good fit for you, but sometimes you can feel it:
Comfort and Trust: Therapy involves discussing personal, intimate details of your life. Therefore, it's vital to feel comfortable with your therapist. Do you feel like you can trust them? Are they empathetic and understanding? Do they create a safe, non-judgmental space for you?
Communication Style: The way your therapist communicates should resonate with you. You should feel heard, validated, and respected. Your therapist should explain things in a way that you understand and encourage you to ask questions if you're unsure about anything.
You may not always agree with your therapist. Your therapist should also be open to feedback. For instance, I will summarize and repeat back to my clients what I heard them say if I think I misunderstood to any disagree. I want and welcome feedback then. Or I may even ask about a situation being described by a client and ask for clarification.
Treatment Approach: Therapists have different approaches and specializations. Some use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Exposure and Relapse Prevention (ERP), Strengths-Based, psychodynamic therapy, or a mix. Research the methods your therapist uses and see if they align with your beliefs and what you feel might help you.
And if you are not sure what treatment approach a therapist uses or not sure even what the different ones are, that is okay. I find that some of my clients want to know what methods I use in therapy and others do not mind and focused on the relationship. All up to you.
Goals and Progress: A good therapist will collaborate with you to set therapeutic goals and discuss the steps needed to achieve them. You should feel that you are making progress, although remember that progress may be slow and non-linear at times.
Logistical Factors: Consider practical matters like location (video or in-person), availability, and whether they accept your insurance (if applicable). These can influence your ability to consistently attend sessions, which is important for therapy's effectiveness.
There might be times when it comes to availability that a therapist may not be able to meet. Kind of like a primary care physician, they have set hours, and therapist do as well. If something happens where your schedule changes, the best way to resolve any issues is to talk with your therapist about available times and scheduling.
Credentials and Experience: Ensure that your therapist is licensed and has experience, especially with issues similar to yours. If you're dealing with a specific issue like eating disorders, trauma, or OCD, you may want to find someone who specializes in that area.
It's okay to try a few therapists before you find the right one. The "fit" between therapist and client is incredibly important, and research shows it can significantly impact the effectiveness of therapy. Don't hesitate to discuss any concerns with potential therapists during initial consultations or to switch therapists if you feel that your current one is not a good fit. Trust your instincts, and remember that this process is about your well-being.
Mental health therapy is an invaluable tool on the road to improved well-being. Its benefits extend far beyond symptom management, offering insight, growth, and resilience. Whether you're navigating life's challenges or seeking personal growth, therapy provides a supportive space to uncover and traverse your unique path toward healing.
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.