What can I expect in our first session?
The first session in therapy is an opportunity to get to know each other and address any outstanding questions or concerns that you may have. I will explain more about the collaborative therapeutic process, limits of confidentiality and my role as your therapist. In order to develop a customized treatment plan, I will carry out an informal assessment. An assessment is a discussion in which I ask a number of questions to determine:
- your goals and hopes for therapy
- the main issue you’re experiencing, or why you have decided to pursue therapy
- types of therapy or counselling you have tried in the past, and whether it was helpful
- your strengths, skills and resources
- your relationships and how they impact your life and mental health
- any challenges or barriers that you face
- your past experiences and how they might be influencing your life now
It’s important to note that assessments are ongoing throughout our work together. As your needs and goals shift, and your circumstances change, the therapy will accommodate and shift with you. Furthermore, you are not required to share everything in the first session (nor is there time to!). It is understandable to feel scared, nervous or overwhelmed when you first begin therapy, and it may take some time for you to feel safe enough to share certain thoughts, feelings or experiences.
The first session can also help you to decide whether we are a good fit. It’s important that you feel safe, supported, respected and understood by your therapist. The connection and trust built between a therapist and their client is critical to the success of any mental health intervention. I encourage you to share any thoughts or reservations that you may have after the first session so that we can explore solutions together.
How do I know that you’re the right therapist for me?
It’s very important to check in with yourself following the phone consultation and first in-person session to determine if my style works for you and whether we should move forward together. I also encourage you to ask any questions about myself or my professional experience that may help you make your choice. You will know that the therapeutic relationship is a good fit when you feel safe, comfortable, and empowered by your therapist. Trust your gut to guide you! Do you think that this is someone you could become comfortable sharing personal information with? Is this someone that you could eventually trust?
Keep in mind that it may take up to three sessions for you to make a thoughtful decision on whether your therapist is right for you. Try your best to differentiate between a poor fit and the anxiety or discomfort that is common when beginning a new mental health treatment.
Some clients prefer to work with a therapist of the same identified gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity as themselves. You may want to consider whether some or all of these factors are important to you.
How do I know that I need to see a therapist?
People seek the help of a therapist for a variety of reasons:
- develop coping strategies for mental health symptoms or stress
- increase self-awareness and insight
- recognize and change patterns of negative thinking
- gain control of distressing emotions
- resolve past trauma
- improve self-esteem and confidence
- identify barriers that interfere with life goals and generate solutions
- reduce symptoms of anxiety and/or depression
- change long-standing patterns of behaviour
- better understand relationship dynamics and the behaviour of others
- reduce emotional pain
- develop skills to manage future challenges
- become more self-sufficient
- resolve conflict with others
- reflect on past experiences and how they have shaped current circumstances
- connect with others in a deep and meaningful way
- improve communication skills for more satisfying relationships with others
- overcome periods of grief, loss, or difficult transitions
- live a happier life
This list is by no means comprehensive of every motivation for therapy. Check the Services page to see whether you identify with some of the issues listed.
What’s the difference between talking to a therapist vs. my best friend or mom?
Relationships with friends and family are vital to a person’s health and well-being. However, there are important distinctions between your friends and a therapist.
First, therapists are specially trained in conducting mental health assessments and interventions that have proven benefits. They have completed several years of schooling in the study of human behaviour and relationship dynamics. Although it may seem, at times, that you are simply engaging in casual conversation, your therapist is asking questions or making observations with a specific intention in mind. The direction that they take with these discussions will often depend on the treatment goals you have set with your therapist.
Therapists are objective and neutral, whereas family and friends are not. These social supports have biases and preconceived notions about you, due to their unique perspective and the history of your relationship. They are also invested in your relationship in a way that a therapist is not. Your family and friends have individual needs and opinions that will affect your interactions together. Although therapists may care about you, they do not have a stake in your life. In addition, therapists are taught to become aware of their own biases and should participate in weekly clinical supervision to work through them. Many clients who experience relationship problems in their lives use therapy as a “test relationship” to try new things and receive objective, honest feedback.
Therapy has clear expectations and boundaries in place to keep clients safe. Confidentiality, for example, is established at the outset of treatment. Therapists spend time cultivating a safe, supportive, and nonjudgmental environment so that you feel comfortable exploring the deep and inner parts of yourself. There is no need to act a certain way or try to “impress” your therapist. You may not feel secure revealing certain thoughts or feelings with friends, for fear that they will use the information against you later, judge you, or tell a third party. Some clients have also noted that they do not want to place an additional burden on their friends or family by revealing the issues they’re struggling with. Therapists, on the other hand, will not feel burdened by your struggles because of their specific training and limited relationship with you.
Personal relationships are a two-way street. Therapy, on the other hand, focuses on you. A set date and time is dedicated to whatever you would like to concentrate on. At times, a therapist may choose to disclose something personal about themselves in order to validate or normalize your experience. However, you should never feel obligated to support or console your therapist in the way that you do with friends and family. Also, in therapy, you don’t have to worry about taking up too much time, since there are clear expectations regarding the start and end time.
How long will I be in therapy for?
This is a difficult question to answer, since there is no standard time for successful therapy. It depends on a number of factors including: your treatment goals, history, mental health issues and their severity/complexity, life stressors, social supports, and your level of effort and engagement in the process. The type of intervention chosen by you and your therapist will also affect the treatment length. Brief or short-term therapy that involves learning new ways to cope or reframing negative thoughts, for example, is usually between 8 and 12 sessions. Longer-term therapy that tackles more complex and deep-seated patterns typically takes 20 sessions or longer. Ongoing assessments in collaboration with your therapist can determine if your goals have been reached and whether to continue with treatment.
Some clients report a decrease in symptoms almost immediately, while others will notice an increase in emotional distress when they begin therapy, since difficult issues are stirred up, sometimes for the first time. Although these emotions can be challenging to deal with, experiencing them is usually a sign that you are delving deep into self-exploration and are on the right track. It is expected that your intervention and therapeutic relationship will have ups and downs, with periods of both rapid and slow progress. I encourage you to communicate any progress or worsening of symptoms to your therapist to ensure that interventions or goals are adjusted appropriately.
How often do we meet?
Weekly sessions are recommended in order to develop momentum in treatment and meet your therapeutic goals. You may choose to reduce your session frequency to bi-weekly as you continue to make progress. However, session frequency is ultimately determined by your life circumstances.
Do you offer therapy over the phone? Skype?
When needed, I can offer therapeutic services over the phone and Skype to clients with whom I have already met for several in-person sessions and have established a relationship.
Have a question that you don’t see answered here? Please contact me.