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How to Best Prepare for Therapy

How to Best Prepare for Therapy

How can I best prepare for my therapy session?


Good question. 

It’s best to avoid this situation: you put in the time to book another therapy session, you pay the money (gulp), you put it in your schedule, on the day-of you get your notification reminding you of your appointment, you travel to the office, you wait in the waiting room, you are welcomed into a room, you get to the chair, sit down, get asked the question, “what would you like to work on today?” A silence follows. And then you answer: “I don’t know.”

This happens a lot and I’d like to suggest gently that this is not an ideal situation.

I do want to start with saying that even if this is you, don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve started many therapy sessions sitting in silence not knowing how to begin… and yes I’ve uttered these words. At other times I’ve just wanted to update my therapist on fun life events or ask simple questions that I’ve been pondering. 

Even more, simply by booking a session you are already getting the gears moving in the change process. There are six stages in the change process (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination). By booking a therapy session it means that you are past the first stage, which is pre-contemplation. The change process has already begun simply by contemplating your situation, deciding that you could use some help navigating your way forward, and then reaching out for help. The fact of having booked an appointment is substantial! 

And yet, this question still remains relevant: how can I maximize my time in therapy? How can I make this investment even more fruitful? How might I go about preparing for therapy?

You want to get the best bang for your buck! Counselling – a valuable, set-part space and time for growth – can be enhanced by preparation.

So, how might one prep? 

I’ve got three things for you: first, ten questions to ponder. Second, three tips. Third, one general attitude to develop.

Ten Questions to Prepare for Therapy:

I read a quote that said, “the best answers begin with good questions.”

I’ve compiled a list of questions that you can ponder before your sessions that will enhance your time together. I’ve gathered them from personal experience and from other clinical counsellors who have given me their insights on how one might best prepare for therapy. 

  1. Whats not working? What do I want different? How will I know if it’s different?
  2. What do I have a hard time admitting to myself? 
  3. What gets in the way of me getting to where I want to go? Bonus points if it’s a repeat offender.
  4. What do I want to change about my life? Make sure it’s practical, measureable, and reasonable.
  5. How would I have to adjust my time each week to achieve this change?
  6. How might I sabotage my plans to make this change?
  7. What is my role in maintaining the problem I am wanting to address? What do I gain from its existence?
  8. What could we focus on today that would help me leave feeling like it was useful?
  9. What stuck with me from the last session?
  10. What is bothering me the most right now? Is there something I can do to fix it? How willing am I to fix it? 

Those are some questions to ponder before sessions that will help you get started in the right direction. 

Three Tips to Prepare for Therapy:

Here are some other practical tips that you could take in to help as well:

  1. Have an ongoing tab on your phone or in your journal of topics, subjects, challenges that you are wanting to explore in therapy. Whenever new thoughts or insights or feelings rise up that are relevant, write those down in your notes.
  2. Take ten minutes before each session to mentally prepare. This moment of thinking, mindfulness, and silence will help you settle into how you are doing and what is going to be most important to focus on.
  3. Finally, a helpful reminder is that every session is NOT going to be groundbreaking. This is normal. Just like regular life, lots of the time we are not on the mountaintop, we are just in the thick of it. Processing our mixed emotions, asking good questions, risking vulnerability in the presence of a compassionate other. Let yourself embrace the process of growth and transformation which does not happen overnight. I’ve heard some studies that suggest that it takes at least 5-6 sessions to start to experience deeper therapeutic gains and other studies that say it may take up to 40 sessions to achieve the changes you are wanting to make.

 

Therapy is a bold endeavour to self-examine the state of our lives, develop understanding, and hope for growth. I’m continually left in wonder, awe, and reverence at the courage of those enter therapy and display this level of humility, vulnerability, and courage.

 

AN ATTITUDE TO DEVELOP


I want to end with another fundamental of therapy that might help your mindset going into each session. 

Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” In the same vein, Richard Schwartz, a seasoned therapist, encourages all of us to develop an attitude of openness and receptivity to the many excellent teachers that we have in life. He writes, “I’m not talking about the gurus, priests, professors, or parents, although they can certainly help you learn your lessons if they’ve learned theirs. I’m talking instead about the difficult events and people that trigger you—your tor-mentors. By tormenting you, they mentor you about what you need to heal.” 

This gets at a deep truth that undergirds therapy as a whole: within the mess of our greatest challenges, discomfort, or pain, is the potential for transformation and growth. “But wait, I want to get rid of those very problems!” True, we do want change and that involves hoping for peace and order. However, the way forward is often not what we initially expect. When we are able to befriend these tor-mentors we find our pathway to healing and growth. When a seed dies, new growth breaks through. After a field has laid fallow, will it be ready to be planted again. The treasure is hidden behind the guarding dragon. The promised land comes after the trek through the desert. 

Think of the wise people you know in life, have they had an easy life without challenge or suffering? No, quite the opposite. These people persevered amidst great adversity. Navigated complex messy obstacles. 

This is the posture that will also aid your therapeutic journey: edge towards facing the given challenges we have, the internal limitations we have to admit, confounding situations we are plagued with and from that place we attempt to develop a posture of receptivity to these tor-mentors. 

Deep breath. This seems like a lot, and it is. And that is why we don’t do this alone! We need a safe companion for the journey. Therapists can prove helpful companions to enter into this journey of growth, resilience, and change.

If you’ve been on the fence about trying therapy, we’d love to hear from you. Starting therapy can be an intimidating thing – we’ve all been there. If this post is resonating with you, give us a shout and we’d be happy to sit down with you.

“It’s a Wonderful Life!” – Every parent’s response: “is it really?”

“It’s a Wonderful Life!” – Every parent’s response: “is it really?”

What does Family Systems teach about being Parent-Oriented?


Let me paint a fictional yet very real picture: 

“I can’t take it! This yelling is killing me,” Trish cried out to her husband in frustration.

Trish: 41 years old, married to Owen, mother of two boys (Jake, 9, and Sam, 14), and working part time at a Marketing firm – sat down with her head down. 

She went on, “I’m exhausted… and feel more tyrant than parent! I can’t take much more…”

So much for the classic Christmas exclamation (yes, I’m still in the Christmas/New Years reflective mode) we wish we could all shout from the rooftops: “It’s a wonderful life!” 

Trish’s internal dialogue: 

What an absolute battle! Shouldn’t swimming lessons be fun? Nevermind my lovely intentions for him to make some friends, something he is clearly struggling to do.

Our internal critics can be ruthless in their judgements: 

The tone you used was too intense! What sort of mother screams like this at her kids? Hopefully none of the neighbors heard that. It’s hopeless! I cannot stop this yelling. Am I just a bad mother?

It’s one of those moments when you have intrusive thoughts about how you wish you could escape all the commitments you have. You are trying to uphold an image of order and yet the cracks are forming and your will power is running dangerously low.

If this is you, breathe in and out deeply. Right now. Try it. It helps. Slowly breathe in and out again. Take your time. I’ll explain in a second. This is important.

There is hope.

There are new dance moves to learn! New songs you and your family can move to. 

There is hope.

Do you sense a little doubt rising up? If so, go ahead and acknowledge that part of you that is skeptical. Take a moment, and acknowledge that inner skeptic. Listen to what it’s saying. Makes sense. Change is difficult. We’ve gone down this road too many times. Hope often feels out of reach.


Well, as a therapist and fellow human (who is new to the parenting game), I want to encourage you and share some steps you can take to become that peaceful presence you long to be within your family.

Take the First Step.

I want to encourage you: walking up those stairs to confront your child, to investigate the brewing chaos, or to engage in the struggle to get your kid to swimming lessons is so important. Being a parent is a sacred duty. As much as I can through the medium of a blog, I want to say this: Well done! Parenting is so important.

