What To Tell My New Therapist (A Laundry List)

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Meeting a new therapist is really hard. In seeking help for whatever mental health issue you’re dealing with, you’re already so vulnerable. The “calming” abstract art and lovely muted colors of a psych waiting room are just not strong enough to combat the anxiety that’s facing us.

You’re about to tell your entire life story to yet another stranger. You’ll bare your soul and talk about the worst times of your life. You’re hoping they’ll be able to help you, and that they won’t be another crazyface who’ll completely invalidate your experiences.

As much as finding a new mental health professional can be daunting, it’s a necessary step if you’re still on the path to recovery—which I proudly am. I’m determined to get help when I need it. In preparing for meeting a new therapist here in Austin for the first time, I’ve created a laundry list of things that he or she will need to know. If you’re looking for a few ideas on what to bring up with your next therapist, hopefully my script below will be helpful when you imagine your own upcoming interaction.

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10 Things I Want To Tell My New Therapist

  1. It’s hard for me to open up. I’m not going to tell you everything, and it might even seem like there’s nothing at all “wrong” with me. I’ll tell you that I’m doing well, and then talk for an hour about how depressed I was this week. If I do open up or if I cry, for heaven’s sake you better take me seriously because that’s not going to happen very often. I’ve had therapists turn me away after ten sessions because they thought I was “just fine.” Just remember that I’m here for a reason, and that I’m desperate to get help. I’m depending on you to help me get past my own barriers.
  2. I’m incredibly high functioning. I’m doing really well at work, I had a 4.0 GPA in college, I pay all of my bills, and I take really good care of a puppy. My house is usually clean, my fridge is usually full, and I usually look presentable. That doesn’t mean I’m not lying on the couch for hours every single day, unable to get my blobby self out the door. I’ve got my shit together, but I still suffer from severe major depression. Please keep that in mind, and don’t be surprised when I tell you that I’ve read four books this month or that I’m on track of my weekly goals.
  3. I struggle with the little things. I have a really rigid set of beliefs about how I “should” behave and what my life “should” look like. Example: After years of therapy, I learned to eat intuitively when I was hungry and not by the clock—but I can be stomach-growling starving and still not allow myself to eat anything because it’s after 9pm. The arbitrary rules that I live by are hard to break, and sometimes even hard for me to identify. I need help taking care of myself sometimes, and that’s embarrassing to me.
  4. I’m willing to work. I’m paying you my own hard-earned cash for you to help me. Some clients may not want to know what’s going on in their brains, but I do. I want your strategies, your practical tips, and your clinical explanations. You got your PhD in this field, and that’s why I’m coming to you. I’m willing to put in more work than most people because I actually want to see results. Give me homework, and I’ll do it.
  5. It doesn’t help for me to “talk it out.” I spend all day every day in my head, thinking about how I’m feeling, having imaginary conversations, and journaling those thoughts. I’ve already talked about these scenarios with five of my closest loved ones. I don’t need someone to listen to me. In truth, talking about how I feel for an hour really makes me feel worse. I’m coming to you for your experience and expertise—not just a sounding board.
  6. Naming the beast really helps. I respond really well to weekly evaluations and assessments that help me realize the severity of my condition. Put it into numbers. Give me a symptoms checklist or a scaled questionnaire. Knowing the name of my disorder made me feel relieved, and vague metaphors never really worked for me. Keep things in concrete terms and I’m better able to understand.
  7. I want to dig into the hard questions. There’s a lot in my past that comes back to haunt me on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This has not been an easy journey, and I bear the scars to this day. These are things that I’ve stuffed and ignored, and I need your help figuring out how to deal with them. If it were up to me, I would ignore them for the rest of my waking life. I need you to ask me about the hard times, and tell me what to do about my feelings.
  8. I’m clueless a lot of the time. I need your help with keeping track of my symptoms. I usually don’t notice until it’s way too late that I’ve been feeling depressed for months. It’s hard for me to be aware in the moment of how I’m feeling, even when asked. It’s even harder for me to name those emotions. During the very worst years of my life, my symptoms were bad enough to warrant institutionalization—but nobody (including me) noticed until much later. I need your help understanding the arc of my disorder.
  9. I need you to tell me the truth. I will ask questions, and I want honest answers. When I ask for your professional opinion, you need to give it. If I am overreacting, tell me. If what I’m experiencing is normal or abnormal, let me know. If something concerns you, share it. If you get the feeling that my medication isn’t working correctly, please please please say so. I will ask you about my diagnosis, and I want your honest opinion on whether or not it’s still correct. Forget sugar coating things—I’m here for the knowledge you have, so please don’t hide things from me.
  10. This is not my first rodeo. I’ve spent countless hours (and dollars) sitting in chairs just like this one. I’m not a beginner, and I know my history and symptoms far better than you likely ever will. Please take me seriously. I’m here because I’m trusting you—and because I still haven’t given up, even after all those other failed attempts. I’m a veteran of the system, and even though I’ve been hurt by mental health professionals in the past, I’m not bitter. I’m still focused on recovery.

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Deciding To Meet A New Therapist

I’m at a place right now where I need to get my symptoms more under control. I’m feeling sleepy way too much for my liking. I’m not hanging out with friends as much. I don’t have the energy to go do fun things, and I’m struggling to get my meals prepped. All of those things combined with a generally low mood mean that I’m due for a reevaluation of my medication and another stint in therapy– and while the process can be exhausting, I truly believe in its importance.

Especially this time around, I’m determined to be as open and upfront as possible with my therapist. I’m going to really push myself to lay everything out and examine my thoughts with a fine toothed comb. I’m ready to heal, and I’m ready to move on much stronger than I am now. Hopefully this guide inspires you to be brutally honest in the important moments of your life.

If you were about to ask someone to help you change your life for the better, what’s one thing you’d want them to know? Share your thoughts in the comments section down below.  

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”

Shannon L. Alder

snadler93

2 Comments

  1. This is a really great guide, and as a fellow therapy-goer, incredibly inspiring and useful to read. I realize that I haven’t made some of these things clear to my own therapist, and that my sessions with her would benefit greatly from a clearer outline of my own expectations.

    Also, at the risk of sounding patronizing, it truly is wonderful to see how far you’ve come vulnerability-wise. The Mandi I knew sophomore year of college would never dream of posting something like this, I don’t think.

  2. <3 Thank you so much! Let me know what changes after you share some of these sentiments with your own therapist. I'm super interested to see how that changes things for you!!

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