Although times have changed and there are a lot more discussions surrounding therapy, it is understandable to have questions and doubts regarding the process. While I for example appreciate the service of an accountant, I myself struggle to understand good and bad practices, and thus before investing my time and money, I would need to educate myself to ensure I am receiving the best possible service. Below, I will be referring to a ‘therapist’, however this may also refer to counsellors, psychologists or other professionals with whom you are engaging in therapeutic services.
Each profession, including the therapy profession, can vary in the approach taken depending on the professional. It is not a one size fits all. Different therapists have different characters, areas of specialisation and ways of working. However, some aspects should be present across all professionals and these are some of the key points to keep in mind when embarking on a therapy journey.
Time is very important in therapy. First of all, as a client, you are there to receive the full 50 minutes of a session, and thus, your therapist should be on time. Another important aspect related to time is the amount of days or weeks between each session. Generally, therapy sessions should be held consistently every 2-3 weeks in order to get the most out of the service. The therapist may opt to discuss the option of weekly sessions in the beginning should they see this will be of greater benefit to you, then these are reduced to every 2-3 weeks as needed. Going to two sessions 2 or 3 months apart will not allow you as a client to receive the full benefit of the therapy service.
Another ‘time’ related question you may have is, ‘how many sessions do I need?!’ There is no direct answer to this as each person is unique, however you should set goals in your sessions and the therapist should guide you toward reaching those goals. Once the goal has been reached, the professional is responsible for discussing this in the session and planning a way forward. One positive approach is for example, opting to have a closure session once the goal is reached, and then meeting to check in after for example 2 months. Here, there is a lengthier time between the sessions as the goal would have been reached.
While each professional has their own approach, it is of utmost importance that the therapist is focused on nothing else but the session during your time together. There should not be any distractions during the session unless an emergency comes up. Your therapist is responsible for taking mental or physical notes of your sessions so they can progress with purpose and each session allows you to move closer to your goal. Should you start feeling stuck in your sessions, bring this up to your therapist and have a discussion.
In this profession, all sessions should remain confidential, and you as a client have a right to know what this means and discuss it with your therapist. Confidentiality generally means that anything discussed within the session stays between the people present in the room and this a strict rule. There are however a few exceptions, for example if the professional is concerned that you or others are at risk of being harmed, the professional may inform you that confidentiality needs to be broken. During couple’s therapy, if both partners are attending the sessions together, as a couple, then confidentiality is shared between all people present meaning; the therapist, and both partners.
- Being up to date with research & current trends.
The world is constantly changing, and so are we. It is important that your chosen professional keeps themselves up to date on what issues are more present now compared to 20 years ago. The professional must ensure that they are consistent in researching and learning about their areas of specialisation in order to provide you with the most current and relevant support.
What does a professional therapist look like? As I have said before, each person has their own character, however some things should always be kept in mind. A key part of a therapist’s role is to be able to show empathy. You should feel that you are being understood, guided and that you are in a safe space no matter your gender, sexual orientation, race, age or religion. Your therapist should also ensure that they have offered a clean, professional space for your session and have shown up dressed in an appropriate way. Your therapist should also be just that, meaning that they should not make plans with you to meet for a coffee, discuss things unrelated to you and your sessions, ask you for favors or pass any inappropriate comments.
Acting professionally as a therapist also means not giving unsolicited advice. This means that a therapist should never tell you how to live your life or what to do. It is you who makes the decisions and the therapist’s role is to guide you and help you increase your awareness surrounding your issues.
Remember that if you did not feel comfortable with one therapist, it does not mean you will not meet another professional with whom you can build a good therapeutic relationship. Sometimes there is a good connection from the start, and other times it takes a few sessions or you may decide it is best to change therapists. Remember that you can always express your concerns and thoughts about the service you are receiving to ensure that it is the best option for you.
Michaela Pace is a Psychology graduate from the University of Malta. She has worked with children and adolescents within the social sector and currently works as a Triage Officer and Volunteer Manager with Willingness Team, while pursuing a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.