Life on the shoreline can be amazing. We’ve got beautiful towns and close knit communities. Here in Old Saybrook, sometimes we have two speeds: summer, and waiting for summer. All I know is this past winter was LONG and ROUGH here on the shoreline. A lot of us were starting to lose hope as we waited for a peep of sunshine and warmth.
Whether your struggles have felt seasonal, have persisted for a long time, or are directly related to something happening in your life, at any given time most people are dealing with something that can benefit from therapy and counseling. But going to see a therapist can feel like a foreign process. You might have your own fears, hesitations, or uncertainties about what it’s like. After all, therapy is -- for better and for worse -- a private process. It's not as openly discussed like other services are, so a lot of people don’t have a clear sense of what to expect.
If you’re looking for help getting oriented to therapy and counseling, you’ve come to the right place. Perhaps you’ve used my guide to finding a therapist in Old Saybrook and have read all about what to ask them, and now you’re getting ready to go to your first session. Or perhaps you’ve been facing an issue in your life that you know could finally benefit from seeing a professional who can help you get unstuck.... but you're hesitating because you're not sure what it would be like to go work on it.
The common questions I address in this article will help you move out of your hesitation and uncertainty and get a better idea of what it’s really like when the therapy door closes and you’re finally working on getting the relief and help you need.
Answers to Common Questions About Therapy & Counseling
Will people know I’m seeing a therapist or counselor?
The central principle of therapy and counseling is that it's completely confidential. This means that your therapist, or anyone else working with your therapist (receptionist, scheduler, etc), is bound by ethical and professional codes which prevent them from breaking your privacy. They are not able to identify you as a client nor can they even suggest you are their client. They can't talk with anyone about what brings you to therapy or your work in session. Your therapist and her associates can't go home and tell family members about your case or your problems. There are certain limits to confidentiality, including but not limited to, if you are of harm to yourself or someone else, or if your therapist needs professional consultation with another colleague (who is also bound to confidentiality) to help them give you the best care possible. The bottom line: You can, and should, trust that everything you say and do with your therapist is private. Your therapist should describe any limits clearly to you in the first session.
Does it mean I have to be diagnosed with a mental illness? This depends. And is an important question. If you use your insurance, then yes, it does mean you will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder or illness in order to be reimbursed by your healthcare provider. Insurance panels (managed care) require that you receive services for a diagnosed illness. Your therapist may or may not disclose their diagnosis to you. But it is always your right to know what it is. What you should know is that this diagnosis does go on your medical record permanently. This is why some people elect not to use their insurance. If you do NOT use your insurance, that is you pay for services out of pocket, then your counselor or therapist will likely not be giving you a mental health diagnosis unless it’s really applicable to your case and necessary to your treatment. Any diagnoses given by a provider you're paying privately aren't going on your permanent health record, since your therapist does not need to involve your insurance to provide services. The bottom line: You should ask your provider about how they do or do not use mental health diagnoses to guide their practice or provide services, and your counselor or therapist should be able to tell you this quite clearly and transparently.
Will you make me take medication? Nobody can make you take medication! Your therapist or counselor will likely discuss any concerns they have with you, and any hopes they have for how seeking an assessment for medication might be helpful to you. They will then hopefully refer you to a few trusted prescribers, where you'll get a comprehensive assessment and be evaluated for fitness for medication management. In most cases, your counselor or therapist is there to provide you with support, help, and guidance, and they will not be the one giving you medication. Exceptions to this would be if your therapist or counselor is a licensed prescriber of medication. There are so many ways that counseling and therapy can help ease mental health symptoms and challenges without medication. And sometimes, medication can be a helpful supplement to therapeutic work. The bottom line: You should always be up front and honest with your therapist about your feelings about taking medication, and they should be supportive and collaborative to work with you to meet your goals in the ways you both feel comfortable -- with or without medication.
Once I start therapy, does it mean I have to see you forever? Gosh, I hope no therapist would ever suggest that therapy is forever (unless you want it to be)! Depending on your presenting problems and the goals of therapy, your work with your therapist might be short term or it might take months or years to resolve. The length of therapy should be determined by ongoing conversations with, and assessment of progress by, your therapist or counselor. The bottom line: The length of therapy can ultimately be whatever you want it to be, and it should be a topic of conversation with your therapist both at the start, and as you go.
Does going to therapy or counseling mean there’s something wrong with me or my life? The stigma that surrounds seeking professional help for life's challenges is seriously disturbing, and I wish I could turn it on its head completely. But it will take time to continue to debunk. I believe that if you go to therapy or counseling there is something right with you – you have the strength and smarts to know your own limits of what you can handle and how far you can go on your own; and that you have the courage and fortitude to persevere with the support and guidance of someone who knows how to help you meet your goals. We would never feel awkward about taking care of our teeth, our bodies, or getting a haircut or a massage, right? It’s the same for therapy. You might come to therapy because SOMETHING is wrong, but it never means that you or your life is wrong. The bottom line: I believe that everyone should consider seeking a therapist or counselor, and that just like seeing any other service provider, we should never make anyone feel ashamed, embarrassed, or stigmatized for taking care of themselves.
Is it awkward to sit with someone and talk about private stuff? If going to therapy and counseling feels awkward a few things might be happening: 1) You might still need the time to develop the relationship and rapport to feel fully comfortable being vulnerable and together with your therapist, 2) Your therapist or counselor’s style isn’t meshing for you, and you’re feeling exposed or vulnerable in not good ways, 3) You’ve spent a lifetime NOT talking about this important stuff, so then YES, it does feel weird to actually put words to it! Talking about your big stuff takes practice. So it might feel funny to explore things you haven’t explored, or that your life experience, culture or family of origin have made it feel that it’s not okay to honestly talk about. The bottom line: Know that in the process of therapy, tough stuff can arise and make it feel hard. If you persevere and hang in there beyond feeling strange or facing the difficult topics, new worlds will hopefully open up for you (which is the whole point of therapy!)
What if I don’t like it? Therapy and counseling is an at-will experience. If you don’t like it, I think you should be up front with your therapist before you bail. You can then work together to explore what’s not working for you and come up with a new plan to help you accomplish your goals in a way that feels better. If you do this, make changes, and STILL don’t like it, then it’s your decision to attend therapy with that counselor or therapist. Give your therapist ample notice and feedback that perhaps the fit was off, you weren’t ready, or it wasn’t what you expected. Then take some time to reconsider how you can get the help you need, or seek a new provider to try. The bottom line: Therapy and counseling isn’t for everyone. Stick with it as long as you can, explore openly what becomes difficult, try to adjust with your therapist accordingly, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Do I lie on a couch? I had a client who was so terrified during her first session that she burst into tears and could barely recover. Fast forward a few months, and during our final session she said to me, “remember how upset I got during our first session? I can’t believe it, but I thought you were going to make me lie on a couch and tell you all this stuff, and I was so terrified I couldn’t control myself!” So, here I am answering this question: do I have to lie on a couch? The answer is: probably not. There are some (now more obscure) forms of therapy that rely on a client lying on a couch and a therapist sitting behind them. This is a specific technique used to facilitate the therapeutic process. Chances are, you and your therapist will sit across from each other on two comfy chairs or couches and chat for 45-50 minutes. I also do walk and talk therapy with my clients, and online therapy, where clients can take their sessions by video wherever they are. The bottom line: There are so many ways therapy is done. Lying on a couch was an old method, but these days, what most therapists are focused on is your comfort and being able to engage with each other directly and meaningfully!
I hope that these articles are helping you take the steps you need to find an awesome provider. If you are still feeling stuck, feel free to call me at (860) 339-6515 for your complimentary initial consultation. I’d be happy to hear about what is happening and help direct you to the right person. If you are looking for help with anxiety, marriage, divorce, disordered eating, and other specialized women’s issues, you can read more here about how I help women overcome their barriers and begin to live their best life.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is a women's therapist and counselor, providing individual counseling in Old Saybrook, CT and online in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.