As a therapist in private practice, during the first session I provide a bit of coaching to first-time clients with instructions on how to engage in the process and maximize the therapeutic relationship.
Many people have misconceptions and unrealistic views of what it means to be in therapy.
My “Intro to Therapy” speech (Therapy 101) begins with generic confidentiality disclosures—you know, the part where the therapist says, “Everything you tell me in this room stays in this room.” This script is the equivalent to the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” disclaimer statement (with the caveat that if you are planning to off your ex or bring harm to yourself we must act to keep you and the general public safe).
Experience has led to evolution of some additional important recommendations—one of which I am unsure if other therapists include. I tell my clients to “Talk like you normally talk” in our sessions together. To clarify this directive, I am saying that if you cuss like a sailor when you talk to your BFF, then do not censor yourself on the therapy couch.
I am a therapist who is not bothered by sailor speak. On the contrary, the vernacular, uncensored expressions help to identify your passions and your pains, and I venture to bet your therapist may feel the same. We need hear you the way you normally speak in order to truly help you. Your therapist can speak your language, as we are well-versed in human hardships and not easily surprised or shocked.
“Code switching is not required or expected in this therapy space,” is my gentle reminder when I see clients struggling to string together the right words. I encourage them to just speak from the heart.
Your therapy space is an oasis and will become your safe place. Your therapist is there to help you unpack the baggage, and that part is not neat or measured. The only thing that should be measured in therapy is time.
Your words need not be eloquently orated. Your therapist is not looking for a Shakespearean soliloquy; you just need to speak your thoughts and feelings aloud. Get it all out first, like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Your therapist is there to help sort through the pieces with you, because helping to make sense of it all is part of the job of your therapist. It is exactly what you and/or your insurance company pays them to do. So why not do just that?
Go ahead and cuss, curse, swear, yell, scream, sob, or cry if you need to. Your therapist has tissues (because Kleenex is required equipment in any good therapy practice).
Remember, it is your 50-minute session to be your authentic, uncensored self. Get it all out. Fall completely apart if you need to—and your therapist will hold the space to help you put it all back together again.
Authenticity, a willingness to be honest, a little courage, and a genuine desire to unpack your emotional baggage are all the prerequisites and are also the essential tools for success in Therapy 101.
Are we ready to begin?