4 things you won’t find in psychotherapy (and why you need to know about them)

When a client comes to me for the very first time, I always ask about his/her expectations and how he/she imagines I can help. That’s a way for me to verify if the person knows what psychotherapy is and that he/she is ready to put time and effort into a hard work. Even if the outcome of this work could not be guaranteed, there are some preconditions that give pretty high chances to succeed. Trust, willingness to make change and readiness to put effort are the main ones. On the other hand some unrealistic expectations are, at least to me, a no-go for a therapy. They only make both the client and the therapist lose time and are source of frustrations. So before you consider going for therapy, check out the following few things that you won’t be able to find in the process.

Someone to always tell you, you are right

If you go to see a psychologist or a therapist, you should expect to be reassured and comforted. The whole process of “healing your soul” relies on the so called therapeutic alliance (or relationship) that is built on your trust and on the therapist’s acceptance, empathy, warmth and understanding, as well as on validating your feelings. But in most cases you suffer because you are also doing something wrong: ask yourself the wrong questions, burden yourself with responsibilities that are not yours, accept too many compromises or don’t accept any, deny problems, over interpret situations, refuse to let go and to forgive, just to mention a few.

As a client of mine once put it, “therapy is a great work on yourself that allows you to heal the wounds of the past and to improve.” But in order to do so, you have to be ready to face your ineffective ways of functioning, to be self-critical, opened up to new perspectives and willing to change some things. And how could you if you think you are always right?

Someone to tell you what to do

Many people go for therapy because they expect advice and guidance in a difficult life situation. It is indeed part of our work as psychologist to give clients guide lines and new ideas. However, a good therapist will never tell you what to do with your life. He/she will help you to figure it out by yourself. The truth is that if you take time to understand the difficulties you are facing, you’ll eventually find solutions. The neutral and objective view of a psychologist can help you consider your situation in a different perspective and find new lines of approach. He/she can share knowledge and experience that would give you insights on your struggle and on how to better face adversity. But the final decision to bring change in your life is yours and when you have made it, the therapist would guide and support you in the process of making it happen.

A complete change in personality

Some people go for psychotherapy, because they want to “change the way they are”. Others discover through the process personality traits they were unaware of and decide they want to get rid of them. Yet others resist change because they don’t want to become someone else. No matter in which of these cases you may be, know that one cannot become a whole new person at the end of a therapy. Our personality is a complex and relatively stable construct build on genetic predisposition and on years of own experience and interactions with others. In the same way as therapy is not about changing your past but about learning to live with it, it is not about changing who you are but about learning to accept it.

Acceptance is a critical notion in therapy. Accepting emotions as part of us without trying to avoid or refrain them allows us to better express and manage them. Recognizing that our internal monologues are sometimes irrational and biased helps us to get out of negative or self-destructive thought patterns. Acknowledging our human imperfection and life’s uncertainty gives us a chance to take action.  Those are also the basis of a psychotherapy based on acceptance having shown positive outcome in a number of psychological diseases. And here is where change can occur: in the way we feel, the way we think and the way we behave.

An easy and fast solution to complex situations

Usually when people decide to consult they have already struggled on their own for a while. Usually they have already put effort into trying to change things or to adapt. They often think they are missing some crucial element that could unlock the whole situation all of a sudden. And they hope that health professionals hold some kind of “secret recipe” that could arrange things. It is also our modern believing that there is a fast and easy remedy for everything that makes us inpatient. How many of us have already tried to lose 5 kg in 2 weeks, to achieve happiness in 10 steps, to be twice more productive with only one key tool? We sometimes tend to think that conflict, mourning, depression, relationship or existential problems can be solved in a couple of hours.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day and deep inside we all know that things that are worth take time and need effort. The ultimate purpose of psychotherapy is for you to feel better and most of the time it implies to break thought and behavior patterns build over dozens of years. This process is hard and, above all, takes some time. This is why even the shortest forms of psychotherapy usually take more than 10 sessions.

So what could you expect?

Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between you and a mental health professional. It allows you to benefit from an outside neutral point of view on difficult life situations interfering with your emotional and physical health. It is a time that you take for your and a place where you can express yourself without being judged. It is a structured approach to personal issues that challenges your ineffective ways of functioning. It is a way to better understand your emotions and to acquire practices for recognizing, expressing and managing them more effectively. It is a process through which you gain awareness of your inner blocks and build new habits to overcome them. At the end, psychotherapy could not only help you work through your problems, but also develop new skills to better face and cope with challenges in the future.