What You Should Know About Therapy: 4 Myths of the Therapeutic Relationship

The following are misconceptions about therapy, psychotherapy, and counseling. We've compiled some common myths (especially about the first session). We then share with you our perspective at the Phoenix Counseling Collective. We hope this clears some things up.

Myth #1- I will solve my problems and this puzzle of life in the first session. 

Our Perspective: 

Do NOT expect to put the entire puzzle together on day one. We often find that the first few sessions are like dumping the puzzle pieces out of the box. Having the pieces all around can often feel overwhelming and sometimes unsettling. The idea is that you are holding a LOT in your puzzle box (struggles, stories, relationships, etc.) and it takes awhile to begin to put the pieces together. It takes time to figure out what areas we want to dive into first. It takes reflection to see how things connect in your brain and your situation. You probably won't leave with answers right away. You likely won't experience dramatic mood shifts right away either. The therapeutic relationship takes time to build. It is in the building of that safe space and relationship that the "work" is being done.

Myth #2- I will feel better after one session.

Our Perspective: 

Do not expect to feel an overwhelming sense of relief after a 50 minute session. While it is common to feel a sense of hopefulness and relief after an initial session, there can also be a sense of heaviness and discouragement. This can happen because you have brought to light the reality of the pain you are carrying. Sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier. (If you've ever been in physical therapy, it is a similar concept).  Don't expect your counselor to jump right in solving your problems. We need to be able to get a clear picture of who you are and how you work before jumping in immediately with exercises or insight.

Myth #3- I have to share everything I can in the first session! 

Our Perspective: 

It takes time to build up trust, openness, and vulnerability. Do not expect to have to share everything within the first session. People usually feel like they have to get it all out in one go. But, we find it helpful when clients give themselves permission to take it slow. You can share what you feel most comfortable with first. Take the second session to continue sharing more as it comes up. Also, don't expect your therapist to know exactly what questions to ask. While you don't need to feel pressure to share everything, still share what's on your heart. Even if your therapist hasn't asked you a specific question you can speak candidly. If they haven't asked you about something that is important to you, for example, your faith, or a recent life transition, feel free to tell them! Let your therapist know that it is important to you that they know this. Therapists, although often intuitive, are not mind readers.

Myth #4- The therapist is the expert and I am the patient. I will receive advice from my therapist. 

Our Perspective: 

You are an expert. You've been living with yourself for decades! (Assuming you're at least twenty.) Western medicine has shaped our culture in such a way that patients share symptoms with a doctor who then:

1) solves the mystery and

2) tells the patient what malady they have.

Instead, we prefer the collaborative approach. Our lens is that in the helping field, there should be a joint effort of two experts. The therapist may be an expert in the field of relationships, for example, but by collaborating with an expert on your life (this is you), we are able to achieve much more than either could on their own. The therapist's job to help you slow down. We help you connect with your own experience. We help you listen to the wisdom and knowledge that you already have inside. The therapist will mirror back to you the things that they see. You get to use that feedback in your process. It is through this joint effort that therapy happens. As a result, you are able to be more present with your internal self. You can then consciously make decisions out of your true nature. Don't expect your therapist to give advice - especially in the first session. Therapists hesitate to give advice especially early on because remember they need a lot of consultation and information from YOU.

If you have specific questions that were not addressed in this post, or if this is the type of therapy that you are looking for, feel free to Contact Us.

Take Care,

The Phoenix Counseling Collective Team

~Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, and Molly~


P.S. If you want a little holiday therapy humor: http://www.psychotherapy.net/uploads/4ee5e05656612.jpg

Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering... we don't use Freud's psychoanalytic style of having patients lay supine on a cold leather couch while he evaluated them. Our couches are generally warm and comfortable. While you're welcome to lay down if you want to, you can just sit and talk face to face. 

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Going Home for the Holidays: Some Strategies for Sanity

November is the month that many people begin to process how difficult and stressful the Holidays are. Particularly if they will be around family this year. They find that they become irritable, feel anxious inside, or even downright dread being home. There are many reasons why this can be the case.

For some, this is the first Christmas without a loved one. For others, they are afraid of being around an abusive family member. For all families there is a natural family dynamic that is often at play. Marriage and family therapists call this dynamic "homeostasis." I define it this way:

Homeostasis is "the tendency of a group to maintain its well worn patterns and to resist change."

Many people (who seem to be well adjusted adults) go home and find themselves regressing to the roles of their youth.

In one family, it may look like this:

Sitting down at the table, Dad complains about what his kids have not accomplished. Then he jumps to talking about politics. Mom fills everyone's plate to the brim. Then she hints at how her oldest daughter needs to lose weight. The youngest child becomes the helpless baby sister who can't do anything right (even though she's a succesful laywer). The older brother hogs the remote like he's 16 years old again. The middle sister tries to keep the peace in the family by distracting everyone with baby photos.

In your family, it may look different. The truth is this: no matter how far we get away from our families geographically, we find ourselves returning to the roles we played when we were kids.

This truth when lived out can be quite stressful and anxiety provoking. Going back to homeostasis is not fun.

So, how can we survive the Holidays with our family?

There are a few strategies that can help us weather the dynamic of homeostasis.

#1- Accept that homeostasis is inevitable.

By expecting that it will be there, we can go into the Holidays with open eyes and be proactive versus reactive. You can be proactive about it by expecting it, and having a plan for when it happens.

#2- Pause and breathe.

This helps us engage our body through the parasympathetic nervous system. It allows us to make wiser choices. We'll discuss this more in future blog posts. (You can check out a simple, helpful breathing exercise here: https://youtu.be/YRPh_GaiL8s )

#3- Take breaks from your family.

Yes- you have permission to do this! Remember that holidays are also vacations. Here are some ideas for taking a break:

-Go outside and take a leisurely walk by yourself, or even with a family member you enjoy.

-Take a nap here and there.

-Take an hour away in a separate room and read.

-Find someone that you can lean on. Identify a family member who “gets” your experience. You can even agree to call one of your friends for both of you to vent. (Remember, you aren't the only one with a family issue, your friend may need someone to talk about what is happening with their family too!)

#4- Remember that you will leave your family and return to your own home at some point.

Sometimes, it may feel like forever. But, the reality is that this holiday is a limited time, and you'll go back to your own home and your own routines soon. Remember what's waiting for you when you get home. You have friends and your therapist to process whatever happens.

#5- Radically accept that you cannot change everything.

Be mindful and aware of your humanity. Attempting to change a family pattern that was cultivated over decades in one weekend is too much. It is a heavy, impossible lift. While it is important to speak your experience when it seems safe- be sure to remember why you are speaking. If you are speaking truth to sustain your integrity, great! If you are speaking truth to overhaul how your family carries out its homeostasis, not great.

Many clients have found the recitation of the Serenity Prayer to be helpful. (This is often used with the Twelve Step Programs. You can use it with any higher power). This prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr, says,

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

If it helps- recite it when you wake up before you've engaged with anyone and again when you go to bed at night.

When you are home with your family remember there are things you can change and things you can’t.

In the end, you can’t change your family. Yet, you CAN make choices about how you will change your responses to the homeostasis of your family. The above ideas give you some alternatives to pick from.

If the holidays are stressful for you and you want someone to talk with about it, feel free to Contact Us.



Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash