THERAPY CAN BE BETTER THE SECOND TIME AROUND
Frequently, I meet with new clients who have already been to see another therapist. Often, people worked with someone several years ago, felt greatly helped by therapy, and are ready to address some other issues that they’ve been thinking about addressing for a while. I also sometimes meet with people who tried working with a previous therapist, were disappointed with how it went and dropped out because they weren’t seeing results and couldn’t justify the expense. This second group of people have decided to give therapy another chance—often because they are desperate for help and they aren’t sure where else to turn.
Regardless of whether your last last therapy went great or awful, you have an advantage over the first time you tried therapy. Here’s why.
You now have a much better idea of what therapy is about
Although some things will definitely be different in any new treatment with a new person, some things will probably be very similar. Most therapists use traditional talk therapy, so unless your first therapist specialized in a non-talk oriented therapy—like drama therapy or art therapy—you’ve already had the experience of having lots and lots of space to talk about yourself. There are few other places in life where a person can have this experience—where one person (the therapist) wants to know about you and only you for a full fifty minutes every week (or more frequently, if you come several times per week). There are few other opportunities in life to encounter another person who has great curiosity about your dreams, your fears, your struggles, your memories and your desires—and doesn’t seek to have you listen to themselves in return. For many first timers to therapy, having so much space to talk about themselves—and having someone else listen so deeply—can take some getting used to. If you’re returning to therapy rather than starting for the first time, you’re likely already over this hump and less likely to feel a lot of anxiety when the therapist sits there quietly waiting for you to speak.
You have more information about what works for you—and what doesn’t work for you—in therapy
Whether your first therapist did everything right, everything wrong or something in between, you probably have a better sense now of what works for you and what doesn’t. This helps you as you look online and then interview new therapists to see if they are the right person for you. Just as important—you have the opportunity to tell the new therapist what didn’t work for you about the old therapist. Maybe the old therapist was always giving you advice you didn’t want, and it felt intrusive. Or maybe the old therapist always laughed at your jokes, but inside you knew that you were just distracting him from something important—and part of you wished he would notice. Now is a great time to tell your new therapist about any bad patterns that emerged in the previous therapy. Your new therapist can then be more mindful of the type of interactions that felt bad to you so that she doesn’t inadvertantly repeat your last therapist’s mistakes. And both of you can keep an eye out of for the emergence of old dynamics in this new relationship—in the event that there might be something important to learn from a dynamic that keeps coming up.
You know that therapy is an investment—
You have an idea of what therapy is going to require from you—and hopefully, you’ve also had the experience of your investment paying off. When you make a commitment to therapy, you know that you will invest time, money and emotional effort into the process. And if you’re one of the many people who had a good experience the first time around, you know that the investment pays off.
You’ve already come so far
Most people who tried therapy once and stuck with it for a while, got something good out of it. By the time people reach a second therapy, they’ve often already met some important goals—like overcoming some self-defeating habits, improving self-esteem that had been abysmal or reducing emotional reactivity to people who get under your skin. Your new therapy is a chance to build on those achievements and take them even further. If your self-esteem improved after the first therapy—maybe it can get even better this time. If your first therapy helped you learn to walk away when your dad says something demeaning to you—maybe your second therapy will take the power out of his words entirely.
Ready to go back?
When you're ready, you can start looking for the right person. You might decide to go back to your old therapist or you might decide that you're ready to work with someone new. These days, lots of people find their therapist online, but it's also a great idea to get recommendations from people you trust. Therapists can give great referrals to other therapists, so if you have a friend who is also a therapist, you might try asking her for a referral. Don't be afraid to ask for what you know you want in a therapist. Is it important to you to work with a woman? A person of color? A Christian therapist? Or someone who is knowledgable about polyamorous relationships? You have the right to seek out whomever is going to feel most comfortable for you. If you're asking someone for a referral, let them know what you're looking for in a therapist.
Returning to therapy can be an exciting time. You're likely to delve deeper and see great rewards this time around. Congratulations, and best of luck in this part of your journey!
Carly Earnshaw, MFT is a San Francisco therapist who provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression and problems in relationships. She also helps people recover from childhood trauma and abuse. She has offices located in the Sunset District and Hayes Valley in San Francisco. To schedule an appointment, call her San Francisco office at (415) 261-2989. You can also email or send a text.