You might have noticed that, at Three Seas, we talk a lot about what bad therapy looks like. After all, we want to ensure that potential patients get first-rate treatment, even if they don’t get it from us. But how do you know when you’re getting good therapy? What can you expect, and how long will it take? Here are six things you can and should expect out of therapy.
A Judgment-Free Space
You can’t talk about your deepest secrets and biggest challenges if you are afraid of being judged and stigmatized for doing so. Thus the highest goal of most good therapists is to offer their patients a space where they can safely share their thoughts and feelings. That means listening with compassion and objectivity, and never making you feel guilty or ashamed of who you are. Therapist or psychologists often refer to this as “unconditional positive regard,” which means that your therapist will treat you as a good person, diligently encouraging you to be the best self you can be, even when you reveal parts of yourself of which you are less than proud.
You can’t share confidently if you are worried about your therapist telling your loved ones about what you said in counselling. For this reason, all therapists offer their patients confidentiality. Your therapist can only break confidentiality in the most dire of circumstances, such as if you are a danger to others or have made a credible threat to harm yourself. Even then, your therapist can only tell people who are equipped to help you, and can only give them the information they need to help you—not intimate details of your personal life or feelings.
Critical Feedback on Your Behaviour
You can’t change the people around you, and you may not be able to change your job or your financial situation. Even if you can, these issues will never change if you don’t also change your behaviour. The ultimate goal of therapy is to change your thoughts and your feelings, so that you can take healthier actions that support, rather than undermine, your long-term goals. This means that good therapists will provide you with feedback by, for instance, pointing out that you seem to always blame other people or that you are chronically late. This feedback is not intended to insult you. Instead, its goal is to help you know what you need to do to live the life you want.
Insight Into Your Patterns
Most of us follow patterns of behaviour without even being aware that we are doing so. Maybe you chronically try to avoid abandonment, but your efforts actually chase people away. Or maybe you are dishonest because our parents frequently penalized dishonesty. The only way to change these patterns is to identify them and where they cam from. That is precisely what good therapy offers you—insight into your history and behaviour.
Advice—But Not Instructions
Good therapists occasionally give advice about the next steps to take toward your goals. But therapists are supposed to help you become yourself, not tell you who to be or model your life after their life. Expect to get advice and insight from your therapist, but don’t expect your therapist to tell you what to do, since good therapists will guide you to those decisions without giving explicit instructions.
Sometimes just having an open-minded listener is enough to inspire hope for a brighter tomorrow. Your therapist will listen to your thoughts and feelings, offering you affectionate and compassionate support. This helps you realize you still have value, even when you’re emotionally distraught. Over time, this compassionate support can inspire you to live more deeply, openly, and honestly, and may eventually take you closer to the life you’ve always wanted.