Words by Bryonna Manes
There I was, sitting across from a disarming 40-something-year-old woman who was completely unfamiliar to me. I had yet to utter a single word, and I already felt like bursting into tears. She was simply sitting there, intently making eye contact, her pen poised and ready to scribble on her yellow-ruled notepad. I took a deep breath and quietly said, “I guess we can start now, right?” She chuckled, shifted in her seat and replied, “If you’re ready, yes, we can start with our intake questions.”
Going to your first therapy or counseling appointment isn’t necessarily a walk in the park on a brisk, sunny afternoon with your dog by your side and the sound of children laughing merrily in the background. Therapy is weird (almost as weird as that simile). You’re sitting across from a total stranger, telling your life story, and usually, you end up crying at one point or another. Really, the first step in therapy isn’t going to your first appointment, which is called an intake (because therapists do nothing but take in all the damage, shame, disappointment and self-pity you’ve felt in life). The first true steps in therapy is admitting you need to go to therapy and making your first appointment. If you haven’t admitted it to yourself yet, just wait. You don’t have to suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental disorder to go to therapy. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to. Everyone has something they could use a little help with.
After hunting down the right therapist for you, which can sometimes feel like playing “Where’s Waldo,” you find yourself at the intake.
It sounds scarier than it actually is. This appointment is probably the easiest, most exhausting appointment you’ll have. It’s easy because all you do is answer questions. It’s exhausting because those questions are incredibly personal and private, and your answers are expected to be honest. Of course, you don’t have to answer any questions you aren’t comfortable answering. But I will say from personal experience, it’s better to get all your information and “issues” out in the open and on the table right off the bat. It’s much harder to bring something up a year (yes, I said a year. This takes time people.) into therapy and try to explain to your therapist why you withheld that bit of information. Leaving things out is like hiding a puzzle piece in a 1,000-piece puzzle. Don’t do that to your poor therapist. It’s really just unfair to both of you.
The Life of a Nerd-Herd Mascot by Sarah Goshorn
The beginning of the intake is all introductions. After stating all the privacy and liability clauses therapists are legally required to recite to you, and asking you if you’d like something to drink, your therapist will proceed to use a questionnaire. You will probably want to instantly shut down and become a vault no one can breech. You might even want to moonwalk out of the room. Resist the urge.
Instead, become a flowing stream of honesty and emotion. Let it all pour out. Who cares if you cry, laugh or even yell a bit. They’re not going to tell anyone (they legally aren’t allowed to.) Explain things that bother you, things you like and don’t like, and never be afraid to elaborate. If you don’t answer all the intake questions in the first appointment, that’s OK. You’ll be back.
The more you start to open up to your therapist, you’ll realize you have a lot more to talk about than you originally thought. They might ask questions that bring up baggage you would rather keep locked up. This might piss you off. This might inspire you to binge-watch the most depressing movies or episodes of your favorite TV shows (for me, it’s every single major disaster/crisis episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”) It might inspire you to go home, open every container of junk food you have and eat all your feelings. That’s OK too.
Feel upset. They don’t care if you get upset. It simply means your therapist is finally getting somewhere with you. It doesn’t mean you’ll lose the urge to flip the bird and walk out though.
Feeling upset, guarded and tip-toeing your way into therapy only to feel like you’re falling down 10 flights of stairs built from your worst memories and hardships is normal. It’s a good sign. It means you’re doing it right.
The next sign you want to look for is a bit more positive. It’s a beautiful moment where something happens in your life, or in your train of thought, and you instantly feel compelled to tell your therapist. You’ll find yourself gradually wanting to see your therapist more and more. You might not believe me now, but you’ll actually start to look forward to your appointments.
Sure, you’ll still have days where you talk and think so much that you need to go home and sleep for five years. That’s always a possibility. But that exhaustion you feel when you’ve talked over your one-hour time limit and need a glass of water because your mouth dried out is a good thing. It means the therapy is working. It also means you need to hydrate and take a well-deserved nap.
Time will pass, and you will continue your therapy and forget what life was like before it. During your time, you will slowly realize that talking about your issues and making yourself deal with them actually works (as long as you let it). You get to see yourself change over time. You feel different, better and more put together. You emerge from your first six to eight months of therapy feeling like a emotionally stable(ish) badass.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can just quit while you’re ahead. Therapy makes you take responsibility for your actions and emotions. So when you start to feel better, sometimes it’s tempting to cease the hard work and bask in the happiness you’ve created for yourself. Sometimes the work therapy makes you do feels too heavy. It makes you responsible for your own happiness, which takes way more energy than feeling sad for yourself.
Don’t be defeated by the temptations of quitting. Keep scheduling those appointments and filling your therapist in on everything you think of. Trust me, your therapist will care just as much about you quitting as you will, if not more. You both have committed too much time and effort into your journey for you to throw it out the window and wash your hands of it all; however, that doesn’t mean you need to see your therapist every other day, or even once a week, forever. You can stop going so often. Maybe you only need a monthly checkup, something to remind you of your goals and push you in the right direction. Or maybe you do need to keep going once a week. No matter what’s right for you, it’s all OK. It’s more than OK; it’s awesome. So keep being awesome. Don’t let fear or the “taboo” of therapy keep you from being the best version of yourself.
Pandawhale.com via Adam Rifkin