"My therapist said to me, 'Some people don’t deserve forgiveness. You can learn to heal from trauma, not carry the burden of your past, and still not forgive.'"
Like many things in life, therapy can involve a lot of trial and error. When making the decision to go, you might not even know what to expect (or Google). This can make the whole process more daunting or exhausting than it needs to be.
So recently, we asked people in the BuzzFeed Community who have been to therapy what they wish they knew before starting, and they gave some great insight:
1. "Finding a therapist is, frustratingly, a lot like dating: the chances of you finding the right one for you quickly are very slim. You will probably try a few sessions with someone and feel like something just isn't clicking — and that's okay. You might do this a few times, and that's okay, too. It's what happened to me. I thought that therapy (in general) just wasn't working for me — like something was so wrong with me that it wasn't helping at all. But the reality is that there are just so many different methods of conducting therapy, so many different styles of treatment, and so many different tools. Plus, each therapist is different. (They're people with individual personalities! What a concept!) It just takes time and effort on your part to find someone who works for you."
2. "Someone may be a great therapist for you at one point but eventually stop being a good fit. It makes sense — your needs and situation can change over time, and your need for a different therapist would reflect that. I wish I knew that I was allowed to want a new therapist without feeling weirdly guilty about it, especially when my original therapist had helped me through so much."
3. "It's normal to talk about random stuff before you're able to really dive into the deep stuff. It takes time to get comfortable, and that's okay. You don't have to immediately start talking about your childhood trauma. Sometimes, it's okay to just talk about what you did that day."
4. "I wish I knew that I'm going to feel worse before I feel better. A lot of the negative feelings and emotions I had were suppressed. They were still present, just not as raw. The first few sessions were tough because I was reopening old wounds."
5. "It is totally normal to feel really worried about your first session — what to say, what your therapist will think of you, etc. It's all totally normal and commonplace! Many people feel like that. It's okay to voice that to your therapist, too. It may actually help you move past those thoughts and feel more comfortable."
6. "During my seven years in therapy, I've realized that it's more than 'talking at a stranger.' Describing your feelings to someone who is objective is the only way you can detach from them enough to see where they come from. Getting them out of your own head is such a relief. The hardest thing in a session is pushing through fear and saying the things you want to hold back. They're usually the things that reveal something I didn't consciously know about myself."
"It's really challenging, but life-changing in the best way. Much love to everyone doing the inner work. It's tough, but we're tougher. ❤️" —furrygodmother
7. "Sometimes, it’s okay not to forgive. My mother and her husband neglected and abused me and my three younger siblings. I spent years letting guilt eat me alive because I couldn’t and still can’t forgive them. My current therapist said to me, 'Some people don’t deserve forgiveness. You can learn to heal from trauma, not carry the burden of your past, and still not forgive.'"
"I have been seeing my current therapist for two years." —lindsayb4bf85de3d
8. "You don't have to understand why it works for it to work. I still don't really get it. I just spent a few weeks talking to my therapist — just going through the traumas from my childhood and why I'm anxious. No great analysis, no special exercises. It didn't feel sophisticated. I couldn't really understand what she was doing that was so special, but it worked."
9. "Be honest! It took me a long time to shake that feeling that I was being judged and that I had to keep my defense up."
"We get six free hours on the NHS, and I wasted over half of them by acting like I didn’t need to be there."
10. "Therapy is a collaborative environment. It's okay to let your therapist know when something they say or do doesn't sit well with you and have a discussion about it. Sitting there feeling uncomfortable or going home and ruminating about these things is not helpful for you or the therapist."
"If you're both able to communicate these things, it makes for a much healthier working relationship." —Anonymous, Australia
11. "I didn't understand at first (and didn't want to hear) that my anxiety and depression won't go away entirely. Rather, through therapy, I would become better equipped to deal with them myself. I thought this was a sign of a bad therapist and stopped going for a while until I read an article about people managing depression."
12. "Therapy is work. You often leave sessions exhausted, and in between sessions, you need to be implementing what you’ve learned and discussed. You don’t just go in, tell them your problems, and magically feel better immediately. It’ll be hard to see your progress because it happens slowly, but eventually, you’ll look back and realize how things have changed."
