What is the biggest misconception about therapy?

I think there are a few misconceptions about therapy, but one of the biggest is that the therapist is going to fix you or that you are there to be fixed. Really you are there to gain insight about yourself, to learn what makes you happy and to learn life skills to help you live the life you want and to manage difficulties when they arise. I think another misconception is that a therapist is this all-knowing being, who can solve your problems for you. Therapists are human, we make mistakes just like everyone else, but we can support you in exploring and understanding yourself along with your feelings, behaviours and decisions.

What can a client expect in their first three sessions?

In the first session the client should expect to go through a little bit of paperwork like contracts and explaining the limits of confidentiality and the boundaries of therapy. Then after that answering some general questions about why they have chosen to enter therapy, their symptoms etc. They will also have some space to tell their story and to build a trusting relationship with their therapist.

From a client perspective in your experience, what is the most frustrating part of the process?

As a client I found the most frustrating part of therapy to be my own resistance to accepting the parts of myself that I did not like and trying to work through them. We are all flawed, but our flaws are not always within our awareness. When we enter therapy, we begin to see ourselves for who we are… warts and all. Its not easy to come to peace with the parts of ourselves we do not like, but that is where the magic happens. 

With psychotherapy money is often a blocker – if this is the case what can people do to start the healing process?

Yes, therapy can be expensive indeed, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many reduced price services available and there is also a lot you can do for yourself to get some therapeutic relief. 

A great place to start your own healing process is to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Writing is also really cathartic; journal about how you are feeling or do some free association writing. If you write first thing in the morning you are going to write about the bigger issues you have on your mind…the things that you are thinking about as soon as you wake up in the morning. If you write in the evening you are more likely to write about the day’s events and how they affected you. When you write, you gain a deeper awareness of what it is you are thinking and feeling, whether you choose to read back over it or not your brain sees the information differently than if it is going around in circles in your mind. 

What are the societal issues that you are seeing in your therapy room? (maybe confidential?)

The biggest reoccurring issue I am seeing in my therapy room at the moment is how suicide affects those who have been left behind, but I suppose societally it is how the public campaigns for the gay marriage and abortion referendums have affected people. Regardless of the outcome of the referendums, it seems having such strong opinions posted on every lamppost on the streets has lead to a deeper level of questioning how people feel about themselves, the decisions they have made and how society views them.

The counselling areas has had somewhat of a colourful reputation in recent times – what are the red flags people should be aware of when doing therapy?

At the moment the counselling profession is finally being regulated, there are people out there who may have completed a short term qualification of counselling skills and are practicing as therapists. I would urge anyone looking for a therapist to check to make sure their therapist is a member of an accrediting body such as IACP, IAHIP or APPI. Even if they are not yet accredited they should at least hold a student or pre- accredited membership. This ensures that the therapist is working at or towards the standards required of a mental health professional.

Professional boundaries are really important too, while sometimes it is therapeutic for a therapist to self disclose, you really shouldn’t know a lot about your therapist’s personal life. The focus of sessions should be on you, your story and the solutions you see as options for yourself. If your counsellor is cancelling a lot of sessions or cancelling at the last minute this is also a sign they are not the right person for you. Therapists are human, we get sick, we have to attend funerals and we experience difficulties in our personal lives just like everyone else. In saying that, we are also responsible for maintaining a professional relationship. Clients should be informed with as much notice as possible when the therapist will not be able to attend a session, when sessions are cancelled with short notice, another session should be offered wherever possible and if the therapist is not in a place to attend regular weekly sessions it is their responsibility to stand back from providing therapy until they are in a place to do so. 

The single most important trait of a therapist is that they listen without judgement with the aim to understand you. If you feel your therapist is not listening to you, understanding you or is judging you, then walk away. Many people naturally feel shame when opening up about themselves, their lives and the decisions they have made… if your therapist’s reactions and responses are adding to your negative feelings about yourself rather than helping you to explore and resolve them, they may do more harm than good.

How can clients be more proactive / take more control of the process?

Remember that it is your therapy and you are paying for a service. Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist what you want and what you are not ready yet to explore. Tell your therapist what you like about your therapy and what you don’t like. Therapy is a deeply personal experience so no one therapeutic approach or way of being is going to suit everyone. The more input you have into how your therapy is going to be, the more benefits you will get from it. This may mean that you change therapist or try a few different ones until you find the right match for you and that is okay. Find a therapist you click with that is open to feedback about your experience and how you would like it to be.