It’s a first date without the drinks.
While driving to the office, a whirlwind of ideas, concerns, fears, and hopes about your upcoming counseling experience roll through your mind like a roller coaster.
If you have been to a therapist in the past, then you may be wondering, “Will this guy be different?” If you are coming to a therapist for the first time, then perhaps you’re hoping it doesn’t go like that bad blind date you had in college.
You walk into my door having never met me before, and you hope that — just maybe — I will understand your world.
What Can Be Scarier?
As you walk to my office door, you see that I am next to another greatly-feared professional — a dentist! What a cruel joke… a therapist and a dentist as neighbors. (Admittedly, we really do want to help you, even if it is scary for you at first.)
In addition, you see on the sign outside the door that I share space with two other therapists whose practice names incorporate ‘Christian’ into it. You may be thinking, “Will we use the Bible during therapy?” Most likely not. For some clients, their faith is a central part of the conversation, and for others it is not. Either way, I encourage you to ask questions.
Everyone’s favorite therapy question
“Will I have to lay on the couch, or do I get to sit there in that chair?” That depends on you. If you feel the need to lay down, please do. If you prefer sitting up, that’s great. Let’s talk!
The first meeting
Now that you have entered the office, you locate the waiting room. It reminds you of a living room that you have seen on HGTV. That’s right–a trendy coffee table, comfortable couch, and magazines. Between moments of uncertainty about meeting me for the first time, you notice your heart rate slow just a bit as you realize this is not such a scary place to be.
Then, I come around the corner and greet you. I’m a tall, dark, and handsome guy. Oh, wait, that is in the movies! In reality, I’m a tall, all-American guy with a slight belly. On a “casual” day, I am wearing blue jeans, a polo shirt and dress shoes; on a “dressy” day I’m wearing slacks, a button-down, and dress shoes. I instantly recognize the anxious look on your face. It is one I have seen many times on other clients, and one that I have worn on occasion while attending my own therapy.
While it is not love at first sight, our initial encounter is hopefully a sigh of “safety at first sight.”
You take the time to settle tentatively on the couch. We begin with, “What brings you in?” From there, our time together inevitably flows in multiple directions, some expected and some unexpected.
Time flies by and stands still at the same time, as you get to know me and I get to know you.
You are watching how I handle the information you divulge to me, likely taking more risk to reveal details as time progresses. I am watching you to see how you respond to my questions and reflections. About midway through the session, you settle more deeply into the couch, while I likely have shifted both slightly closer and further away in my rolling office chair. (I love this chair as it allows me to test how you address physical proximity.)
Even without the customary first drink of a date, things have gone well. You may not be fully convinced that I will be able to help, but you have enough confidence in me to schedule the next therapy sessions.
Fast forward three months: the therapy relationship has grown. Now you notice a rhythm to therapy. The day before a therapy session, you may become more aware of issues you want to address during therapy.
Then on the drive over to therapy, your mind is working through what has happened in past sessions and what will happen today.
After the session, you feel as though you have been out for a training run. You know, that big run you’ve always wanted to do, but never have. Therapy is tiring, and there is often a need for some down time the day after the therapy session.
With a bit of time on the couch, you’ve reached a point where hope, love and security are returning to your life, bit by bit.
Here’s where your path is yours: the time in therapy for each person and couple is different based on their needs and desires. What you need to know is that I can go the distance with you. Whether you are up for the therapy equivalent of a 5k, 10k, half Marathon, or Marathon, let’s get you there. Transforming and improving your mental health and your relational health is well worth the effort.
Sitting in your seat is not fun. I have tried it a number of times, and it took some time to find the right therapist for me. It has made all the difference in the world. It is one thing to intellectually know how psychology and counseling work; it is quite a different thing to experience it in full Dolby digital surround sound effects.
I have learned and seen things about myself I would not have even considered possible in the past.
While my story does not have a Cinderella ending, it does include trauma, major financial distress, relational loss, suicides, family members with addiction, and one family member’s experience of rape. What I have gained from therapy is a deep sense of ease with life and a way to climb back into that sense of ease when I get knocked down.
Before becoming a therapist, I tried a couple of therapists. While I am sure they were helpful at the time, I don’t remember a significant impact.
All I knew going into my therapy training program is that I wanted to help other people; what I didn’t know is that I was the one in pain.
I am glad to be years down the road now and to have traveled the hero’s journey of facing my own pain. On that journey, I have picked up the required educational experiences. Training at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary to get my Masters in Counseling likely rings differently in each person’s ear; it gave me the chance to ask the big questions of psychology (study of the mind) and theology (study of God and religious belief).
While I would like to say I have all the answers, I can’t. What I can tell you is that I am comfortable with the range of questions and ways of exploration in the process of creating meaning in life.