Some of the biggest names in psychology and parenting – Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté – together wrote a book called Hold Onto Your Kids and they repeatedly highlight the importance of our children being attached or connected to us as their parents. Perhaps this seems obvious but, in fact, researchers are seeing a trend of children becoming increasingly more attached to their peers than their parents. This means our kids are getting their cues or primary validation from their friends over us, their parents. Do your kids lean towards being peer-oriented or parent-oriented? A helpful sign is who do they turn to when in crisis? Or this: when your child is freaking out at you it’s a sign of their safety with you. 

Whatever the answer may be, your involvement is critical. And that means walking up those stairs over and over again.

I think of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life where George Bailey doubts whether his life has made any difference in light of the chaotic forces of big business creeping in and widening the inequality gap. In a moment of despair George wishes he had never lived! The classic parental exclamation: “is anything I am doing making a difference!?” Spoiler warning. George Bailey gets his wish to see what his community would look like if he never lived…and what does he discover? His life, in fact, has positively impacted countless lives. This movie is a beautiful witness to the power of a life well lived. The takeaway? Our lives, our love, and each little decision we make has a significant impact in ways that, more often than not, we will never see.

Your attention, your love, your concern for your kids, even if it comes across not perfectly, is worthwhile, essential and life changing.

Take the Next Step.

So back to our main question: how do we end this seemingly endless screaming match and attain that wonderful life we all want?

Deep breath in. And breathe out slowly. 

Here’s an answer according to Family Systems research:

One of the best things you can do for your kid is to focus NOT on your kids but to focus on yourself.

What? This is a strange invitation indeed. 

Hal Runkl, a seasoned family therapist, puts it this way, “We all feel incredibly anxious about our kids, and their choices, and we don’t know what to do about it. We fret and worry about how our kids will turn out. Inevitably, we’re so focused on our kids that we don’t realize when this anxiety takes over—and we get reactive.” (Runkl, 2009, p. 9). 


Hal continues, “First, it’s a given that there are things in this world we can control and things we cannot control. Now ask yourself this question: How smart is it to focus your energy on something you can’t do anything about, something you cannot control? Answer: Not very. Follow-up question: Which category do your kids fall into? In other words, are your children something you can control or something you cannot control? Here’s an even tougher question: Even if you could control your kids, should you? Is that what parenting is all about? And what if it’s not the kids who are out of control?” (Runkl, 2009, p. 11). 

Compelling right? Take a moment to think about that paragraph. Not fully sold yet? That’s okay. Stay with me just a bit longer so I can paint a picture of what this sort of parenting might look like. 

So the natural next question to ask is: what does it look like to focus on ourselves as parents? 

Take A Different Step.

It means doing what I got you to do above.

First, breathe in. Breathe out. 

Then, acknowledge the parts of yourself that rose up (the inner skeptic we acknowledged earlier). 

And then finally, move towards your kids.

Hal Runkl puts it this way: calm down, grow up, get close.

This sort of parenting is less about mastering the available parenting techniques but harnessing what Edwin Friedman (another family therapist) calls a “non-anxious presence.” It’s less about skills to learn and more about managing our anxiety. It’s difficult but doable. And it works! 

The power of harnessing a non-anxious presence is that if change occurs in one part of the family system, it affects the entire system. When anxiety rises in one person, it instantly impacts the entire family system. Like certain house heating systems: if the temperature drops, instantly the heating system alters to adjust the temperature. Thus, as the parent, when one lowers their own anxiety (perhaps through our three steps – calm down, grow up, and get close) you will immediately impact the entire family. In fact, our heightened anxiety often creates the very outcomes it seeks to prevent (check out counterwill and Otto Rank for more on this).

This is why the first step of harnessing a non-anxious presence is breathing or getting calm. This aligns with new research that teaches us about mirror neurons which activate in those around us in response to our emotional state (Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). Our brains are beautifully programmed to be really good at mirroring, or “getting in tune” with those around us. So, as you manage your breathing in high intensity situations, it will impact those you are around. So, first: calm down. Breathe.

