“I’ve realized therapy is incredibly therapeutic” – Lisa Schroeder
My first session started with introductions.
The therapist introduced herself. She provided details on her background, experience, specializations and methodology/approach.
I provided a brief description of who I was and my background. I started with the basics (childhood, family structure, schooling, work and hobbies). She asked me a few questions to identify some specifics but kept introductions fairly generic.
Next, we proceeded into explaining the reason behind my interest in mental therapy as well as the areas I would like to focus on. This is where the work I did preparing for my first session really came in handy. Had I been un-prepared I would have led her down another topic or whatever was top of mind. We spent the next few minutes clarifying, quantifying and specifying these focus areas. Her intention was to fully understand them. This was a great exercise because even though I had done the prepping beforehand, there was still some room for specificity.
After establishing our charter from the key focus areas, we started with one of them. The best way to describe this process is narrative, questioning, deeper narrative. The process would start with me describing the full details of the focus area. I would cover the behavior, impact and corrective action. This would be followed by a series of questions to clarify statements in my narrative as well as dive a level deeper. The questioning would open a deeper level and I would proceed to provide more narrative and context around the topic. This back-and-forth of narrative and questioning would go until the topic has been sufficiently unpacked. Once it has been unpacked, they key elements can be identified and more questioning can take place.
By the end of the session, we had sufficiently unpacked the first topic and identified some potential root causes or theories that could be explored in future sessions.
When I left the session, I felt open and free. It was almost as if a huge burden had been lifted. My story (at least a small part of it) had been shared with someone else and it was no longer my secret to keep or to fight alone. I felt comfortable that someone else was on the same mental journey as met. And I was reassured that this person was a well-qualified expert who had a firm plan to lead me to resolution.
I was also impressed at how much I learned about myself. Unpacking this topic allowed me to explore deep into my subconscious and psyche. I was forced to expose limiting beliefs, self-truths, and rationalizations which I applied. This was an insight into how my mind worked.
Before the day ended I chose to evaluate the experience and the therapist to ensure that I was comfortable moving forward. I wanted to give an assessment but not be heavily biased by the after-glow effect of my first therapy session. I evaluated the experience by the following criteria:
Was I able to let my guard down? Did I feel tension or judged at any point through the session? This would be a big factor in determining how honest and open I could be with this therapist. If there was anything I wanted to assess if it was minor or seek someone else.
Did I feel like you are being heard? Was it easy to get my story across or did I feel like I was constantly being talked over? It is very difficult and annoying talking to someone who keeps interrupting you. I wanted to make sure that I could feel comfortable telling my story without being rushed.
Is there good social chemistry between you two (are there lots of interruptions and talking over or is it a balanced exchange of talking time)? I wanted to ensure that the session was not a talking match where it is a challenge to get a word in. To me, there needed to be a good balance between talking and listening.
My therapist passed all of the above criteria. I also enjoyed the conversation and felt that we had built up a good momentum in the first session. Based on all of this I decided to schedule the second session for the following week.
The next session started right where the first one left off. The therapist had taken detailed notes and we were quickly able to pick up without too much recap.
Because we were immediately able to start in the first session with the first topic, we had sufficiently unpacked it. With all of the details on the table, the therapist was able to provide me with actions or steps I could take towards my desired outcome. She recommended me books, mental exercises and actionable tasks I could take. This followed an approach of understanding the understanding the root cause, freeing myself of the root cause and taking action to correct it.
With the second half of the session, we started the process again on exploring another topic. The same process was used here.
Leaving this session, I felt empowered and excited. I had resources that I could quickly act on and start the process to resolution. Having gone full circle through one topic I now had a good understanding of the approach and practice of my therapist. This acted for further reaffirm my decision in moving forward with more sessions. If this approach was not to my liking it would have also provided a red flag that I could use to move forward with another therapist or address in my next session.
This session was the most powerful than the other two. By this point, all of the topics I wanted to discuss were fully unpacked and we could both start seeing trends and common behaviors.
Since my whole story was on the table, it allowed us the freedom of exploring different elements and theories of root causes and resolutions. It was comforting to see how unpacking something that I contained mentally could provide a new perspective.
I was able to identify some root causes that I thought might explain or connect the previously mentioned topics. We talked through some theories that the therapist felt connected the topics. Together we were able to come up with a set of common themes. The therapist was even able to make an observation that might lead to a medical condition which would explain a few of the topics we discussed. This was something that she did not notice initially but after diving deep into my way of thinking it started to become more obvious.
By the end of the session, I was provided materials that I could better understand them. She also prescribed actions I could take to embrace or resolve them.
After the session, I felt that I had a firm understanding of the problems I initially wanted to address through therapy. I now understood some potential root causes as well as interrelations. I also felt satisfied, having accomplished what I had intended on achieving through therapy (at least initially). I was glad that I booked each session after another. The momentum through each session carried over to the next and was overall productive.
How To Decompress After Each Session
As important as it is to prepare for the first session, it is equally as important to decompress and reflect after each session. We fit therapy in between our schedules wherever we can. This often leads to going straight back to work, meetings, kids, family..etc right after a session. It is important that we take the time to mentally reflect on what was discussed, be grateful and think about next steps. This will allow you to take more control over your mental health rather than just being a passenger.
The method I used was to start a mental journal and capture the following focal points from each session.
What were key takeaways? Important things that I learned about myself, the discussion topic or others. These takeaways can be plenty and easily forgotten.
What were action items for me? Readings or tasks recommended by the therapist. The ultimate goal is to resolve the issues bothering you and to do that there will undoubtedly be actions to take.
How did I feel going into the session? A description of your mindset, temperament, and emotions prior to attending the therapy session.
How did I feel coming out of the session? A description of your mindset, temperament, and emotions after attending the therapy session. Compare this to the previous topic to see how therapy is changing you and if you are benefiting from it.
Was progress made? A yes or no answer to evaluate the therapy session and determine if it helped move towards resolution. Progress does not necessarily have to be just solving issues. It can also include feeling better/comfortable about something.
Not all therapy sessions will result in progress but it is important to keep a log of those sessions that do vs those that do not. This could be a useful indicator to bring up to your therapist for a change in approach or seeing a new therapist.
What Did I Gain
Through this brief experience with mental therapy, I was amazed at how much I gained and grew.
It felt as though a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulder. My story (at least a small part of it) had been shared with someone else and it was no longer my secret to keep or to fight alone.
I learned so much about myself, the way that I think and interact with the outside world. Exploring my subconscious and psyche exposed so many limiting beliefs, self-truths, and rationalizations which I had been applying all of my life without even realizing it.
I felt empowered and excited. I had a firm understanding of the problems and I now had resources that I could quickly act on and start the process to resolution.
Lastly, I understood the value and approach of therapy. I can easily see it becoming a regular part of my life. Mental health is just as important (if not more) than physical health. Just as I would spend the time to take care of my body on a regular basis, I have to apply the same consistency and discipline to mental health and therapy. I am glad that I was able to realize this importance early enough in my life that I have an outlet to decompress and resolve issues of the mind when life gets harder.
What Are Your Thoughts On Therapy?
What I’ve shared above are learning and rationalizations from my own experience with mental therapy. I would love to hear your thoughts on mental health and therapy. What has/has not worked for you? Feel free to comment below with insights or identify an area I might have missed. Please share so we can learn and possibly incorporate ourselves.