13. "ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) has been an absolute game-changer for me. I think it’s one of the tougher forms of therapy to sit with because, at its base, it's radical acceptance of everything you can’t control."
"Man, if you can get your brain to buy into it, it’s powerful stuff." —elizawithaz
14. "Different methods work for different things, and one person may need multiple types on their journey. CBT helped me get to a point where my anxiety wasn't as debilitating, but now, my therapist wants to try a different type of therapy to address other issues that CBT isn't working for."
"That doesn't make me think CBT is useless." —dancinaa
15. "I wish I knew how much therapy would change my life for the better. I spent the better part of my twenties dealing with PTSD — drinking excessively to drown the demons and not sleeping. Because of the work I put in at therapy, I feel happy, adjusted, and safe. Now, I barely drink. I am also months away from graduating with my MBA. My demons no longer control me, and therapy gave me the tools to make that happen."
16. "Going to see a therapist and a psychiatrist are two different things. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and they are the providers that can diagnose you and provide medical treatment. Therapists are not able to diagnose or provide medication, but they are able to help manage symptoms of your mental illness in other ways."
"Those ways can includecognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, music therapy, EMDR, etc." —alsointocats352
17. "I wish I knew earlier that I needed therapy. I thought since I didn't have any specific trauma that I would be laughed at for wanting to speak about my thoughts. I thought I was being dramatic for having anxiety and panic attacks. Turns out, sometimes our brains are wired a little differently, and therapy is fantastic for a lot of different reasons!"
18. "If your therapist isn’t the right fit, please find a new one. If your therapist is the right fit but one of their suggestions isn’t working for you or you disagree with their assessment of a situation, say something. You will not hurt their feelings. Therapy is about what works for you."
"I also wish I knew that I could choose not to discuss something, whether it be for one particular session or for weeks or months until I was ready." —Anonymous, British Columbia
19. "I wish I knew how much work it actually takes on my part. I was under the impression that I just had to sit through the sessions, and my brain would figure it out on its own. I didn’t realize that I would have to take time out of my day to practice what I had learned from my therapist. I really didn’t see a difference in my mental health until I started fully participating in therapy — both with my therapist and by myself."
20. "I wish I knew more about different styles of counseling before I had more than six weeks worth of sessions with a certain counselor. I'm on my sixth therapist now and really prefer her mixed style of letting me talk openly but also offering advice or techniques when necessary. It also helps that she suffers from chronic pain just like I do, so she has that specific insight I need now that I'm disabled. If you have the privilege to choose a therapist, then I'd really recommend looking for someone with similar identities to yourself — religion, LGBTQ, disabled, etc."
"That way, you know they've had similar issues personally and can talk from experience." —Anonymous, United Kingdom
21. "I didn't know I had a traumatizing childhood until I began therapy. I began to mourn who I could have been if things had been different. I wish I was prepared for how emotional it would be to talk to the child still inside of me — and how freeing it is when you tell them they will be okay."
22. "Don't stop until you find someone who just 'gets you.' It might take time, but it matters! I was forced into therapy with an old white man as a teen, and I believe the dude seriously stunted my growth and recovery. He just didn't get it. Seeing a therapist who is a Black woman has been a total game-changer for me. I'm multiracial, but my current therapist has still been so much more helpful. There's no need to explain certain things I go through, and she works hard to understand my experiences that she doesn’t share."
23. "I wish I knew that the therapist was not going to tell me what I should do to start feeling better. She just sat there and listened a lot, maybe asked a question here or there. At first, I thought it was a waste of my time, but I decided to stick with it for at least three months just to see what would happen. After about a month, I realized that I knew a lot more answers than I thought I did, but I needed to talk it out in a safe space with someone who knew how to guide me to those answers. I’m glad she didn’t tell me what to do. I needed to figure it out for myself. Now, I feel like I'm in better touch with my own inner advice."
24. "I've come to enjoy telehealth video appointments. I can snuggle up in my favorite chair with my favorite blanket so I feel relaxed, no matter how stressful things have been. Plus, no more awkwardly waiting in an office!"
