What is Therapy?

Some facts about therapy

If you’re struggling with something emotionally, you might be willing to talk to someone in therapy (also called counseling).  It’s really common to have assumptions or doubts about this type of help (sometimes the way therapy is portrayed on TV or in movies can be less than flattering!) even if you’ve never had experience working with a therapist.  Knowing more about therapy might help you feel more comfortable about asking for help when you’re facing a difficult time.

What happens in therapy?

Therapy is simply a special kind of conversation. In this conversation you try to understand and/or solve problems and learn to recognize and increase your personal strengths. Depending on the kind of concern you are discussing, what you are trying to accomplish and the approach of your therapist, the conversation may focus more on your past experiences, your relationships or your day to day experiences and ideas and assumptions about yourself and the world.

Getting help doesn’t mean you give up control

Sometimes, people believe that agreeing to therapy means you’ve lost your own control and independence – that your therapist will tell you what to do.  Actually just the opposite. Participating in therapy means you’re taking control of things – you are facing your difficulties and learning to cope with and solve your problems. In fact, therapy works best when you take an active role in your treatment – you’re encouraged to give feedback about what’s working and what isn’t working.

Getting help doesn’t mean you’re crazy

Just as a person with a broken leg is not “crippled,” a person with “broken” emotions is not “crazy.”  In fact, if you’re struggling with strong or difficult emotions, it is incredibly wise and brave to acknowledge your difficulties and get help. You would not leave a broken leg unfixed, would you?

Therapy doesn’t only focus on your parents or your childhood

Of course, a therapist is likely to ask you about your past and your family – this helps them get to know who you are and to have an understanding of your family’s mental health history.  However, it’s not necessary to dwell on your past to work on your problems or feel better – in fact, many therapies focus on the problems and feelings you’re having in the present.

Therapy is getting help for something that’s not working

No one thinks twice about getting medical help for physical pain, but unfortunately, many people feel uneasy about going to see a therapist for emotional pain. If you feel this way, it might be helpful to think of your emotional difficulties as solvable problems which can be addressed in a methodical, time-limited way – though it seems like all a counselor does is listen, you’ll find that they have lots of training and experience helping people feel better.

Therapy is not an easy way out

Lots of people have the impression that therapy is for people who give up too easily or who are self-absorbed and just want to wallow in their problems. This is not the case at all – though therapy can be very rewarding and is always focused on you (as the client or patient), it’s usually difficult and not always comfortable. When you first start working with a therapist, it can be difficult to open up about your problems, and even when you start to feel better, it can be challenging to practice new ways of coping with your feelings and behaviors.

Getting help doesn’t mean you’re not smart enough to figure out your own problems

You can be a very sensitive, bright and emotionally aware person and still not be able to solve your own emotional problems.  Just as you would not expect yourself to know how to set your own leg if it were broken, or fix your car if it were dead (unless you are a surgeon or auto mechanic!), similarly, you shouldn’t expect to be able to sort through difficult or strong emotions without help and support.

Therapy should be a confidential experience

Before you agree to work with a therapist, it is good to discuss your ideas and expectations about what information will remain private between you and them, and what can be shared with others, especially your parents or caretakers if they are paying for your insurance or your treatment.  Most issues about confidentiality can be worked out – one exception is that therapists expect to be able to share any information that has to do with your safety or the safety of others.

Therapy should be a safe experience

Your therapist is a professional who will hear very personal information about your life and feelings – in order to get the most out of the work you’re doing, it is important for you to feel safe.  What does that mean?  That your therapist will respect your boundaries and behave like a therapist at all times.  A therapist is not your friend and is not in any way supposed to cross a physical boundary (like giving you a hug, or pat on the knee) as part of your therapy.   If you feel confused about what a therapist is or is not allowed to do with a patient, talk to an adult whom you trust about your concerns.

Therapy should be a helpful experience

Therapy is supposed to help you understand your difficulties, help you figure out ways to cope with problems on your own, and offer support as you do this.  Your therapist is not there to always agree with your perspective or accept just anything you say – at times, they’re bound to make you angry, frustrated or defensive.  As long as you feel like you’re making progress and/or feeling better, your therapy is working for you. However, if after a few sessions you feel like your counselor is not a good fit for you, it is OK to be honest about it – therapy is supposed to be helpful for you and your feelings should be respected.  And actually, there is research evidence that one of the most important considerations for making therapy helpful is your comfort with the therapist!

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.