Think Things Through.

Some questions to ponder related to our first step: what situations with your children make you the most reactive? What is said that typically triggers you? What are you feeling at that moment? Have you ever remained calm in the midst of family chaos? How did that affect those around you? 

The second step – grow up – is about how we handle the anxiety that is inherent in our families. It’s about avoiding speedy responses (emotional reactivity), increasing our self-awareness, and taking time to really think. 

Can you, in the heat of the moment as you walk up the stairs in response to the apparent chaos brewing, acknowledge the sadness, anger, and anxiety in you that is rising up? 

Hal puts it this way, “the only way to retain a position of influence with our children is to regain a position of control over ourselves” (Runkl, 2009, p. 16). Part of growing up, and thus infusing peace into our families, is our ability to embrace the emotional intensity present, the painful words unleashed, and the immediate discomfort for long-term pay-off. This is the process of maturity: our sacred responsibility as parents. 

“I hate you!” “You’re no fun… I want to go out Friday night.” “I don’t know how to do this homework!”

Cue anxiety. Do you feel it in your shoulders? This anxiety leads to two usual responses: Scream or avoid! Instead, each time this anxiety rises up it is an opportunity for us to grow up. And this process of pausing, thinking, and becoming aware of our own emotions, gives us enough space to think and respond from a non-anxious position… or as close as we can get to it.

So, the second step is to grow up: embrace your own anxiety, name the thoughts and emotions that come up, and take a moment to think.

I’ll keep the third step simple. The final step is to get close, which simply means remaining connected. From this place of calm move towards your kids. 

The Take Home Message. 

Let’s put this all together:

Your kids are fighting upstairs. Your heart rate starts to increase.. Angry thoughts start to arrive: “I’ve got dinner to make…I just put out five different fires today and now this kid is at it again!” These intrusive thoughts and more flood your brain. 

Here is what you need to do.

Walk upstairs… slow your pace… (unless danger is truly on the table… but it probably isn’t)…. Breathe in and out… attempt to slow your heart rate… even a little bit. Become aware of the part of you that is angry… where do you experience it? What is its job for you? Then, enter the room…

In conclusion, peace enters our families not in the way we expect, not through focusing on our kids – something we cannot or shouldn’t control – but through focusing on ourselves. Calming down, growing up, and getting close.

 

References

Neufeld, G., & Maté, G. (2004). Hold On to Your Kids: why parents need to matter more than peers. Vintage Canada. 

Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 27, 169-192.

Runkel, H. E. (2009). Screamfree parenting: The revolutionary approach to raising your kids by keeping your cool. Broadway. 

Parenting a Young Adult

Parenting a Young Adult

Parenting your Chronically-Ill Young Adult

Becoming an adult is a challenge these days. It’s even more challenging if you have chronic physical or mental illness, pain and/or disability. And it is equally challenging when parenting one of those kiddos. Here are some suggestions about what tends to work, and what tends not to work – although, of course, every child is different, and every parent-child relationship is different – so, take these as suggestions only and use what works for you.

Separation Anxiety

By separation anxiety, I mean yours! It is normal for young adults to become more and more autonomous as they separate from their family of upbringing and learn to stand on their own feet. This can be very anxiety-provoking when you are acutely aware of their struggles. Maybe you know that they have extreme anxiety around dealing with paperwork or making telephone calls. You may wonder, “how are they going to manage in their own place?” But hovering and fussing around isn’t helping them or you. Take a breath, do a guided meditation, and learn to be more patient than you ever thought possible.

If you have a young adult who sometimes goes ‘quiet’ and you have concerns about self-harm, it can be a good idea to have the name and number of a partner, friend or coworker who you can contact to check on how they’re doing. However, this must only be on rare occasions. Don’t use them as a way to deal with your anxieties.

They’re Still Here!

