Expectations for Therapy
Coming to therapy can often be intimidating. The treatment you receive from a therapist is much different than going to an appointment at your family doctor or the dentist, but the treatment is just as important. To get the best out of your experience, it is helpful to know what to expect from your therapist, and what not to expect as well.
What you can expect:
Informed consent. The first thing your therapist should do is provide an informed consent form to review and sign. This form details your participation in therapy, and covers areas such as confidentiality, reporting laws, and your fee agreement. If you are not asked to sign an informed consent form, this should be a red-flag.
Review of confidentiality. Every therapist should review the limits of confidentiality, and how it applies to you specifically. There are different laws and ethical guidelines surrounding confidentiality that differ depending on whether the client is a child under the age of 12, a child 12 years of age or older, an adult, a couple, or a parent. It is important to know how confidentiality works, and what the legal exceptions are. If your therapist has not reviewed this with you, ask him/her to right away.
Clear understanding of fees and scheduling. The therapist should review and confirm with you their fees and scheduling policies. It should be clear exactly what you are paying, how long the sessions last, the policy for going over the designated session time, and any cancellation or rescheduling policy. It should also be clear as to what methods of payment are accepted, and if you are able to use your insurance. Often times this information is listed in the informed consent form, but if you have any questions or are not clear on everything, do not hesitate to ask your therapist for more information.
Right to end treatment. You should never feel forced to go to therapy or that you have to complete a certain number of sessions. A therapist will certainly recommended a desired number of sessions that would be necessary to complete your specific treatment goals, but you are never obligated to, nor should be forced to complete a set number of sessions. Each and every session is voluntary and you should never feel pressured to continue treatment if you are not comfortable. The only exception to this is with court-mandated treatment or treatment of a minor.
Setting goals. It is important to set goals at the beginning of therapy, and define what it is you want to work on. Depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, goals may be more specific or more general. If you have a preference as to how you would prefer to set goals and how you want your therapy experience to feel (more concrete and structured, versus more abstract and introspective), ask your therapist what his/her theoretical orientation is, and how that affects his work as a therapist. Some therapists are more involved and work more as an agent of change, while other therapists take a more collaborative role, working side by side with the client. This is also dictated by the therapist’s theoretical orientation. Find out what type of therapist and theoretical approach you are more comfortable with or that matches your style. Often therapists work from several theoretical approaches and have a more eclectic style. Let your therapist know what works well for you, and they can use the theoretical approach that fits best with your style.
Support. In the therapy room you can expect to find support through the challenges you are experiencing. Coming to therapy can help reduce feelings of isolation. Therapy goals almost always include increasing support systems as well, as it is important that the client receives support as they work through the challenges they face.
Empathy. Therapy is also a place where you can expect to receive empathy. Everyone experiences challenges and seeking help does not make you weak or damaged. Therapy provides a non-judgmental space to address your challenges, while also providing feelings of validation and understanding through the process.
Expect to work. Part of the therapeutic process involves making changes, and to do so requires work from both you and the therapist. Reaching your goals is going to require you to make changes, put plans into action, and require you to step outside your comfort zone. Some therapists, depending on their theoretical orientation, will also assign homework in addition to what is worked on in therapy. This homework works in conjunction with what is done in session.
What NOT to expect from therapy:
Answers. Unless your therapist takes a very direct and authoritarian-type position, you should not expect to get “answers” to your problems in therapy. Your therapist is not going to tell you whether you should stay with your partner or separate, nor whether you should quit your job or not. Therapy is a process that results in personal growth, something a Magic 8 Ball cannot do.
Quick fix. Therapy is not a quick fix either. One or two “power sessions” are not going to work out your marriage conflict. The minimum amount of sessions to expect for almost any goal is at least 4, and longer for more complex relationship concerns. If you are not quite ready to make a commitment, consider attending a workshop. Many therapists offer a wide variety of one- or two-day workshops that address a variety of different themes: communication, intimacy, confidence, etc.
Tips and tricks. Often parents come to therapy looking for tips and tricks to fix their “problem child”, and they are often disappointed. The “problem child’s” behavior is almost always the result of the entire family’s dysfunction. A more realistic expectation for parenting concerns or behavior management in therapy would be developing positive parenting strategies and reducing family conflict.
Change your partner. Therapy is not a place to find an ally to take your side during arguments with your partner, nor is it a place to “change your partner.” Coming to therapy will not “fix” your partner or make them “see it your way.” A more realistic expectation for therapy would be to learn how to appropriately mediate arguments, improve communication, and clarify expectations for your relationship.
Having a clear understanding of what therapy entails, what to expect from therapy, and what is not likely to happen in therapy, will make scheduling an appointment much less distressing. Therapy is a place to feel relief from stress, experience empathy, and find support. Having a clear understanding of the therapy process will help maximize those feelings and move you close towards your goals.
Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist
© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.