Most people would rather swipe their problems under a carpet than to go to a psychologist, but this can only mean bigger issues in the long run. In honour of World Mental Health Day 2014, we encourage you to seek help when you or your loved ones need it. Clinical psychologist Joel Low walks us through a typical therapy session to show you there's really nothing to fear:
I’ve been asked many times what it’s like seeing a psychologist. More often than not, I get wild fantastical ideas of what happens in the therapy room. I think we can thank those wonderful shows that we saw on TV and movies for this one, from the age old traditional client-lying-on-the-couch routine, to images of patients strapped to beds with wires and electrodes sticking out of their skulls.
So today, let me give you a quick glimpse into what going to a therapist in Malaysia can be like. This may not be the case for all centres or clinics, but this is how it would be like if you were coming in to our centre at The Mind. Enjoy!
Step 1: Hi, I’m the therapist that has been assigned to you
In most cases, the first point of contact between you and your therapist would occur after you have made an enquiry. Usually when you first call in, the centre would obtain a quick brief on you regarding the nature of the problem, as well as any preferences that you may have, for example Chinese-speaking therapist, or a male one. This is done so that the centre can pair you up with the therapist who would be the best fit for you.
The therapist would give you a call and you would proceed to set a date which would be suitable for the both of you to meet. At our centre, we would also send you an email with some documentation that we would require you to fill in before you come on in for the first session. These documents help give us a good background on your family and medical history, as well as to help us highlight objectively what concerns that you may have.
After you’ve made your appointment, and filled in the documents, it’s time to kick back, relax and wait for the day!
Step 2: Meeting your therapist for the first time
The first time you enter a centre can be a daunting one. You’re in a new and strange environment, you have no idea what to expect, you’re meeting your therapist for the very first time and you’re about to speak to a relative stranger (whom you’ve only spoken to over the phone a couple of times). It’s completely normal to feel nervous and antsy! Think about any new situation you’ve been, like going to a new job, or travelling to another country to study. This is much of the same!
When I have friends and family asking me what they need to prepare when they first meet their therapist, I always tell them absolutely nothing. This is the same policy at The Mind as well. Therapy is all about you. As therapists, we look to help you get to your goals the best way we can. So just bring yourself, and try to be as honest and open as you comfortably can.
If you’re on any medications prescribed by psychiatrists or referral letter from a doctor, bring those along so that your therapist can make a note of the information.
I’d also suggest that you bring along a bottle of water or a beverage if you like, or ask your therapist for a drink when you arrive. We find that a warm beverage such as tea or coffee works wonders in helping sooth nerves and is a great conversation starter.
At this point, your therapist would usually ask for the documents that you’ve filled in and go through them with you. This would be a great time for you to ask any questions that you have regarding the documents, or about therapy in general like frequency of sessions and the like. An important step at the start of the therapy would be for you and your therapist to discuss about confidentiality. Usually, your therapist would explain to you verbally about the confidentiality of therapy, and its limitations. This is important to take note of as this has to do with your rights as a client as well as the responsibilities of the therapist.
As therapist, we want to make sure that our clients make the best informed decision that they can, so we’ll always answer any question that you may have. Make sure you feel comfortable before you start on any work together with the therapist. A good rule of thumb for when you’re good to go is when you feel that the therapist has answered all your questions and you feel comfortable.
Step 3: So this is awkward…
Once you’ve got all the paperwork out of the way, it’s time for therapy to start in earnest! This can often be the most anxiety provoking moment of therapy.
“Where do I start?”
“What do I tell him/her?”
“This is so awkward!”
“I hope I don’t cry!”
“What if he/she laughs at me?”
These are just some of the myriad of thoughts that we hear from the clients that come through our centre. We understand that therapy can be strange and awkward at first, we do! In our training, we’re constantly challenged to be both the therapist and client so we know what it’s like to be on the other side of the couch. So no, we would definitely not laugh at you! Maybe laugh with you about something, but never at you.
My usual advice to someone starting therapy for the first time would be to start with what brings them to the centre to begin with. It’s a good place to start, and gives a good indication of what was the main difficulty that brought you to therapy in the first place. From there, just talk. If you have a series of things that you feel that the therapist should know, go for it and make sure you say what you want to. If not, just talk and see where it takes you.
As therapists, we are very comfortable in letting you speak, so never feel bad that you’ve been talking too much. We want you to speak, and sometimes, even the very act of verbalizing your thoughts can make things seem that much more manageable, so go right on ahead. Occasionally the therapist may ask a question or two, but by and large, the first session is about getting to know you and the difficulties that you’re facing. Most importantly, take your time. There’s no rush to get everything out in the first session. It’s not uncommon for new information to surface even months into therapy.
Step 4: This is therapy? That’s not bad!
One key thing about the first session that not many people are aware of, but is really important, is the fact that the first session should be used to see if you and your therapist are a good match for one another. Think about it this way, we’ve met plenty of people in our life. Some people’s company we may prefer more of than others, and the same can be said of therapy as well. There are times when a therapist and a client may meet, and you just lack the chemistry required for an effective therapeutic relationship to form.
If that’s the way you feel, you can make one of two choices. First, you can stay with your therapist and see if a good therapeutic relationship develops, or secondly, you could opt to try out an alternative and see which gives you a better fit. Either way, the key thing to remember is to make sure that you feel comfortable. Oftentimes, the marker for effective therapy is the quality of the therapeutic relationship between yourself and your therapist.
After the ice has been broken, more often than not, therapy becomes much easier after. From here on out, therapy focuses on helping you identify the goals that you would like to achieve, and discussions on how to break down your goal so that it can easily be achieved. Your responsibility as a client is for you to lean back, relax, and work together with your therapist to try and achieve the goals that you have.
Step 5: That’s it! I’ll see you next week!
Right, so there you go! That’s what therapy is like in a nutshell. Just remember that this isn’t the rule, rather, these are just some of the experiences that our clients go through. Everyone’s experience with therapy can be different, but what’s important is for you to find a setting and a therapist that fits your needs and that you feel comfortable with. Once you do, sit back, and enjoy the process of self-discovery!
Are you considering therapy or have been to therapy? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!