If your young adult is still living at home because of their health, and you are both happy about that, then there is no problem. If either of you are less than enthusiastic about it, then it’s time to give them their own space as much as possible, set boundaries and ground rules that work for everyone, and negotiate for shared time rather than assuming that they want to be around you 24/7. It may also be time for them to assume some of the household duties (to the extent that their health allows) so that they are building transferrable skills, and learning that being an adult comes with responsibilities.

Mind Your Own Business!

Privacy is something which everyone deserves. Our children get less privacy when they are young because that is tempered by the need to have some level of control over their lives to ensure that they are healthy and safe. However, adults have the right to privacy, period. Your kid’s computer, cellphone, finances, diary … all off-limits. If you have concerns, talk to them – it’s the grown-up thing to do and they should be able to expect you to model what being an adult means. They don’t need your permission to go out, but they may need your help with transportation. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll meet their friends and be part of their life way more than if they get grilled every time they leave the house.

What They Need versus What You Want to Do

Often we think we really know our kids and their needs – and we probably do, more than anyone in the world … except them. If we insist on helping the way we want instead of what they need, then we prevent them from growing. For example, if they tell you that they can handle taking the bus to work this week, and don’t need a lift – you may not be sure they can do it. But what’s the worst that can happen? They try it once and then need assistance. But what’s the best that can happen? Maybe they make progress and conquer a new skill! Don’t second guess them. Yes, it’s hard watching them struggle a bit. But that, as the kids say, is a you problem. Don’t make it theirs.

Work together with your kids to make contingency plans that help keep their lives on-track. If they take prescriptions, and you know they have difficulty filling them – keep a few days’ supply so that they won’t ever run out completely. If they’re travelling, and you worry that their ADHD will cause them to lose their passport – take a scanned copy backed up to the Cloud and make sure you both have a photo of it on your phones. There are creative solutions to most problems. Oh, and the occasional home-made mac and cheese never hurts, either!

Parenting Without Judgement!

Make parenting a no-judgement zone. If they get into trouble, they won’t ask for help if they know they are going to hear ‘I told you so’. Minimize issues and let them know that adult life is hard, but manageable, and most things can be fixed. Be ready to help when it’s needed, and be prepared to feel a touch neglected when they’re having a good spell and don’t really need you as much! And quit judging yourself, too. You’re navigating one of the most difficult tightrope walks of all – being there for a child who wants to be independent but who can’t quite manage it yet. You aren’t always going to get it right, and neither are they. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The best thing you can do for your kid is be there for them when they need you to be, and love them, always.

If you find that you are struggling with parenting, don’t be afraid to seek help. It can be a relief to realize that many other people struggle with the same issues. I know it’s hard, but try to let other people in. It can be easy to assume that you are the only one who can help your kid. But even if that’s so, maybe other people can help YOU. Maybe your partner can do the laundry or the supermarket run this week. Don’t get so blinkered that you exhaust yourself completely, because then you won’t be able to help your kid. I am not suggesting that you always put yourself first – no parent of a chronically-ill child I have ever met is able to do that. But I am suggesting that you don’t put yourself last.

Look How Far They’ve Come

It can be hard, when you have a kiddo with chronic health issues, to get bogged down in doctor visits, prescriptions, rough nights, trips to the ER, sensory overloads, etc, etc. But looking back a couple of years usually lets us see the progress which has been made. Maybe things don’t look like you expected them to. But maybe your journey, and your young adult’s, will end up being more meaningful than you ever expected. Celebrate the wins!

We’d love to hear what works for you and your young adult. And if you could use support in your parenting journey, contact us to see how we can help.

How Do I Help My Child With Back-to-School Anxiety?

How Do I Help My Child With Back-to-School Anxiety?

Some School Anxiety is Normal!

First things first, it is normal and expected for children to have some worries with regards to going back to school! School anxiety may include worries like:

  • Who will be my new teacher?
  • Will my friends be in my class this year?
  • How will I do in math/language/etc. this year?
  • Will this year be harder than last year?

