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    13 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Therapy So I’m Telling You

    For one, it can actually be fun.

    You don't have to talk to me for very long to learn that I'm in therapy, in no small part because I'm pretty guilty of sharing unprompted anecdotes that start with, "My therapist said..."

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    But as happy as I am to talk about it, my willingness to share does a nice job covering up some important truths: that starting therapy was pretty intimidating for me, that I went in with a lot of questions, and that I am still occasionally overcome with the conviction that I'm somehow doing it incorrectly.

    Now that I've graduated past being a total therapy newbie, I've realized that there are things I wish I'd known ahead of time. If I had, I probably wouldn't have put off going for so long, not to mention I might've gotten more out of therapy sooner.

    So, I'm passing on a few findings from my experience so far in case it'll help. Just keep in mind that therapy is highly personal and not everything here will apply to every person.

    1. Some of the time, you're not going to like therapy — at least, not in the way you usually like things.

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    In general, "liking therapy" doesn't mean always enjoying yourself and having a pleasant time. It's kind of like going to the gym in that more often than not, "having gone" feels a lot better than the actual "going." And you have to put in the work to feel better longterm.

    2. But that said, having a space 100% dedicated to you will be unlike anything else in your life and you won't know how you functioned without it before.

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    Therapy is a place to focus on you and you only, without feeling guilty or selfish. You don't have to ask your therapist how they're doing. You don't have to make sure you're not talking too much. You don't have to balance your emotional needs with being supportive and reciprocal. You don't have to pretend to be strong for anyone's sake. You just get to focus on yourself, and oh my god, it's life-changing.

    3. You shouldn't be discouraged if you don't have some big cinematic breakthrough — it's more about making lots of tiny changes.

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    TBH, TV and movies have misled a lot of people about what therapy is supposed to look like. I can't speak for everyone, but based on my own experience and talking with my friends, there is very rarely going to be a huge epiphany moment where the clouds part and you realize the Secret Key to solving all your problems. Don't think of therapy as working toward that breakthrough. Instead, think of it as improving, healing, and fortifying yourself one session at a time.

    4. You can mistake not liking your therapist with not liking the things they're saying.

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    Sometimes, therapists will tell you things you don't want to hear and challenge you to reflect on less-than-flattering things about yourself. It's not fun. And if you're like College Me going to therapy for the first time, that's enough to convince you that they're not the right therapist for you and never return. After that, I switched over to a therapist whose quiet, nurturing style made me feel warm and glowy — and after seeing her for four months, I realized I hadn't learned anything new about myself or picked up any useful skills, because she wasn't challenging me.

    What kind of therapy style works for you will be an incredibly personal decision, but as you navigate the choice, just remember that the criteria for a good therapist is a lot different than other relationships in your life. You're not looking for someone you want to get brunch with. Even the best therapist will annoy you sometimes.

    5. Going to therapy doesn't necessarily mean having to face that one difficult thing you're not ready to talk about, so don't let that put you off.

    Twitter: @iatemuggles

    If you're avoiding therapy because you're scared to confront certain stuff, go anyway. A good therapist won't push you to talk about skeletons in your closet or deep-rooted childhood issues if you don't want to, but they *will* help you move in a direction where you'll be ready to deal with it eventually. And in the meantime, you can tackle smaller things.

    6. You're allowed to push back against your therapist — and whine and rant and argue.

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    A therapist feels like an intimidating authority figure in so many ways — they're the expert on the things you're seeking help for, they're put together while you're vulnerable and messy, they remain calm and collected as they facilitate your falling apart. Sitting across from someone like that, it can be easy to default to addressing them with deference and swallowing everything they say like a bitter pill.

    But I've learned therapy is so much better when you're an active participant — and sometimes that involves things getting heated and having disagreements. I'm not saying you should ever be disrespectful or mean to your therapist. You guys are on the same team. But at the same time, my therapist has pushed me to not hold anything back and even though it's hard, therapy is becoming a place where I can express the good, the bad, and the ugly without fear of judgment, and that's cathartic as hell.

