4 Things Nobody Tells You About Therapy

Think of me as your therapy goldilocks. I went to three different therapists and learned these lessons to save you some time. 

  1. 1. Your Breakthroughs Might Happen Outside The Therapist's Office

    After directing the 2017 music video for "Not Used," artist Jemima Kirke explained her point of view in her Music Monday interview with magazine Lenny Letter: "Those transitional, soul-level-change moments we experience are never dramatic. Epiphanies don't really happen. They're a myth. Real transformation is boring and uncomfortable, like working out on your birthday when you have no plans. Change slips in unnoticed while you're busy trudging through something pretty unremarkable." 

    In 2017, I was a junior in high school who idolized Jemima Kirke and reading this quote broke my little teenage heart. I sat in my therapist's waiting lobby, fuming. So, what, all the coming-of-age movies I'd been raised on had lied to me? There wasn't going to be dreamy lighting and an inspiring musical score when I made my spectacular breakthroughs?  

    The movies lied to us. Sometimes the progress you're making in therapy sneaks up on you when you at least expect it. For me, it happened one downright unspectacular night when I was sitting in the passenger seat of my best friend's car. Randomly, while scrolling through my twitter feed, I found myself surprisingly able to identify what it was about our dynamic that had been bothering me for the past few weeks. Just like that. A moment that should have been accompanied by an uplifting indie-pop song happened in the parking lot of my local Harris Teeter. 

    Beyond talking through the specifics of your life on a comfy couch, therapy teaches you skills. Skills that walk out of the office with you and into every mundane place you find yourself. Sometimes, you get clarity all on your own. I’m sorry to say there won’t be dazzling cinematography to go with it, but you will feel pretty damn impressive when you do brag about it to your therapist at your next session.

    P.s if you haven't seen the music video for "Not Used" check it out and revel in how fantastically ordinary being human can be.

  2. 2. You Might Go Through A Few Therapists

    Interior Priority Seating First Date

    When someone tells me that "therapy doesn't work" for them, I immediately ask how many therapists they've had. 

    In the psychological field, it's well-known that the relationship between therapist and patient is one of the biggest contributors to patient progress. In day-to-day life? Not so well-known. 

    Each therapist has a unique lens they bring to the table and sometimes that point of view makes them not the best fit for you. The first therapist I saw told me to "look myself in the mirror and tell myself to stop" when I opened up about a bad pattern I'd found myself unable to break out of. You know, just some blatantly terrible advice. 

    Yet, I continued going to my sessions for almost three months. I didn't know that I could just not make another appointment with her. I knew I wasn't really getting a whole lot out of my sessions, but nobody had told me that therapists aren't one-size-fit-all. 

    But don't be discouraged. Just because some people shouldn't be therapists doesn't mean you shouldn't go to therapy. This trial-and-error comes with a pretty good silver lining: just by going through the process, you learn a lot about yourself. By paying attention to what's not working, you can hone in on what you are looking for. Then, next time, you can ask some specific questions before making the appointment and it should be a breeze. 

  3. 3. There Will Be Days You Don't Want To Go... 

    ... and you still have to. Look, there'll be days where you will look at your calendar and tell yourself nothing is going to get accomplished even if you do go. There'll be times where you feel down or unmotivated and getting to your therapist's office might feel like a waste of everyone's time. And we've all seen John Mulaney's bit about canceling plans from his comedy special "New In Town" (for the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that canceling a therapy appointment is somehow even better).

    But therapy is work and it requires commitment for you to actually get anything from it. That's the deal. If you don't give it a fair shot or don't go at all, you're going to be disappointed. Your therapist won't judge you for not having washed your hair in a few days. Or for wearing the sweatpants you slept in the night before. And if they do, go back to tip #2. You need empathy, not a fashion critic. 

  4. 4. Sometimes Your Therapist Gets It Wrong

    sad girl in blue sweater near window

    Yes, you read that right. 

    Sometimes your therapist will get it wrong. Maybe they focused on the wrong part of that story or maybe you told them a very glass-half-full version of what happened. Therapists are people, not all-knowing magical creatures. They can't see into the future just like you can't. Sure, they have more experience with conflict resolution than you do, but life is unpredictable.

    What this means: don't just blindly follow every piece of advice your therapist gives you. If the situation is complicated, open a dialogue about your next course of action instead. Your judgment matters, too. And at the end of the day, it's you dealing with the consequences.  

Oh, one more thing: after you start going to therapy, you're going to wish it was mandatory that everyone goes. Sorry.