By Alan Melton, D. Min., LPC
When you come to therapy, the first thing the therapist usually asks is, “How can I help you?” Once you reply, the process has begun. You may not know what to say. You may not even know what help you need. It is the therapist’s job to help you sort it out. It may also be that what you think you came to therapy for ends up not being the real problem at all. There is something else causing you pain.
The next thing the therapist is going to want to know is how long your problem has been going on. When did your symptoms start? When did you start feeling anxious and/or depressed? What has happened in your life recently that is putting undue stress on you? The answer to this question may be very clear. For instance, “My mother passed away a year ago and I find myself still grieving her death.” It could be that you are not sure when your problem began. There may be events from the past, from childhood and teenage years that are the root cause. Therapists are trained to help you find out when and how your problem began and to explore that with you. Third, the therapist will want to get to know you. This entails doing a detailed history of your life. They will begin with your birth and walk through your life with you up until today. Such knowledge involves asking you about your early history, especially the first six years of life. Were there any tragedies? Any deaths in the family; any abuse, or did you move a lot? What was your relationship to your parents and siblings? All these events of early childhood play a role in who we are today though most of us have little idea how important these childhood years are.
After exploring your life story, the therapist will want to know about your spiritual, emotional, and physical history. He will ask about previous therapy you may have had, whether you have seen a psychiatrist, what medications you may have taken in the past and what medicines you currently take. These questions will help the therapist get to know you better to assist as the therapy goes forward.
You might be asking, “Then what happens?” The answer is that now your therapy actually begins. We call the first part of the process the Assessment Phase, where we get to know you and build a relationship. Once the real therapy begins, you simply come in and share whatever is on your mind, whatever is bothering you or giving you distress. The therapist will empathically listen to your story and help you process and work through your difficulty.
This part of therapy is when real change takes place. As you work through your problems and come to understand them, you get better! When you learn where they came from, how they began, and how they manifest themselves in your life today, you begin to heal.