These are social and academic concerns that all children can experience from time to time. In these cases, it is important for parents to recognize these concerns and talk openly with their child about them. At the same time, it is critical that parents listen and empathize, never dismissing or minimizing the child’s feelings. Children need to be heard, like all people.

Parents’ Reactions to School Anxiety:

On the other hand, if parents react with anxiety to their child’s worries, the child will pick up on this and it will only heighten their worries. The calmer a parent can be, the more likely they will be able to really listen to their child and offer support, rather than react based on their own worries. As a parent, I know it can be incredibly tempting to jump in and fix it, to make it all better for our children. When we do this however, we are not really helping our children. We are not allowing them to learn and grow from these experiences. Ultimately, our goal as parents should be to help foster resilience in our children, rather than to promote dependency. Life will always present us with challenges and struggles, among other things. As parents, we play an important role in helping our children build resilience during times of hardship, walking alongside them and supporting them.

One of the questions I am often asked by parents with regards to back-to-school anxiety is, “How do I know if it’s normal worrying or anxiety?” There are signs for which parents can be on the lookout including:

  • school refusal
  • stomach aches/headaches/nausea
  • shutting down in school and/or refusing to participate
  • changes in sleep and/or nightmares
  • changes in appetite
  • heightened sensitivity
  • low frustration tolerance with behaviours like anger outbursts or crying.

How to Help Your Child

When parents see these signs in their child, it is important for them to step in and help their child. The key steps to helping our kid in these situations are:

  1. Acknowledge what the child is experiencing.
  2. Let them (if they are old enough) describe what they are feeling.
  3. Most importantly parents: listen to, and acknowledge what your child says, so that they feel seen, and heard.

Once you understand what your child is feeling and experiencing, the next step can be a conversation with your child about coping strategies. My experience has shown me that children often come up with the best strategies for themselves!

There are times, however, in which parents see that their child is overwhelmed and really struggling and they themselves feel they do not know how to handle the situation. At times like this, professional assistance may be warranted and helpful. I know I’ve been there, and I’d love to be there for you too!

Click here to contact us to get support for your child.

Coping Ahead: Anticipating Stress & Boosting Confidence

Coping Ahead: Anticipating Stress & Boosting Confidence

Do you find yourself constantly worrying about every possible scenario that could go wrong? You’re not alone. Constant worrying, overthinking, and feeling out of control can take a big toll on your mental health and well-being. This makes it incredibly difficult to focus on daily tasks or enjoy life to its fullest. But there is a solution: Coping Ahead is an effective technique from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) that helps you prepare for stress and manage emotions ahead of time.

Eventualities

When I was 19 years old I learned to pilot gliders (airplanes without engines, also called sailplanes). Before each flight, we would always go through our pre-flight checks, even if the aircraft had just landed from a previous flight. We would make sure all of the controls worked as expected, the instruments were reading correctly, and of other important things worth double-checking when you’re propelling yourself two thousand feet into the sky!

The very last step of every pre-flight check was to review “eventualities.”

Though it’s been many years now since I last flew, I still remember vividly what I would say out loud to myself at this step, time and time again:

“If a wing drops on the launch and I cannot recover, I will release the launch cable and land ahead. At a safe height and speed I will start to climb. In the event of a launch failure, I will release the cable and lower the nose to a recovery attitude, and gain sufficient speed before maneuvering. I will land ahead if possible. Otherwise, I will turn downwind, which today is [left or right] and complete an abbreviated circuit or find a safe landing solution. The wind today is ___ knots which means my minimum approach speed is ___ knots.”

Coping Ahead saves time and effort.

The reason for talking through these eventualities in so much detail on the ground is that you’ve already made all of your decisions in the event of an emergency. In an unlikely situation where the pressure is on and seconds count, you don’t need to waste precious time or mental effort deciding what to do. You’ve already thought it through, and simply must follow your plan.

