Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D. is an author, psychiatrist, and the founder and president of Potomac Psychiatry. He has partnered with TWLOHA for the upcoming release of his book “Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Help Untangle Your Heart.” A one dollar donation will be made per every book sold. Below is an excerpt from “Session 2.” You can preorder the book here!
Considering therapy for the first time can be a daunting prospect—filled with emotions ranging from fear and anxiety to anticipation and eagerness. You may wonder to yourself, What will the doctor be like? Will they be kind and understanding or strange and awkward? Will they judge me or think I’m crazy? Will they tell me what to do or help me figure it out for myself? Will I want to run out of that office and never go back? Or will I want to continue, because I feel understood and supported? It is understandable if you are dreading the initial encounter. On the other hand, perhaps you can’t wait to start unburdening yourself and untangling your life. All of these feelings are normal.
The following steps will help you reflect on this matter.
Step 1: Identify what you are feeling and begin to help yourself.
You may feel despair or that something is just not right. Do you feel scared or worried about a recent life event? Are you suffering from depressed feelings that just won’t go away? Do you experience emotional pain that feels like too much to bear? What are the feelings at those times?
Step 2: Begin to identify patterns that sabotage your happiness, and search for some of the root causes in your childhood.
Do you keep repeating self-sabotaging patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving? Describe them.
Have you spoken with a friend or family member to seek emotional support, and a sounding board to figure out what is going on with you? Did this help? If so, how? Have these talks helped for a while but don’t result in any lasting benefit. What happens? Despite outside support, do you feel increasingly depressed? Describe your mood.
Step 3: Explore entering psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is devoted to helping you feel better, function more effectively, and examine yourself and your life in a new way that will liberate you from emotional restraints, from the shackles that have held you back for years.
Although you may feel afraid to start therapy, deep inside you is an awareness that you need a new approach to solving your emotional problems. The old ways of managing and coping just aren’t working anymore, and without a new approach you will remain stuck in a very painful emotional state.
Step 4: Are you resistant to entering therapy? Here are some commonly held fears.
Do you feel that once you start talking, you will never want to stop (because what you are wrestling with feels so overwhelming)?
Do you fear there is no hope for you?
Did a friend or family member engage in therapy and have a bad experience or never get better?
Do you have conscious or unconscious fears that the therapist will be judgmental?
Are you concerned that therapy will make you feel worse?
Do you believe that the therapist will not understand, will give you bad advice, or urge you to break off an important relationship?
By writing out these fears and considering each of them, I hope that you will be able to put them to rest. All of these fears are unfounded if you select the right therapist.
Step 5: How to select a good therapist.
Seek out a psychiatrist, therapist, or a leader at your church or temple (if you prefer a faith dimension) with a strong reputation for being caring, effective, and ethical. Ask your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional for a recommendation. If a particular name is mentioned more than once, that’s a good sign. Check online for information regarding their education, background, and what other patients have said about them.
Is it possible to have an introductory phone call? If so, prepare your questions in advance. Ask the following questions:
- What is your treatment philosophy?
- What will take place in the first session?
- If I need medication, is it something that you would prescribe, or will you refer me to someone else? If you refer me, how do you coordinate my care with them?
- What is your experience in evaluation and treating patients like me?
- Based on what I have told you so far, is it possible to estimate the length of time that I will need treatment?
- What are your fees? What is your cancellation policy?
The goal of the introductory phone call is to help you decide whether it makes sense to schedule that first appointment—to make a preliminary determination as to the likelihood of a good fit between you and the psychiatrist or therapist.
Step 6: Have the courage to persist in therapy.
It takes courage to continue in ongoing therapy. Fantasies, memories, feelings, and hidden aspects of oneself begin to surface, which may be frightening or emotionally threatening.
It is important to let your therapist know what you are feeling at these times and that you ask for additional emotional support. The love and support of a friend or family member can prove invaluable after a particularly rough session. The unconditional love and comforting presence of a pet can help you feel more supported. And finally, a caring, empathetic, and nurturing therapeutic relationship can strengthen your resolve. Permission to call your therapist after hours or arranging for an extra session when you feel overwhelmed will also help you stay the course.
Continue in therapy until you have accomplished your goals for treatment, and when you feel ready to end your treatment, discuss your reasons with your therapist. Early withdrawal may be associated with a number of negative outcomes.
It is imperative that you not give up, that you not run away. Ultimately, you will develop a deep sense of pride in facing your problems, as opposed to denying or avoiding them. Your return on this investment will be exponential.
You can learn more about the author here.