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What Really Happens in Therapy

If you’ve never worked with a therapist before, you might be curious about what happens behind closed doors. Maybe the thought of opening up to someone you don’t know feels intimidating or overwhelming. Maybe it seems like something only people with “real” problems do. But the truth is that therapy is really just a conversation. A connection. A dedicated, safe space where change, growth, and healing are possible.

In my experience, women seek therapy for a wide array of things. Sometimes they feel down, anxious, heartbroken, stuck. They’re going through a break-up, job loss, pregnancy, perimenopause, or grief. Others seek therapy because they want to optimize their relationships or career by learning how to leverage and grow their natural strengths while working on areas they feel are not as strong as they could be. No two clients are alike.

But what actually happens? Here are a few things to help demystify the process and help you understand what to expect:

  • Probably the most important thing to know is that how you “click” with your therapist is everything. In therapy terms, we call this the therapeutic alliance. Don’t get me wrong – credentials, training, and licensing matter greatly. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how technically skilled your therapist is if you can’t connect with them.
  • Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Every woman brings a unique constellation of life experiences into therapy and is the expert of her own life. This means that how problems and questions are approached should be tailored to each client’s specific context and goals.  
  • Change is easy and hard. Clients often think they can’t change, but this isn’t true. We’re always changing. The question is, are you changing for the better? When we feel stuck, it’s usually because we’re having a hard time identifying what’s really in the way – is it a belief? Entrenched habits? Something or someone in our environment? Once the why becomes clear, focused strategies and specific steps forward are possible. That’s the easy part. The hard part, sometimes, is being patient, persistent, and gentle with ourselves as we try on new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing.
  • Therapy doesn’t have to take a long time! There are some outdated notions that therapy has to last for years. While I have maintained therapy relationships with clients for years, this is typically because we work on one set of concerns until a client’s goals are met and then take a break until the next set of concerns emerge.
  • What happens in therapy stays in therapy. The therapeutic setting is sacrosanct, confidential, and is protected by strict ethical guidelines. Therapists are deeply invested in helping their clients find answers and understand that this requires a vulnerability and openness that clients may have never experienced before. Therapy provides a safe space for sharing that is objective, nonjudgmental, and growth-oriented.

We’re fortunate to live in a time where therapy is becoming the norm. The truth is, we all need help along the way. Therapy is an investment in nearly every area of life and can drastically change a person’s trajectory. Many clients tell me they wish they’d tried therapy sooner. I think we all arrive when we’re ready.

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