Great Expectations - What to Ask Yourself at the Start of Therapy

Psychotherapy is a highly personal experience that can potentially bring forth meaningful life changes.  Assuming that you have found a therapist who is a good fit for you (elements of a good therapist-client fit may include: positive rapport, good working relationship, mutual respect, etc.), it is important to examine what your expectations are for therapy. 

For instance, are you looking for additional support as it is lacking or not sufficient in your own personal network? Do you want a safe, nonjudgmental place to share your concerns?  Are you looking to gain a different perspective on your concerns?  Do you want to work on specific coping skills, like managing stress or sleeping better?                     

You also should define for yourself what you would consider as a meaningful or successful outcome.  To help you define what therapeutic change would be meaningful for you, you might ask yourself, "If therapy worked, how might my life be different? What would I be doing?"        

Knowing what your expectations are and sharing these with your therapist allows your therapist to work with you on designing a "road map" for your therapy.  Think of setting therapy expectations or goals as selecting a destination for a trip.  Once the destination is decided upon, it is much easier to plan the route to get there than if the destination is unknown.      

Once you have an idea of what your therapy expectations are, ask yourself, am I being realistic?  Are these therapy goals achievable within the time frame that I am willing to commit to therapy?  Is my therapist open and willing to work with me on my goals?

Because therapy is such a personal experience and no form of therapy can guarantee success for all people, reflecting on your expectations can at least help you decide on an initial direction for therapy, as well as to help you assess whether things are on track and whether therapy is getting you a bit closer to your desired destination.

Making Lasting Life Changes

If you could change anything at all in your life, what would you change?  Which of these changes would be most tied to improving your overall health and well-being? Perhaps you are thinking that you need to exercise more often, make better food choices, nurture your relationships, stop smoking, manage stress better or prioritize taking care of yourself. 

Perhaps you have taken steps to make life changes in the past but became discouraged and gave up because the changes just didn't stick.  If so, you are not alone.  The vast majority of us will have difficulty making changes in our lives despite our best intentions.  Old habits are hard to break and new ones can be difficult to break in before they become habit.  In fact, it is not uncommon to attempt to make several change attempts before making lasting life changes. 

So what can we do to increase the likelihood of success?  To get started, ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers to get a better sense of where you stand with your desired changes:    

1. What are the good things I am seeking in life? Better physical health? Improved relationships? Better work/life balance? Improved ability to manage stress? You may find it helpful to answer this question in relation to your life values.  Examples of common life values include being healthy, being a good parent, being responsible, or being a good role model.   

2. What are my personal reasons for considering and making these changes?  List your reasons, not your spouse's or your best friend's or your doctor's reasons.  Yours.  Lasting change is more likely when you consider your own reasons for change and reminding yourself of these reasons when keeping up with change is difficult.  

3. Am I ready to make changes? In other words, is this a good time in your life to make changes and do you have the information, time, energy, and resources to make change happen right now? We know that change requires an investment of our effort, time, and energy.  Therefore, change involves opportunity cost in the sense that the time, energy, and effort you invest in making the change means that you may forgo something else that you value.        

4. What is standing in my way of making lasting changes in my life? In other words, think about your barriers.  What's holding you back or keeping you stuck? Perhaps it's not having the information, the resources or even the confidence to make change successful.  Take an honest look at your barriers and brainstorm possible solutions to each barrier.   

Answers to the above will hopefully help you get started with at least thinking about and mentally preparing yourself for making lasting life changes.