When I talk to people about therapy, most of them have a belief that going to therapy regularly will make all of their problems disappear or that it’s going to “fix” them. It’s a pretty common thought, honestly, so it doesn’t surprise me when people think that. Usually, I hear this from friends or family members that haven’t actually attempted to do therapy before. These people believe that I have a magic wand that erases every bit of anxiety, depression, or negative thought they have. I wish I did – but that isn’t realistic.
The realistic side of therapy is that it doesn’t erase problems like anxiety or depression. If therapy was a magic fix that got rid of those feelings, I wouldn’t have a job. When we start therapy with a new client, the goal listed on the treatment plan isn’t to erase your anxiety and send you on your way. We set realistic goals and find strategies to cope with the issues in daily life that are making you anxious. I think that some people start therapy hoping for a quick fix that will help them feel better. It always hurts me a little bit to break the news to them that therapy isn’t a quick fix or magic cure for mental health problems. Sometimes it takes longer than you expect to see progress with therapy – and that usually comes from unrealistic expectations.
Let’s say that you have anxiety about driving and you find yourself avoiding driving at any cost. Maybe this anxiety comes from a past wreck or from overthinking the process of driving a car. The goal we would set on your treatment plan would be to learn coping strategies to utilize before or while driving in order to decrease your anxiety. Learning coping skills won’t erase the anxiety you feel before or during your drive, but it will make it more manageable.
Sometimes therapy is about being able to face the problem head-on, feel your anxiety – and do it anyway. Instead of avoiding driving forever, you learn to manage it so that you aren’t stuck in a state of overwhelming anxiety. Being in therapy isn’t about erasing the problem so much as it’s about learning to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t take over your life.
Having a therapist you trust that has created a non-judgmental space to talk about your feelings is the first step in any treatment. Typically, your therapist will try to discuss the therapy process with you during your intake. We will let you know a typical time frame for addressing the presenting issue, but that isn’t a guideline for all clients. Healing isn’t linear and some clients achieve their goals faster than others.
The most important message I want to get across is that therapy will not “fix” you – and that you don’t need to be “fixed”. My very southern mom has her catch phrases that have stuck with me, and one of them is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I apply that in my job as well. You’re not broken for needing help to manage your problems. Therapy is about learning skills to utilize when you need them – not to erase anything.
Shelby Case is a clinician offering in-person sessions at our Louisville office or telehealth sessions! She strives to make long-lasting connections with her clients in order to facilitate positive change. As a well-known homebody, Shelby enjoys living a cozy life outside of her time working by focusing on hobbies, spending time with her spouse, getting overly invested in TV shows, or cuddling with one of her cats.