And this skill isn’t just for pilots! In DBT, coping ahead is an emotion regulation skill that can help you rehearse strategies ahead of time to better handle stressful situations or uncomfortable emotions. By visualizing and planning out how you will cope with challenging situations in advance, you start to feel more confident in your ability to face them, boosting your self-esteem and reducing stress.

What’s the difference between Coping Ahead and overthinking?

Overthinking is a common response to stress that can be counterproductive. It is also a common feature of anxiety that involves dwelling on worst-case scenarios, often leading to a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. It can be triggered by a wide range of every-day stressors or perceived threats.

On the other hand, rather than going in circles about problems, Coping Ahead involves thinking about solutions. It is a deliberate and proactive skill, rather than a reactive response that actually impairs your problem-solving abilities.

How do I learn to Cope Ahead?

If you want to learn how to Cope Ahead, there are some practical tips you can try.

  1. Identify potential stressors in your life, such as upcoming deadlines or social events.
  2. Plan coping strategies that work for you, such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, or seeking support from friends.
  3. Rehearse your coping strategies in your mind, visualizing yourself using them and picturing how they will help.
  4. Lastly, remember to take some time to relax and ground yourself. Well done!

If you are struggling with…

  • Overthinking
  • Low self-confidence
  • Anxiety
  • A sense of low control in your life
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Other conditions that cause intense emotional reactions to common life stressors

…then consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Coping Ahead is a skill that can be learned and practiced, and therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for developing this skill. Contact our clinic to learn more about how we can help.

Help! What if my therapist isn’t the right fit?

Help! What if my therapist isn’t the right fit?

First of all, congratulations on completing what is often the hardest part of therapy: getting started! For most of us, we don’t usually book that first appointment without something urgent finally bringing – or dragging – us through the door.

There’s no judgment here: I spent years putting therapy off before I finally got started, and it wasn’t until I was working as a receptionist here at Alongside You (literally surrounded by therapists and people seeking therapy every day) that I knew I shouldn’t put it off anymore.

Often, it’s a time of crisis that propels us through the door. For you, maybe your mental health was under enough stress that your physical health was affected. Or maybe you came to realize that your relationships weren’t what you hoped they would be, or maybe something just hadn’t been feeling right in your life. For me, I was in real need of some support in my chronic pain journey, and was looking for some help in giving my frazzled nervous system a breather.

Whatever the reason is, recognizing you need help and getting started with therapy can often be the hardest part. But let’s say you’ve finally had that first appointment, or maybe you’ve even had a few at this point. What happens if the fit with your therapist just isn’t sitting right?

As someone who works behind the scenes in a counselling clinic and attends therapy myself, I’ve discovered that there are a few helpful tidbits to know when it comes to deciding whether your counsellor is the right fit for you. Here are a few of them I’d love to share:

Tips On How To Decide If Your Therapist Is The Right Fit

  1. It’s completely fine if your personality just doesn’t fit with your therapist’s. Therapists come in all kinds of flavours (kind of like ice cream) and it might take a couple tries to find one that works for you (kind of like sample spoons). A good therapist will want the best for you, and that means understanding if you would prefer a different match. Their feelings won’t be hurt – after all, many of our therapists have tried out a few counsellors of their own until they found a match they liked!
  2. Ask yourself whether you feel reasonably comfortable with your counsellor. A few good early indicators are feeling safe sitting in a room with them, feeling heard by them, and knowing that you won’t be judged in your vulnerability.
  3. Though it may surprise you, your counsellor doesn’t need to have many shared life experiences or even a similar outlook on the world in order for your therapy to work! Although it can be an added bonus when these similarities happen, they usually aren’t as necessary as they seem. For instance, some of our most skilled and qualified counsellors who offer assistance to parents don’t have any children themselves. But what they DO have is the training and experience necessary to help you and your kids.

    This can sometimes be a mental roadblock for people looking for a new counsellor, and I completely understand. Years ago, I spent some time searching for a new therapist, and as much as I wanted to connect with someone who had experienced chronic pain themselves, that didn’t end up being necessary for me. What it took instead was someone who had the training, skills, and care to help me start to heal my nervous system.

