Teenage girl discussing mental health challenges with mom.

Therapy Myths and Truths

I’m starting therapy – what should I expect?

Therapy can be really intimidating, especially for teens and young adults who haven’t been in therapy before. You might have beliefs or expectations about what therapy will be like. Unfortunately, if you haven’t been in therapy before you won’t know what it will be like. And the unknown can be really scary.

It’s alright to feel scared at the idea of therapy and to not know what to expect. That’s why Joon is demystifying the process of therapy for teens and young adults.

The structure of a therapy session

Different therapists will structure therapy sessions in different ways. In general, here is what you can expect in a counseling session.

The first session

The first therapy session (often called an intake session) is a get-to-know-you session. Your therapist’s goal is to get to know you better and understand why you are coming to therapy. It’s also your chance to get to know your therapist and make sure they feel like a good match for you. One important thing to know is you don’t need to do anything special to prepare for your first session! Your therapist will have a plan to guide you through it.

At the start of the session, the therapist will likely go over informed consent documents. Informed consent is the process between therapist, client, and parents, where the therapist outlines privacy policies and what to expect from counseling. Before therapy can move forward, you and your parents must agree to the process voluntarily. This process is important because it builds the foundation for your work together — it helps you understand the benefits and potential drawbacks of therapy and gives you the opportunity to ask any questions you have. It is also when confidentiality is discussed, so you fully understand your own rights to privacy and when your therapist might have to disclose information to your parents.

During the rest of the first therapy session, your counselor will likely ask you lots of questions. They might ask about your interests, your parents, goals you have, your current struggles, or what you’d like to change in your life. They might play a game to get to know you better.

The first counseling session might feel a little awkward as you get used to your counselor, and that’s okay. It often takes about 3–4 sessions to really get to know your therapist and get more comfortable.

Next sessions

Next sessions can vary greatly depending on your therapist. At Joon, our therapists typically practice forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which means you may spend time talking about thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and certain skills or strategies to manage your feelings. Regardless of the type of therapy your counselor uses, they will work with you to develop a plan to help you reach your goals. You can expect to discuss any and all topics related to your interests, goals, and who you are as a person.

Because it’s hard to know how exactly your personal therapy sessions will look (because everyone’s sessions are different), here are some common myths and truths to therapy. Read more to find out what therapy is truly like!

Therapy Myth: You’ll sit on a couch telling your therapist about your dreams

This is perhaps one of the oldest myths about therapy and comes from a type of therapy developed in the 1800s. Most therapists won’t ask you about your dreams or make you lay on a couch. In fact, in teletherapy you are likely to be home in your own room when doing your sessions!

Therapy Truth: You’ll be asked to share

Therapy is about self-awareness and internal growth. You will likely be asked to talk about your internal experiences, like thoughts, feelings, hopes, and goals — just not necessarily while lying on a couch.

Your therapist knows that talking about thoughts and feelings helps for many reasons. First, it feels better to tell our troubles to a trusted adult. It reduces the intensity of the emotion and helps us make sense of our experiences. Second, becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings can help us change them and ultimately, feel better.

Don’t worry — experienced therapists know it's really hard to jump into feelings work right away. Most likely your therapist will guide you, starting small and helping you talk more about feelings as you get comfortable.

Myth: Your therapist will just sit there and stay silent

Different therapists have different styles, but rarely will a therapist spend an entire session staying silent waiting for you to talk. Teenagers can sometimes feel scared that they’ll have to talk the entire session, but that rarely happens. Similarly, your therapist likely won’t tell you what to do outright. Therapy is more like a conversation between two people, where you take turns talking with your therapist. Therapy is about working together with your therapist to help you reach your goals.

Truth: Therapy is teamwork between you and your therapist

A therapist will communicate in a way that helps the conversation flow. Ideally, there will be a give-and-take between you and your therapist. They will likely ask you questions, sometimes pausing to help you finish a thought, and at times your therapist will provide suggestions.

You don’t have to know exactly what to talk about. Your therapist is a trained professional who will help guide you. All you need to do is show up and be willing to talk about things.

Myth: Therapy is just talking

A lot of times therapy can feel like just talking, but it’s a lot more than that. Your therapist knows how to talk in a way that gets you somewhere.

Your therapist might ask you specific questions that cause you to think about something in a different way. They might help you label thoughts and feelings. You might play games or do activities together that get you talking about certain topics. You and your therapist might just talk about certain things — like your interests and hobbies — because it’s fun and they want to get to know you better. All these things are in the service of helping you, and it isn’t just talking for the sake of it.

Truth: Therapy will help you make changes in your life

Therapy is definitely not just talking; sometimes it’s about taking action. Therapy helps us accept and change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This might include talking about changes you want to make in your life, and going out and doing them. Your Joon Care therapist will ask you to do certain things between sessions, like self-care practices, journaling, or practicing certain skills you learn in therapy.

Ultimately, changes in your life don’t just happen on their own. It takes hard work and purposeful effort. But you’re not alone in it. Your therapist will help guide you so you know what steps to take towards building the life you want.

Myth: Therapy is a waste of time

Therapy is only a waste of time if you don’t use it to your advantage. It’s hard to be a teen or young adult, especially if you’re in therapy because of a parent or caregiver. If you have to be in therapy, you might as well make the most of it.

Truth: Therapy will create growth

Therapy has so many benefits for teens and young adults. Even when the idea of therapy feels hard or scary, therapy may help you in ways you didn’t expect.

Many adolescents say that therapy helps. In a recent study, teenagers noted that therapy has helped them overcome challenges, feel more connected to others, name emotions, and know themselves better. Other studies show that teens and young adults who go to therapy show better mood, better family life, and more resilience.

If therapy doesn’t feel helpful, talk to your therapist. It may be that your therapist and you have different goals, you need to talk about different things, or you need a different therapist to better help you. Every therapist is not right for every person. It’s okay to spend some time finding the right therapist for you.

The takeaway

The idea of therapy can feel daunting when you’re unfamiliar with it. Chances are, therapy will be different than you think. There won’t be couches or talk about dreams, and a therapist will not just sit and stare at you, nor tell you what to do. Instead, your therapist will guide you — they will help you set goals, label your feelings, and help you make changes in your life for the better. All of these things make therapy worthwhile. All that your therapist asks is that you show up to therapy and put forth some effort. With just a little trying, therapy can help you learn more about yourself and help you lead a more fulfilled life.

To find a therapist, schedule a free consultation with a care coordinator.

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December 20, 2021
Marina Harris, PhD | Clinical Psychologist

Marina Harris, PhD | Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Harris is a psychologist with specialties in eating disorders, athlete mental health, sport psychology, perfectionism, mindfulness, and trauma-informed care. She earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and trained at Duke University Medical Center and University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (UNCCEED).

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