Having Realistic Expectations for Therapy
Making that first phone call to schedule an appointment with a psychologist takes courage. For many, it’s the first time such a phone call has ever been made. And it’s the first step to change. But what does change really look like? What can one realistically expect from therapy?
The purpose of this blog is to address the false or unrealistic expectations that some people have prior to entering therapy. Unrealistic expectations for therapy can be one of the major roadblocks to meaningful change.
1) Change is not linear. It usually does not happen in a step wise, black or white fashion. It’s not like continuously climbing up a staircase. Rather, change comes in waves. A more typical journey to change looks like two steps forward, one step back.
2) Change is not always easy. It requires work. Though not easy, change can lead to enrichment, meaning, peace, inner satisfaction….the list is endless.
3) Change can be uncomfortable, and an important part of therapy is learning how to tolerate this discomfort.
4) Setbacks are not failures. Perfectionists in particular struggle with this. When there is a setback in a relationship or in progress, most people may mistake this as going back to square one. It is not. The enemy of progress is not setbacks—setbacks are a natural part of life and of change. The biggest enemy of progress is being rigid and unforgiving with oneself when these setbacks occur. Similarly, getting “off track” with change is a natural part of therapy as well. This applies particularly to addictive behaviors. Relapse and getting “off track” is very common when trying to change an addictive behavior. The most important thing to remember is to keep going and to get help when you find yourself off track.
5) Everyone in your life may not respond positively to your change. This particularly applies to toxic family members and friends. If you’re trying to change the role you have within your toxic family, for example, they may react negatively when you set boundaries and assert your needs. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. If you are setting limits in a reasonable and assertive manner, and someone has an inappropriate reaction to this, it simply indicates that he/she is probably pretty unhealthy.
6) Therapy is not a magic wand. The therapist is a professional who is there to assess the problematic areas, create a treatment plan, and provide support and guidance. Therapy provides a safe and supportive place to work through challenges and struggles, and provides opportunities for the client to see things in a different way. But this requires work on the part of the client, and most importantly, a willingness to see/do things differently.
7) Medications are also not a magic wand. Psychiatric medication can certainly help with myriad issues, but it does not make the problem go away. The person also has to learn how to cope with the problem. When medication works well, it helps keep the person’s head above water. However, it can’t teach him how to swim.
8) Change requires patience. Unfortunately, change does not happen overnight. Regarding more complex issues, change will probably take a while. This is OK. It’s just important to remember to be patient with oneself during the process.