My first experience with a counselor was when I was 17. I was a shy introvert and had no skills to survive in a college hostel. With some communication activities, it helped me develop a voice for myself. Even though that was a good start, I had to go through a lot of bad experiences in finding someone who can suit my needs.
After a lot of failures in finding a good therapist, I finally found someone who could provide me a safe space to express myself. I told her what I diagnosed my problem to be and wanted a space where I can brainstorm my thoughts to see who I am as a person. This worked for me magically.
In the first few sessions, when she started with my childhood, I could feel that I was on the verge of tears a few times when I narrated my childhood trauma. I would have narrated the same a couple of times to a couple of close friends but it was always in a neutral tone. The facade I bring when I am with a friend is “I am brave. I can handle life. I don’t need your help. You better keep your advice to yourself. I don’t want to hear your half cooked one sided unsolicited advice.” But when it comes to a therapist, it is a non judgemental space. I don’t care about what she thinks of me. As humans, we are always trying to consolidate information so that we can store and retrieve it easily. The impression I am making does matter. At the same time, I know my limits.
I hate it when someone dumps their negative emotions on me as if I am a dumpyard. So I made sure that I never used a therapist the same way.
But how she judges me has no consequence in my life whatsoever. Beyond therapy, she is someone and I am someone else. Our paths don’t cross. It just feels safe that I am not going to be back talked and shamed about whatever I shared.
When I ask myself what happened at the age of 10, my mind goes blank and I don’t push myself. But when she asks the same question, I feel obliged to answer and I was slowly able to regress and unblock my memories. At the end of each session, through whatever I spoke I was able to discover something new about myself and it felt enlightening. I found another way to discover my deeper self through therapy.
After that therapist left, I found a new one who is also as good as the first one. In one of the sessions, she sat with my sadness. That was the first ever real mature grief healing session I ever had. After the session, I realized that is the exact kind of friendship I am looking for in life. I usually don’t take in grief sessions from my clients because I feel that I am not good at it and here she set standards on how one should handle a grief session.
From my failed and successful experiences of therapy, here are some guidelines to make therapy work for you
1.Be clear on what kind of a therapist you want
As I mentioned in this article, you could use therapy for brainstorming, discovering your subconscious and unconscious beliefs, dealing with a recent upset in life or wherever you feel that you need help.
But you as a person needs to be clear on what kind of help you are looking for. Do you just want talk therapy where you talk and other person nods? Do you want the other person to ask good questions while you talk? Do you want their personal advice on what they do in life in such a situation? Do you want someone to motivate you in life?
A coaching session could be a myriad of things. But what is that you want?
In one of my therapy sessions, I went to a new therapist and spoke for 10 minutes only explaining what I want from a therapy. But then she was just waiting for me to finish my monologue to do therapy her way and not what I want. Whenever you meet such a therapist who can’t mold herself for your needs, run away.
My ideal therapy session which i shared with her:
What works for me in therapy
1.A safe place where i can brainstorm my thoughts and discover something new about myself
What wasn’t working in the past
1.It took me 5 sessions to self discover what I was truly asking for when I was explaining my needs and wants. I want my therapist to discover that in fewer sessions and not me taking my own sweet time to discover that.
2.I want to get some homework after each session so that I keep seeing some progress in my journey irrespective of the homework being useful or not.
You might want something totally opposite to mine and that’s still valid.
2.What to look for to heal through therapy?
You can choose the depth and pace of healing through therapy. On the day I was sad, in my therapy session with my therapist, I just needed space for someone to sit with me through my grief. I was only looking for acceptance. It was healing in its own way that I learnt to sit with a difficult emotion and feel it.
When I do therapy for others, when they choose only one session and clear about their problem statement and want lasting results I directly jump into inner child healing.
If they are regular, what they want is weekly guidance on discovering and uncovering themselves and they see that over a period of time they have become so much mature in their conversations.
You decide the time and pace based on your own readiness for change.
3. “Do you know any good therapists?”
This is a wrong question to ask. There was a time when I asked the same question and blindly went for a session.
My problem – “My parents want me to get married but I need time to think if that’s what I want . But they are not ready to give the same to me. I am neither able to convince them nor myself”. Her reply, “There’s nothing to do. You just have to tell them you are not ready”
Seriously? Am I paying you 1500 for you to tell me that?
When I asked that question, I needed some negotiation skills, someone who can extract my fears and fears of my parents and show me a way to solve them or come to a mid way.
I had no clue how they were one of the most famous ones in the city if they could not even debug such basic stuff. Sadly, I wasn’t equipped enough to do that for myself back then either.
So there are a lot of good therapists out there. But are they right for you? This is the question you need to find the answer for.
4.What’s the problem with the therapist giving the answer?
For the same problem mentioned above, this time I went to a male therapist. “I don’t have a good reason to get married right now. I want to focus on other areas of life.” Then comes a male reply, ” Life is stale without sex. Hence you should get married.” Thank you for your valuable advice. But you can also do surveys on how people can find meaning and excitement in life without that.
Another therapist, similar problem. “My mom and I had a rift.” She said, “Mom’s are always forgiving. She will hug you and take you back. You should just go talk to her.”
I don’t know how do they call this therapy. A friend can also do all this stereotyping.
5.What’s the problem with a therapist not giving an answer?
Another time, I went to a therapist and asked, “Why do I feel so broken?” She replied, “Only you should be able to answer that”.
If I were able to answer those questions myself, why would I come to you?
“Tell me more about it. When did it start? What happened before that? What about the situation made you feel like this? What is it that you want to feel differently?”
These are the questions which would have helped me find some answers instead.
A therapist who has not worked on herself can’t help others answer such questions.
6.Don’t expect therapy in a message
Sometimes I get whatsapp pings with people telling me their problems and asking what they should be doing. I am a human with a life of my own. Just because I am a therapist I am not here to console you whenever you want. Don’t drop a therapist a message and expect for immediate consolation. There was a time when I was on a vacation, I got a message from a client saying “I lost my job” . Of all people in your contacts, I am glad you thought of me. But I am not your best friend to be available to reply and calm you down at whatever time you are in distress.
Also, when people ask for advice over a message, “XYZ situation. What should I do?” If I were to guide you the right way, I need to take a background of you in depth. I can’t give generic advice. If you are looking for generic advice, you can always search for my articles or Quora answers or instagram posts. If I have to give you advice which works for your case, you need to schedule a session with me and respect my time and knowledge. In case you still want a free advice, you can request for an article on the same or make use of Sunday Q&A sessions.
Some of my clients message the right way. They ask, “I have an important concern (XYZ). When is the earliest I can book a slot with you?” That’s how you maintain a relationship with a therapist by explaining your problem and asking for their time to talk through it.
Being an empath, it also helps me deal with my emotions better when I know that there is a dedicated space where I can help others rather than people randomly dumping their problems onto me as soon as I open my messages.
Note: If you would like to enroll in a therapy session with me, you can enquire here.