    7. In fact, therapy is a a low-stakes place to practice all the more unsavory forms of communication, like standing up for yourself, arguing, apologizing, or being vulnerable.

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    List of things I've practiced with my therapist: asking for a raise, breaking up with a friend, talking about how I feel even though it's embarrassing, dealing with a friend's mental health crisis, admitting my faults out loud, and probably a lot more.

    And even if you're not role-playing specific scenarios, you can learn a lot of communication-related lessons — like how you come across to other people or how to pick up on social cues.

    8. A session can feel frustratingly short, so it helps to think about what you want to talk about beforehand. Just don't expect to leave having covered everything.

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    FYI, therapy sessions typically run 45–60 minutes and you'll soon find out that it rarely feels long enough. Eventually, you kind develop a sense for what 45–60 minutes feel like and can prioritize accordingly.

    Still, it can be frustrating — especially when you hit your stride near the end of the session. Remind yourself you can keep coming to therapy for as long as you want, and you can get to everything *eventually*. Therapists take notes for a reason and they'll keep track of threads that got lost due to time constraints.

    9. Not every session has to be super deep or emotional. Some days, you're just going to want to talk about a fight you're having with a friend or a minor work frustration and that's okay.

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    Bonus of ranting in therapy: It lightens the load you put on the friends you usually vent to, so you don't accidentally turn them into an emotional laundry line.

    10. But you have to be careful that you’re not just spending sessions ranting (unless that’s why you sought out therapy).

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    At any given time, there is a surface-level grievance I can bloat up into a session-long rant, and I often exercise that skill despite the long list of deep-rooted neuroses and issues I should be working on instead. Because that's the thing — ranting is so much easier than grappling with your demons. It's more satisfying than sitting with your insecurities. It's less terrifying than stripping down emotionally and doing the hard work.

    But you have to push yourself or give your therapist permission to push you, because it's you, not them, who's in charge of how you spend your session for the most part. One thing that helps with this is making a list of goals for therapy and checking in with your therapist about your progress. What do you really want to get out of being there? And are you spending your sessions slowly but intentionally working toward those goals?

    11. Your therapist is a great person to ask, "Is it me or them?" re: many of life's complicated conflicts.

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    *very gentle whisper* Sometimes things are your fault. It happens to the best of us. Luckily, a therapist is an invaluable objective resource to help figure out if you're in the wrong or if there's a pattern of behavior that inevitably causes stressful, bad things to happen.

    For example, if your friendships keep ending, is it because you haven't been a very good friend or is it because you gravitate toward incompatible or unhealthy friendships in the first place? Or if you've been fired from your last couple of jobs, are you having an insane streak of bad luck or is there something amiss that you're not aware of? Your therapist can help you illuminate it.

    12. Taking the time to jot down thoughts and reflect after each session is an extremely good way to get the most out of therapy.

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    It's easy enough to show up for therapy once a week (or however often you do it), do the thing, leave, and not think about it until your next session. But if you actually want to retain and put into practice stuff you're learning, journaling after each session is a helpful tool.

    Some basic things that might be worth scribbling down after each session:

    • A summary of what you covered

    • Key lessons or things you want to remember

    • What things were hard to talk about and why

    • Things you either forgot to bring up or that you want to revisit next session

    By the way, these come from a bullet journal spread we put together with the help of a therapist, but you don't have to be as organized about it. Whatever way works for you.

    13. There's no right way to do therapy.

    Okay, I'm sure there's probably a *wrong* way somehow. But in swapping notes with friends (and badgering my own therapist with questions about my progress), I've learned that therapy looks very different for different people. Sometimes all you need to do is find a therapist you feel comfortable with, trust the process, and go from there.

    What do you wish you'd known about therapy before you started?