Do you wonder what it is like to go see a therapist? Perhaps you’re in is a troubled relationship that is rapidly deteriorating? Or you have a boss who can’t be satisfied and who chooses to verbally assault employees? Or you’ve experienced a traumatic event that never seems to leave your current thoughts? Or you’ve had a recent loss that is so overwhelming, it feels as if will forever change your future?

Therapy is very useful in these cases and can improve a person’s life. But the expectations that people enter into the therapeutic process with often limit the ability of therapists to do their best work.

Over the years, clients have shared with me some misguided perceptions of therapy. Here are a few:

  1. “Therapy should make me happy.” The intent of therapy is not ‘make’ a person happy. Happiness is a feeling that can be based on circumstances, outlook, and personality. The real purpose of therapy is to become fully functional, present, and connected in all environments and relationships.
  2. “You need to change my … (spouse, kid, parent, or co-worker).” Every person is entitled to choose whether he or she wants to change or not. This is a process that cannot and should not be forced; otherwise the relationship takes on an abusive aspect. Therapists can’t make someone change, they can only encourage or inspire.
  3. “I want to be fixed in one session.” The process of therapy takes time because it requires self-discovery. As a result, there are no quick therapeutic fixes but each person has individual needs, perceptions, and motivation. For therapy to work best, it must be customized to the individual. This generates a lasting, long-term effect.
  4. “I feel close to my therapist.” Therapy is designed as a one-way relationship meaning that only the clients expose themselves, not the therapist. This ethical boundary is set for the protection of the client. While it is not unusual for a client to feel close to the therapist, the relationship is not one of besties.
  5. “I shouldn’t have to pay someone to get better.” Therapists are specialists in their field who have and continue to study, research, and develop an expertise. Just like other medical professionals, there are licensing requirements, specialties, and additional certifications all of which cost money. Remember, you get what you pay for.
  6. “Tell me what to do.” Too often clients believe therapy should solve their problems. Therapists can shed light on options, explain potential outcomes, and connect the past to the present. But the point of therapy is to guide clients into making their own decision, not to make it for them.
  7. “All therapists are the same.” No, we are not. Each therapist brings unique perspectives and expertise to a practice. Some therapists’ personalities and methods are better suited to certain clients. They are as different as each type of client. It might take visiting a few therapists to find the right match, but it is worth the effort.
  8. “Why can’t you help me with this?” Different types of therapy require an extra level of proficiency and should not be practiced by every therapist. Part of the ethical guidelines of therapy is to refer a client to someone who might be better suited with more know-how for a particular disorder or diagnosis.
  9. “I’m all better now that someone else knows.” Just because a person has confessed an intimate secret doesn’t mean he or she is completely healed. The healing process is unique to everyone, just as grieving is. Therapy must be customized based on personality and usually requires additional action or change in behavior.
  10. “I should feel better after each session.” Exposing areas that need to be worked on is not always a happy journey, sometimes it is painful. But it is through the hurt and healing that growth happens. It takes time to complete the process, which rarely is done within a 50-minute time frame.

Before going to a therapist, make sure you have an accurate picture of the process. This will allow you to get the most out of therapy in the least amount of time.

Christine Hammond is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Certified Counselor who lives in Orlando. She is the award-winning author of The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook.