We’re all familiar with ‘therapy cliches’. Perhaps it’s a waiting room filled with uncomfortable chairs, unrelenting strip lighting, faded posters depicting stock images of landscapes. Maybe it’s sitting in front of a stern person (your therapist) wielding a clipboard asking you probing questions about your childhood whilst you wish you were somewhere, anywhere else. It’s unwelcoming, excruciatingly awkward and not in any sense ‘therapeutic’.
Contemporary therapy is nothing like this, I promise.
This piece is particularly written with men in mind, as we know it’s often harder for them to reach out for support, or perhaps they’re sceptical of what the process involves. In writing this, I hope to convey to them that modern therapy and therapists are really not like the cliches.
To those who don’t believe talking can help, that therapy is awkward and embarrassing. Those of you who are thinking about therapy but just aren’t sold. Those of you who’ve had rubbish experiences of therapy previously. This is for you.
Talking can be awkward at first.
You’ve held something in for years, something that you might have never told anyone or even said out loud before. And now here you are, sat opposite someone you’ve only just met. Saying ‘the thing(s)’ is probably going to be really difficult, and as therapists, we know that. We understand it might take you a few sessions before you’re able to say it. There will probably be silences – those are OK too, it’s fine if you need to take a moment or two and not talk. Talking about yourself in therapy does get easier. During the first session (for example), expect your therapist to actively engage with you with what’s bringing you here and what you hope to get from therapy. It’s absolutely nothing like the ‘blank screen’ you see portrayed in media sometimes, and a world away from a clinical GP surgery where you have to explain ‘why you’re there’ in ten minutes. Take your time, and know that we are here and ready to listen to your story as, when and how you’re ready to tell it.
We are never going to judge you
As therapists, we are non-judgemental on personal and ethical principle. What we are aiming to do is create the kind of environment where you feel free to explore your inner landscape. In order to do this properly (and safely), you need to know you’re not going to be judged. We’re working from an angle of wanting to understand and empathise with you – we don’t see our clients as ‘broken people’ who need ‘fixing’, we see them as fellow humans wanting to grow and change. It might take a few sessions to feel comfortable talking about something that’s perhaps a bit raw or tender, and we want you to know that every part of you and your experience is welcome and safe with us.
Be prepared to talk about…
What’s spoken about in therapy seems to be one of those myths that needs debunking. We are not going to sit you down, clipboard in hand, and ask you to immediately reveal your deepest traumas. Typically, you’ll either bring what you need to your therapy sessions, or you’ll work collaboratively with your therapist around what to focus on. While what is brought to therapy is unique to everyone, it’s pretty likely you’ll find yourself talking about your relationships (with family, platonic, romantic, with substances if you use them, with work, with yourself…), your early years and perhaps significant events, such as any losses you have experienced. As always, you are never obliged to discuss material you don’t want to – most therapists encourage you to go at your own pace.
It is OK to be vulnerable in therapy
Perhaps you were raised in an environment where feelings were swept under the carpet, or were told to ‘man up’, or that ‘boys don’t cry’. You might not have been given many opportunities to be safely vulnerable yourself, or perhaps you had no choice but to be strong. As a result, it might feel incredibly difficult to be vulnerable now. You don’t have to ‘hold it together’ for your therapist in sessions. We welcome vulnerability and know it’s part of the process, and we understand that it can feel difficult at first, particularly with someone you just met. It really is OK to cry here if you need to, and many people find it a relief to finally do so. It’s also OK to get angry, feel wounded, feel anxious… the more feelings you allow in and have access to and process, the more vividly you experience and make sense of life and yourself. So, the more you connect with all your feelings, that means also experiencing joy, happiness, contentedness more frequently.
You don’t have to settle with your first therapist
Therapists are a fantastically diverse bunch, with many different approaches. If you know you’d feel more comfortable working with a certain type of therapist, try a session with them, and know you can change at any time. Also, there are different types of therapy. You might already have an idea of what style would work best for you (one of our founders Chance has written a useful guide here), or you might find out after trying a few sessions with one therapy style, a different approach might be a better fit. It’s OK to change your mind. All that said, it’s important to know the majority of the research suggests that it’s the relationship between therapist and client that determines how ‘successful’ therapy is, so finding someone you ‘click’ with is absolutely key. Doing that might take a few attempts, and we understand that.
Results aren’t always immediate
You wouldn’t expect to see immediate results after one gym visit, though you might well experience an endorphin rush and generally feel good after taking the exercise. Similarly with therapy, change can take time. It could be a few weeks or a few months before you start to notice feeling different. Some sessions you might stay with more ‘surface level’ material, other sessions you might get that elusive insight that completely reframes your understanding of yourself and the world. Therapy is a journey and a process, and it can be hard work; and yep – I get how unappealing that might sound having just written that! Be prepared to put the work in, and know that the results when they occur are absolutely worth the effort.
You can hit pause any time
Of course, I think therapy is great (I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t!) and as I just wrote, therapy can sometimes be a long process. It’s also fine to change your mind about therapy. The process is driven by you, and we aren’t here to tell you what you should do. If you decide therapy isn’t for you or it’s not the right time after a couple of sessions, it’s OK to hit pause. We don’t work from a framework of making you commit to X number of sessions – how many sessions you have will be decided by you. If, after you’ve had a few sessions and that’s enough for now or you’d prefer to come back later, that is OK. We’ll be right here if and when you’re ready to come back.
‘Just talking about it’ can really help.
I’d be staggeringly rich if I’d been given a quid every time I’ve heard the phrase “but therapy is just talking about it!”. Although therapy isn’t ‘just talking about it’ (way too much to write here on that!), having a regular space to check in with how you’re doing can be really beneficial for a number of reasons. Some of the things that can arise from therapy are: a more compassionate understanding of yourself, a refreshed approach to work, a revived and renewed sense of purpose, an increased sense of perspective, greater resilience in times of stress, experiencing more fulfilling relationships, being more in touch with your values… who wouldn’t want that?
Good mental maintenance is what we do every day at Self Space. Much like going to the gym, eating well, sleeping well or creating a restorative living space, going to therapy allows you to build resilience and strength mentally, so when life becomes stressful (when the proverbial ‘shit hits the fan’), you find yourself much more equipped to cope.
Therapy can save lives
On a serious note, every week there are 125 deaths by suicide in the UK. 75% of these are men (stats from CALM). Anyone can hit crisis point, and what we are really encouraging you to do is seek support (such as therapy) before life becomes too much. We got you.
So there we are. I hope this has gone at least some way towards persuading you that modern therapy isn’t ‘clinical’, weird or stigmatising. What we’re aiming for is contemporary, welcoming and human.