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Down in the Dumps Part 1: Five Things to Remember When Going to Therapy Sessions

Hello and welcome to my blog series: Down in the Dumps. This blog series was created to provide tips and suggestions for people who have been diagnosed with depression. As someone who struggles with depression on a daily basis, in this blog I will be providing tips on a variety of subjects including counselling, sleep, food, exercise, self care and more.

As someone who has gone to a lot of psychiatrists, counsellors and psychologists, I have lots of experiences with therapy, both good, bad and ugly. Although it is awesome to just get into a counselling appointment nowadays, there are three things you need to remember when communicating with your counsellor in order to have a better counselling experience.

What is therapy?

First of all, what exactly is therapy? Well, according to Good Therapy, therapy (also known as counselling), is the process of meeting with a therapist to deal with problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or sensations in the body. While the Canadian Mental Health Association explains that the roles psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors play are different in terms of how they help people deal with mental health problems as psychiatrists and psychologists diagnose and treat mental health problems, sometimes with medication or other tools, whereas counsellors assess mental health problems and use different tools to help improve well-being. No matter what job title your counsellor has and no matter if it’s your first counselling session or your fifteenth session, here are five things to remember when you go to therapy sessions. 

  1. Be honest
    Okay, being honest in therapy sessions might seem obvious, but hear me out. Therapy is one of those things where what you put in is what you get out of it. So if you are not honest about things, your counsellor won’t have all the information and therefore cannot help you to their fullest capacity. Now I’m not saying that you have to reveal your deepest darkest secrets right off the bat, but making sure that you share the full story, even if it paints you in an unfavorable light. Remember a good counsellor is there to support you, not to judge you.
  2. Make sure you feel comfortable
    Some of my best counselling sessions have been with a counsellor who I felt comfortable confiding in about everything going on in my life (our sessions were like a Jane the Virgin episode: we would be crying one minute and laughing the next). Your therapist does not necessarily need to be your best friend in the world (and honestly probably shouldn’t be), but you should feel safe and comfortable enough talking with them about your depression and/or other mental health problems. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though, developing an intimate relationship with your counsellor is a process that takes time.
  3. Do your homework
    Homework? I know, I know, homework has never been fun. But when your counsellor gives you an assignment to do for your next session (i.e. writing down your automatic thoughts, practice deep breathing exercises, etc.), it is so important that you do it. Why you ask? Well, counselling is like learning how to speak another language or learning how to play an instrument. Sure, you can go to the lesson and learn all about it, but unless you can practice, practice, practice, it is hard to grow and progress. It is the same thing with your counselling sessions. You cannot grow and become more mentally strong unless you do your homework.
  4. Make sure you feel validated
    I have had a few experiences with counsellors where I will feel like I am pouring my heart out to them, and they would respond with something along the lines of “no, you don’t actually feel that way.” Having a counsellor who validates what you say and how you feel is so important because if a counsellor dismisses your feelings and tells you that what your feeling is not valid or real, it is not only frustrating and upsetting for your mental health, but it also wasting your time and money. If you notice that your counsellor is constantly invalidating how you feel, do not be afraid to speak up.
  5. Be okay to leave a counsellor if it’s not working
    The reality is that everybody is different and not every counsellor or treatment option will work for everyone. If you feel like you are not connecting with your counsellor during your therapy sessions, it is okay to walk away and find someone else. I have had seven different counsellors over the last two years and only two of them I have connected with, and that’s totally okay. If you do not feel like one on one counselling sessions are for you, there are also support groups, drop-in centers, phone hotlines and online chat therapy sessions out there that might be better for you.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, therapy can be frustrating and challenging, but try your best to show up to your counselling appointments with your homework done and ready to speak your mind. If you do that, you will be more likely to learn strategies to cope with your depression which can help you become stronger and more resilient to life’s obstacles. 

Remember: you are strong, you are worthy, and you are capable of amazing things.