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.

How to Choose a Therapist: Things to Consider

 Image courtesy of  Salvatore Vuono

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono

Therapy can be a very powerful vehicle to make life changes.  It is an opportunity to take inventory of your life, to identify what is and what is not working for you, and then creating a plan to make adjustments to enable you to live the life you want.  It involves taking time to reflect on how things are going for you, then deciding what, if anything, to adjust, tweak, and change.            

However, the decision to enter therapy can be difficult and many find that choosing a therapist can be a daunting task.  With so many therapists out there, how does one choose?   

Here are some tips on choosing a therapist:

1. Choose a mental health professional who is registered with a regulatory body.  The College of Psychologists of BC is the regulatory body for psychologists in BC and establishes professional standards for licensure and competence for the practice of psychology.  

2. Become informed about the differences between the available mental health professionals.  Although many mental health professionals provide psychotherapy, there are key differences in educational background and training.  Here are some differences between psychologists, psychiatrists, and counsellors:  

  • Psychologists in BC have a doctoral degree in Psychology and specialized training in research methods, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health concerns.  For more information: http://www.collegeofpsychologists.bc.ca/ 
  • Psychiatrists have a medical degree and specialize in mental health.  The treatment involved is usually medication but some also provide psychotherapy.  For more information: https://www.cpsbc.ca/  
  • Clinical counsellors typically hold a master's degree in a field of study such as counseling psychology, clinical social work, psychiatric nursing, etc.  For more information: http://bc-counsellors.org/general/about-us  

3. Most importantly, choose someone you feel comfortable working with.  A strong working relationship with  your therapist is a major factor that increases the chances of successful therapy.  Ask yourself - do I like my therapist? Do I feel comfortable working with my therapist on my personal goals? Working relationships take time to develop but you generally can get a sense at least initially of your own impression of comfort and rapport with a therapist.