"That used to make me so anxious, waiting in a sterile-feeling waiting room." —Anonymous, Pennsylvania
25. "I've been in and out of therapy for mental illness since childhood. I wish I would have known that therapists, like all people, come to sessions with their own individual biases. I have seen therapists that were compassionate, supportive, and genuinely seemed to care about my progress. I have also seen therapists that regularly accused me of lying for attention and dismissed everything I said because of my gender/sexuality/age/condition. Their bias was not my responsibility, but I still took it personally."
26. "The things you want to avoid talking about in therapy are probably what need the most attention."
27. "I wish I had known more about the distinctions in clinicians’ training, like LCSW, MFT, and clinical psychology. Their training affects their clinical approach."
"It may take some trial-and-error to find the right fit with a clinician, which can be difficult, but it is so important." —Anonymous, Alabama
28. "You are the expert on you. Just because your therapist is qualified doesn't mean they're always right or that you should believe their opinion over your own. You don't have to keep doing things that don't help or make you feel worse because your therapist told you to. No one else is in your head, no one else can know what's right for you. If they don't respect that, stop seeing them."
29. "You don't have to have continuous life tragedy in order to continue seeing your therapist. I feel like a lot of people go into therapy when something is 'wrong,' and once they feel it's 'fixed,' they stop going. However, if you have a healthy connection with your therapist, continuing to see them through the 'good' parts of your life can also be beneficial."
30. "Your therapist should not be sharing stories from their personal life! With my first therapist, I thought she was promising because she also had a mother with narcissistic personality disorder (my main reason for needing therapy). 'Finally, someone who understands,' I thought. But she would spend most of the sessions sharing stories about her mother in response to things I brought up, and it sounded like she needed therapy herself. It got to the point where she spoke more than I did in the sessions — a big red flag."
"Now, I found an amazing therapist who checks all my boxes without getting personal. This made me realize that therapists are like relationships: sometimes you don't realize that there could be a better match for you until you find the one! So if something feels off, it probably is." —Anonymous, Illinois
31. "That there is almost no other relationship dynamic like the one with a therapist. A therapist is not a friend. It's not so important that they like you, but it is important that they respect you. My first two therapy experiences were with therapists who were super friendly and wanted me to know they liked me but minimized my issues and didn't challenge or encourage me to make positive changes. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't growing, and it was largely because those therapists were trying to be my friend but weren't respecting my issues and treating them seriously. Eventually, I found a therapist who is kind, does not hesitate to challenge me, and has helped me identify patterns and behaviors that hold me back from my goals."
32. "The main thing I wish I knew was that I needed to be brutally honest about my struggles. I, too, have had a few therapists, and there were some things that were difficult for me to talk to anyone about — including my therapist. When I decided to throw caution to the wind and talk about things that were difficult to talk about, therapy sessions became something I looked forward to, especially as I became more and more comfortable revealing my most inner thoughts and weaknesses. As such, I started to grow in ways I never imagined. As much as I needed a good therapist, I realized it was me who was responsible for helping my therapist help me."
"As good as your therapist might be, they can only be effective if you are willing to somehow bare your soul — regardless of your shame or fear of exposing your deepest secrets — so you and your therapist can tackle the hard work it takes to begin healing." —Anonymous, New York
33. "You can't just turn over responsibility for your life to a therapist. It's up to you to find ways to make your life work; the therapist's role is (or should be) to offer new ways to look at old issues, not 'fix' everything for you. Additionally, patients should question their therapist's suggestions, especially when they do not seem directly related to what they are seeking help with."
"Some therapists bring their own prejudices, misconceptions, and needs to each session. And nobody should feel locked into seeing someone who makes them feel uncomfortable, small, or stupid.
I saw a counselor at a community mental health center who insisted I attend OA meetings because of my anorexia — when I was actually experiencing severe depression and asking to be referred to a psychiatrist for treatment. She refused.
Finally, targeted therapy like CBT — with a stated time frame and specific goals in each session — can be more beneficial than simply sitting on a couch and hashing things out. Years after completing CBT with a fantastic therapist, I still apply what I learned each and every day." —Anonymous, Florida