  4. You are allowed at any time to ask your therapist to try a different approach!

    I once (very awkwardly) shared with a therapist after our first session that I would do well with a more relaxed and informal approach, and he was able to adjust for our next session together. Of course, that didn’t mean that we stayed in that casual place all the time, but it helped make me comfortable enough at the beginning to lean into the process. Did I enjoy requesting a different approach, you ask? Nopity nope. But was it worth it? You bet.

  5. Not all therapists have the same training or areas of interest. If you’re looking for a particular kind of therapy, make sure to share that early on in the booking process, before you get paired with a counsellor. Clinical fit is one of our top priorities when pairing you with a therapist at Alongside You, and our Client Care Team is trained to match you with a counsellor who has the training, experience or interest that applies to your circumstances. Of course, it’s also totally fine if you don’t know what kind of therapy you’re looking for – for me, it took trying out a couple types before I landed on one that was particularly helpful for me.
  6. Be aware that starting over with a new counsellor will be, well… starting over with someone new. As tired as you may be with going over your history all over again, anytime you meet with a new therapist you’ll have that regular ol’ first appointment, where you’ll go over any details and get to know each other. If you’re wanting a new match this is 100% worth it, but it does mean that we don’t recommend switching counsellors often. We suggest giving your current situation a thorough try, unless you feel that it isn’t the right fit for you anymore.

    As for me, I recently booked a first appointment with a new counsellor and as much as I would have loved to just bring along some kind of personal Powerpoint presentation to breeze through my history and jump right into “the therapy”, I know this getting-to-know-you phase is actually an important part of the therapy itself. And I found myself enjoying the appointment and starting that new relationship more than I expected!

  7. If you are feeling uncomfortable or anxious about your appointments, ask yourself: is my anxiety about the therapist, or therapy itself? If you’ve been in counselling before you likely know it isn’t always the most comfortable process. The discomfort you are feeling could be about the overall experience of therapy, rather than how you feel about the therapist themselves. In fact, as time passes and you get closer to working on some of the core issues and more challenging areas of your therapy, you might feel more tempted to withdraw from your therapeutic relationship in order to protect yourself from heading into that discomfort. This can be a very normal instinct, but is often really worth discussing or working through. And this leads us to my last (and most important!) suggestion…
  8. Tell your therapist how you’re feeling!

    It can be really helpful for your counsellor to know if you’re unsure that this is the fit for you, or if you’re not sure whether you want to continue. The truth is that your therapist will offer their best help and support when they have your feedback, and I think it’s even fair to say that most counsellors really appreciate these kinds of honest conversations with their clients, and would prefer to have them more often.

    If this kind of conversation feels difficult for you, you can always start by telling your counsellor, “There’s something I’d like to talk about, but it feels hard for me to bring up and I’m not sure how to start. Can we talk about our time here together?” This can be a good way to get the ball rolling, and for the two of you to work through your thoughts on your treatment. This way your therapist can help you unpack whatever next steps will be most helpful for you.

 

How Do I Talk To My Therapist About How I’m Feeling?

So… what now?

The first step it to connect with your current therapist! Feel free to use the example above if you’re not sure how to bring the subject up, and share with them how you’ve been feeling. Together you can start working through whether the best next step is to adjust and try a new approach, or to ultimately get connected with a new therapist.

If you do decide that you would like to try with a new counsellor, please make sure to first let your current counsellor know as a courtesy. Then, your next step would be to connect with our Client Care Team and we’ll help you find a new match. As always, we’ll consider your preferences and needs and do our best to find you a good fit.

If instead you decide to stick with your current counsellor, it could be that this kind of honest conversation is just what your therapy journey together needs!

Either way, this is your time and investment, and you deserve the best possible supports and tools in your walk towards greater health. Our job is to support you as best we can, and we’re honoured to do it.