by Kim Barthel

If you don’t have any experience with therapy, it’s understandable that it might not be a lot of the things you think it is. It’s not lying down on a couch in an expensive office, spilling your guts to someone who just sits there and doesn’t say anything. And it’s not about being judged. It’s also not something your neighbour might do to you after watching Dr. Phil and thinking he’s now got you all figured out.

Therapy often involves talking with someone who is dedicated to trying to help you manage whatever you experience your problems to be, supporting you in managing whatever situations you find yourself in. Most often therapy is one-on-one, but sometimes it can be more effective in a group setting, where the opportunity is there to learn from others coping with similar issues and circumstances. Sometimes therapy happens spread out over a series of sessions over a long period of time, other times issues can resolve relatively quickly- the client always decides.

Therapy only happens when one is in an emotionally safe environment and only when one is in a state of mind to be asking for support. The responsibility for change lies with the client, which implies that the client is there by choice.

The purpose of therapy is to help you feel safe, provide meaning to your trauma situation, help reduce symptoms of anxiety in your mind and in your body, and help to improve your relationships with others.

A significant part of the success of any therapy is dependent on the relationship between the therapist and the client. There are different types of therapists; psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, family therapists, and occupational therapists are a few examples. In Canada, only psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medications. By far, most forms of therapy simply involve talking with someone who cares and who has training and experience in helping people deal with similar problems. Within these different therapy professions, there are many different treatment styles and philosophies. My personal belief is that it’s not so much what a therapist does that makes the difference, but how they do it, or more to the point- how they make the client feel about themselves both during and after the therapy. Finding the right therapist is a highly personal choice.

The key to the healing process for individuals experiencing sexual abuse in particular, lies in finding the right person that helps you to feel emotionally safe.

Danger signs in any therapeutic relationship include:
– When client is over-attached to the therapist or vice versa.
– When client hasn’t improved in any way for a long time.

Healthy signs in a therapeutic relationship include:
– When honesty reigns supreme
– When judgement is absent but discernment is present
– Both people feel completely safe, physically and emotionally
– When both client and therapist acknowledge they are still learning
– When there are goals involved and progress is recognized

You know therapy is no longer needed when:
– The client can ask and answer the questions alone
– When the client feels better in his/her abilities to manage daily life

Although starting therapy can be overwhelming and seem threatening, it can also be life changing, providing a renewed sense of well being.