This week we are featuring Nicole Peluso as our Guest Contributor! Nicole is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. Nicole is passionate in empowering her clients as she supports them on their healing journey by having safe, vulnerable, human-to-human conversations!
Read on for Nicole’s take on beginning therapy and finding the right therapist for you...
The word therapy alone has been surrounded by stigma, stereotypes, and judgments for so long; for years and years before our time. Whether they originated from the media, passed down from generation to generation, cultural beliefs, and historical events such as the Salem witch trials, some stigmas unfortunately have stayed with us. However, it has gotten so much better and for that, I am extremely thankful the world is starting to open up to therapy; especially after the last year of the pandemic.
This blog entry is to ease your mind in beginning therapy by discussing what to look for in a therapist including characteristics as well as some implications to consider that may make therapy difficult for some due to the pandemic, yet easier in a lot of ways!
To begin, sometimes we question if we ‘need’ therapy, if it's something we even want to begin. Therapy can be daunting, healing from past wounds and traumas can be scary, and working through self-judgments of seeking out help can be difficult (the biggest roadblock to overcome). Most of the time, people judge themselves for wanting to seek out help; they feel weak, like a failure, or they feel they should be able to do it on their own. You may also have this limiting belief about your pain, that your pain is not as bad as others and what others have gone through is worse than yours. But, I am here to tell you, therapy is for everyone and for anything and your pain matters.
Sometimes my clients come into session and they express they do not have much to say. They feel like they did not go deep into their emotions and rather talked about mundane topics. I express to them that it is their time to fully be themselves, vulnerable and free; talking about anything and everything is acceptable in therapy!
People seek out therapy for many different reasons. Some of these reasons include, but are not limited to: relational issues, difficulties with transitions, daily life stressors, mental health diagnoses such as anxiety and depression, childhood wounds, trauma, fertility reasons, marital difficulties, and physical/terminal illnesses.
A common question that pops up when individuals begin therapy is how long do they have to be in therapy for and how often will they need to go. I suggest speaking with your therapist to receive their opinion on your progress and your presenting issues. However, some things to consider are how you feel on a day to day basis, your ability to cope with everyday life stressors and regulating your emotions, if you are in a crisis. Typically, people attend therapy once per week while others begin bi-weekly or start bi-weekly after a few weeks. If you want, you can be in therapy forever! Seeing a therapist has no limitations in time, however, some health insurances have a set amount of sessions they are willing to cover.
All of our pain, wounds, traumas, and experiences are valid no matter what. You deserve to connect with a therapist who will be there for you, who will be supportive of your pain. You deserve to receive help. Seeking out help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength, courage, and bravery! So, if you are contemplating on looking for a therapist, go for it. It will be difficult, yet one of the best healing journeys of your life!
When looking for a therapist, the most important part of therapy and healing is finding a therapist you connect with. It is also important you feel safe, heard, listened to, and understood. This will help you feel comforted in an environment where your emotions are embraced and vulnerability occurs naturally. Let’s look at some therapist characteristics below to consider when searching for a therapist you connect with.
As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, rapport is a friendly, harmonious relationship, mutual understanding. It consists of empathy that makes communication easy or possible. Sounds like a recipe for a genuine therapist-client connection! There has been more and more research conducted that measures the importance of rapport building in therapy that is consistent with positive treatment outcomes. Feeling connected to your therapist is extremely important and if you do not feel connected and vibes are off, it is okay to search for someone new!
Empathy is the ability to understand, be aware of, and vicariously experiencing someone else’s emotions and emotional pain. Many individuals feel therapists, or people in general, will not understand their trauma or emotional pains due to them not experiencing what they went through. But, empathy allows us to feel any type of emotion by imagining what that must feel like for the person going through their life experiences. Emotions are what bonds humans to each other; we may not experience the same exact experiences, but we all have experienced pain, happiness, grief, sadness, joy, and so forth. Having an empathetic therapist is extremely important. You want to feel understood. You want your pain to be heard. Which leads us to the next important characteristic of a therapist and therapy; validation.
Validation is the act of recognizing and affirming that a person’s feelings and opinions are valid or worthwhile, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Validation is key in healing. Validating someone else’s emotions, pain, experiences, and opinions allows one to feel listened to, less isolated, less alone. Validation does not mean you will agree with everything someone says, but it allows you to feel your voice is heard. A therapist that validates a client’s experience and emotional pain is extremely imperative for rapport, healing, and treatment outcomes. It is also important to have a therapist that challenges you! Challenging is also important in therapy in addition to validation because it allows us to look at our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and life experiences in a different way that will benefit us. Challenging is done in certain therapy modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
Many of us experience invalidation, the opposite of validation, in our lives. So, to find a therapist that is continuing to invalidate our emotions as we have experienced with others, is not helpful at all. If someone, anyone, happenns to tell you you should not feel a certain way, it may be wise to evaluate that connection.
As we all know, the pandemic has brought everyone in the world many limitations. What you just read so far was the importance of connection in therapy and rapport building with your therapist. You may wonder and question; how can this be achieved now that virtual sessions are more common today than in-person!? I’m here to tell you a little bit about my experience so far with both.
Teletherapy for me, and I believe for my clients as well, has been a positive in many ways! I thought for sure it would be difficult to build rapport, have a genuine human-to-human connection, and process deep wounds. However, I have found the exact opposite! My connection and treatment outcomes with my clients via teletherapy thus far have been just as wonderful and positive as with my clients in-person! In fact, it is very nice to be able to see someone’s full face! Some therapy modalities may be more difficult to perform via virtual sessions such as EMDR, so I suggest thinking about what therapy modality you’d like to partake in which may alter your decision. But, if you are concerned with not being able to connect with your therapist via virtual sessions, I assure you it is possible! Teletherapy has also allowed individuals to find therapists all throughout the state they reside in versus just in their local area. It has helped expand the possibility of finding a therapist that is the perfect fit! (Teletherapy is also a perk if you move, feel unwell, or even for inclement weather days!)
Therapy in-person with a mask has been just fine! Does it get a little difficult when a client is crying and their mask is on? Yes. But, that leaves room for a little humor when I gently laugh and suggest them taking their mask off to blow their nose! Please! Therapy in-person with masks has provided the same results as my clients who are virtual. Truly, it is whatever you prefer!
I think one of the biggest takeaways from this is, therapy is in your hands! Yes the therapist is the expert, but you are the expert of your life, your emotions, your experiences, and your preferences! Knowing that searching for a therapist and choosing virtual or in-person is in your hands, I trust this will help make beginning therapy less daunting!
----Nicole resides in New Jersey where she has her own private practice called Empowered Healing, LLC. She provides therapy to adults who experience a wide range of daily life stressors and mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, relational issues, self-esteem, body image, eating disorders, and boundary setting. If you live in NJ and would like to schedule an appointment with her, visit her website below!