With memories, consequences and lingering affects of COVID-19 related fear and loss still present, we face a stirring ‘back-to-school’ call. There are mixed feelings around this Fresh Start
I reflect on how starting therapy resembles this back-to-school experience with its hopes, fears and stepping into the unknown
In the last 30 years I have had several therapists. I remember them all well. They each saw me through different periods of change and growth.
Many of my school teachers I remember well too. Some very fondly. I received time, care and encouragement from teachers and therapists and am fortunate to not have had a bad experience of either. I wish it were the same for all of us.
My good experience with teachers supported me as I sought a therapist in my early 20’s. I remember picking up the phone to request my first therapy session. The sense of anticipation, hope, fear, uncertainty and vulnerability. Unlike the back-to-school-Septembers in my childhood, there was no excitement, new uniform, new shoes, new pencil case or stationary. There was uncertainty, fear, anticipation; a sense that this had to be done. And investment. Just as my mother invested her hard earned money for those uniforms, shoes, pencil cases and stationary, the financial and emotional investment in therapy is high. It is a big step.
This month, I look ahead with an air of hope. With the benefit of a summer break and distance between me and COVID related work and family issues, I return ready for a new term.
I’m going back to the beginning and talking about what entering therapy can feel like. I hope it might just help you, or someone you know, take that necessary step.
Choosing your therapist is like choosing your school. Location, capacity, reputation and ‘fit’ will all come into play
It is becoming common for clients to shop around. Parents view multiple schools to discover where their child will thrive. Clients need to find a therapist they feel will help them explore the areas in their lives needing attention.
The right ‘fit’ might come down to location, availability, therapist knowledge and experience, reputation and affordability. But there is something more than this – the relationship between you. Like the beds in the childhood fairy-tale of Goldilocks, the relationship needs to feel not too hard, not too soft, but just right – whatever ‘just right’ might be for you.
The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) holds a directory of literally hundreds and hundreds of therapists across the UK (https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists). It can be narrowed down into categories, geographical or specialisms. You can peruse profiles, look at photos and qualifications.
I recommend selecting a therapist who is Accredited. This shows a good level of training and experience. But don’t assume that a therapist in training or working towards Accreditation is not able to be exactly what you need.
I was 27 when I first sat with a client and used to being the youngest in my training group. Some clients in these early years found my age challenging, even threatening. For others, it freed them up from feeling like they were sitting with a critical parent.
How we see and relate to our therapist is part of our work. I advocate choosing your therapist by recommendation or trust your instinct on this one.
How will you know you’ve found the right therapist? Will the therapist help you make the decision?
It is pretty clear in the first 5 minutes whether or not there is a ‘fit’, if the relationship, the experience of being in this working space together, is going to be beneficial.
My training and experience equips me to consider the dynamic that is created. I pay attention to what happens between my client and I.
You may have heard some of the psychodynamic jargon – transference, projection, containing and mirroring. These are terms given to the processes which help the therapist make sense of the client’s inner world. It gives the therapist an experience of what it feels like to be in contact with the client and brings about understanding. This leads to the opportunity for change.
It is not possible for me to make the decision for you. I make the decision on whether I can work with you and the issues you bring. You decide if sitting with me, in the space I provide, in the manner in which I present and the way in which I respond, feels comfortable, supportive and helpful to you.
How long will therapy last?
I work with clients for varying lengths of time. Sometimes just six sessions, if the client has had therapy before and is returning to ‘top-up’ and reconnect with themselves. Or, for someone who has never been in therapy, a short period is enough and shorter-term, solution-focussed therapy is beneficial. It really depends on what it is you wish to come and do.
I have worked with clients from several weeks to several years. It is impossible to determine how long a client will remain in therapy. Staying with the school analogy, some young people leave school at the earliest opportunity, content with that and ready for a new world. Others go onto further education for two years. Some then continue to University. And others on again to achieve Masters and Doctorates! We each make choices based on our needs and preferences. We are all different.
How will you know when to end?
A therapist of mine worked on the basis that our therapy continued for as long as I felt it benefited me. I say similar to my clients now. Our work continues for as long as it serves you.
The aim is for you to no longer require our relationship to support you. You become your own therapist, develop your own inner voice of care, support, empathy, encouragement and confidence. ‘No Man Is An Island’ (Thomas Merton, 1955), we are human beings and relationship is key. We need to come in and out of contact with others. Therapy is a coming in and out of contact with another and with yourself. In this way it is part of your developing self.
In therapy we use our working relationship to explore and understand you better. You can then take this learning into your relationships outside of the room.
‘Something incredible happens when you open up to another human who you click with and who is trained to listen and support’ Jo Love, Therapy Today, July 2020
This is an honest and uplifting account of Jo’s therapy. I can’t think of a better way to give you hope. If you are thinking of taking this significant step, either for the first time or as a return to continue work already started, I recommend giving this a read.
Sadly, not everyone is going to have a good experience of therapy. Just as some of us loved school and some of us loathed school. How we respond to our environment, our family, our school, our workplace, our relationships and our therapy is all grist for the mill. We are all human beings with emotions, thoughts and needs.
When we get into difficulty and bravely reach out to a therapist, I hope we find that safe, respectful, supportive other. And I hope that as children, families and teachers prepare to return to school this September, we find a new wave of safety, care and good mental and physical health.
You are welcome to contact me with any comments, questions or requests for future reflections firstname.lastname@example.org