Therapy FAQs

By Dr. Ari Zaretsky

You’ve decided to seek the help of a therapist. Good for you. As I wrote in my last blog, talk therapy can be valuable for dealing with a number of life’s challenges. Here are a few frequently asked questions that many people have when beginning this process…

How do I get started?

Make a list of the things that are bothering you and the issues you would like help with and bring it with you to your first appointment. You might include:

* Issues in your family or other relationships
* Symptoms like changes in eating or sleeping habits
* Anger, anxiety, irritability or troubling feelings
* Thoughts of hurting yourself

What can I expect?

In your first few sessions, you will probably do most of the talking. A psychiatrist or psychologist will ask you questions to clarify what your diagnosis is and will also want to understand your current problem in the context of previous and past events that may be relevant in shaping your personality and your ability to cope with stress. Try to be as forthcoming as possible about yourself and your problems. You should tell the therapist why you are there and what you would like to get from therapy. Make a list of short-term and long-term goals with your therapist at the beginning of treatment. After a few sessions, your therapist may be able to give you an idea of how long therapy will take and when you can expect to see changes in your moods.

How will I know if I’m making progress?

If some of your problems or patterns are very ingrained, you cannot expect to see immediate improvement. In addition, every therapist is different and it may take a few sessions before you feel somewhat comfortable opening up to another person. However, after 2-3 sessions, you should feel more comfortable with your therapist and should feel that his/her approach will at least have promise to help you in the future. If you do not feel this way, it is important that you address these concerns openly after three sessions “of giving it a chance”.

After three months have passed, check the list and see if you’re closer to reaching your goals. It may be helpful to track your mood or anxiety each day and how you cope with difficult situations. Review your progress with your therapist. Improvement obviously won’t happen overnight, but you should see some change, even if it’s just a better understanding of your own thoughts and feelings. It is also helpful to learn everything you can about your diagnosis and its treatments. Check your local library for books and reference materials, or ask your therapist for recommendations on online resources.

What if I’m not making progress?

If, after some time, you don’t begin to feel some relief, you have a right to seek a second opinion (as you would with any illness) from another therapist or mental health professional. You have a right to have the best treatment possible. It is important to treat your symptoms to remission. The longer you remain depressed to anxious, the harder it is to get better. In addition, it is important not to overlook the potential value of changing or adding medication. Your may derive more benefit from psychotherapy once your mood or anxiety symptoms are brought under better control by medication.

What type of therapy is best for me?

There are many types of talk therapy and most therapists use a combination of approaches. Behavioral therapy concentrates on your actions; cognitive therapy focuses on your thoughts; and interpersonal therapy looks at your relationships with others. Your loved ones may join you in sessions of family or couples therapy. Group therapy involves several, usually unrelated, people working with the same therapist and each other. One approach is not necessarily better than another and sometimes it is best to combine different approaches, especially individual therapy with family or couple therapy. Ultimately, the best choice is the one that works best for you.

Ari Zaretsky Photo cropDr. Ari Zaretski is Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, as well as Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

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