Rarely, if ever, when we meet someone do we immediately want to divulge the most intimate details of our life. That is just not how human relationships tend to work. We generally prefer to take things slower, first inquiring about a person’s line of work and interests before learning about their more private details.
With therapy, however, the first session is not about getting to know one another on a superficial level, and there is no room for pleasantries about the weather or the latest sports news. Rather, a therapist will use that initial meeting to determine what treatment is going to look like for the duration of your time together. This requires obtaining detailed information about what has brought you to therapy in the first place.
The Therapeutic Relationship
As uncomfortable and unnatural as it may sound, complete transparency with your therapist it is what makes therapy work. The relationship between a therapist and client is defined by a balance of intimacy and professionalism that is seldom seen in other types of relationships. Your honesty, vulnerability, and rawness during a session are rewarded by unconditional support and a desire to see you grow and thrive. This is known as the therapeutic relationship or alliance, and it is thought to be the most powerful tool that mental health professionals have to offer.
There are many types of therapeutic techniques a therapist can utilize during your treatment. Depending on your needs and the specialty of the therapist, the specific modalities and interventions used will vary. While strategies like cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy are evidence-based and shown to improve symptoms, there is research that suggests that the relationship between a therapist and their client is the prime contributor to positive treatment outcomes.
There is something liberating about being able to freely discuss issues with your therapist that you would otherwise feel uncomfortable expressing to those around you. Substance abuse can keep people quiet with the shame that accompanies it, and that can make it difficult to ask for help or talk about difficult emotions associated with it. That is something you will not have to worry about when working with a therapist. While your struggle with addiction and mental health can be overwhelming and isolating, your therapist has most likely met many people working through very similar things. Addiction might make you feel like you are completely alone in your pain, but that is far from the truth. Therapists are knowledgeable in how to help you, as long as you open up to the process.
Learning to Trust Your Therapist
You might be thinking that opening up to someone with your most difficult struggles is easier said than done. Even with the many benefits that come along with a candid relationship with your therapist, getting in the right headspace to offer that level of vulnerability can be challenging, especially with the secrecy you may have had to adopt while living with substance use disorder. In order to heal, however, you have to start somewhere. Your therapist will understand that this is a novel, unprecedented realm for you if you have never gone through therapy before.
You Are a Team
When you go to the doctor for an ear infection or strep throat, you are putting your physical health in the hands of a physician. They will most likely ask you about your symptoms, but their physical examination is usually what helps them make their decision. This examination will help them decide the best course of action to take to help you regain your health. If you follow their instructions verbatim, you will likely return to your normal self in no time.
Working with a therapist is a much more collaborative process. You will not tell them your symptoms and receive a list of instructions to feel better. Rather, it is an exploratory process of identifying triggers and behavioral patterns and working to overcome them in a very individualized way. While your therapist has the expertise and may offer structure and suggestions, they are always assisting you in making your own decisions about your future.
This also means that you get what you put into it. Therapy is an interactive experience, and if you are not engaged fully, you might feel frustrated and stagnated. Using your therapist as a resource can set you on a better path.
Communicate About Disagreements
Therapists are experts in their field, but they are not perfect. If something they are doing is off-putting or offensive, you need to let them know. Just as in any relationship, there are misunderstandings, frustrations, and things to apologize for. You are entirely within your right to communicate that to your therapist. The therapeutic alliance is intended to provide you with a safety net to work on complicated and painful problems, and your therapist will be eager to know if something they said or did upset you so that they can work with you to repair the relationship and get back on the course of your recovery.
Find the Right Fit
Some people just don’t click, and that can certainly happen with you and a therapist. If after several sessions you are still finding it difficult to open up, or if you are feeling disrespected or uncomfortable, it is okay to terminate the relationship. This does not mean that therapy will not work for you. Rather, it means that a certain therapist wasn’t the right fit. There are even times when a therapist may choose to refer you out because their specialty or scope doesn’t fit your needs. Rest assured, the right therapist is out there for you, and healing is possible.
Finding a therapist who you can trust is a fundamental step in the process of recovering from substance use disorder. While therapy takes some getting used to, having the right therapist on your team can make that process much easier. At Family-Centered Services, we understand that you need to feel supported to do meaningful work in therapy. From the first time we meet, we take the time to get to know you, your history with substances, your mental health needs, and your goals for treatment. We also strive to involve your family in the process to not only help you thrive as an individual but to help repair familial bonds that may have been strained as a result of your addiction. We offer individual and family therapy, a family recovery program, case management, and sober accountability. Reach out to us today at (509) 991-5822 to learn more.