What is Therapy or Professional Counseling?

Therapy, also called psychotherapy or counseling, is the process of meeting with a therapist to resolve problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses (sensations in the body). Beginning therapy can be a big step toward being the healthiest version of yourself and living the best life possible—no matter what challenges you may be facing. Through therapy, you can change self-destructive behaviors and habits, resolve painful feelings, improve your relationships, and more.

Though no one can tell you exactly what your therapy process will be like, in all modes of therapy you will establish goals for your therapy and determine the steps you will take to get there. Whether in individual, group, or family therapy, your relationship with your therapist is a confidential one and focuses not only on the content of what you talk about, but also the process. The therapeutic process--how you share your feelings and experiences--is considered to be just as important as the specific issues or concerns you share in therapy. Once you start therapy, it may help to know and recognize elements of healthy therapy as well as warning signs of questionable therapy.

On the whole, you can expect that your therapist will be someone who supports you, listens attentively, models a healthy and positive relationship experience, gives you appropriate feedback, and follows ethical guidelines. Good therapy should be tailored to you and your experiences.

What if I am nervous?

It’s not only normal to be a little nervous, it’s expected—especially if it’s your first time. In fact, if you aren’t at all nervous, you may be denying or avoiding your feelings! Think about it—on one level, therapy is a pretty strange relationship. You’re expected to spill your guts to a perfect stranger, trusting that they will get you, have empathy for you, and be able to help you cope with the difficult situation that brought you to counseling in the first place. And, you aren’t going to find out that much about the stranger–-maybe ever. It’s pretty weird. On top of that, the things you are spilling about aren’t pretty, not to you anyway. They are things that make you sad, depressed, angry, afraid, or anxious. Often, these are things that you are ashamed and embarrassed to admit to yourself, much less tell someone else. But, the strangest thing of all is that it works.

It can be a relief to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of your life—other than that you achieve your goals and be happy. It’s nice to be able to focus on yourself and not have to worry about the other person. It’s comforting to be with someone who is witness to your struggle and who really DOES care about you. People who become therapists have the ability to connect emotionally with others, to develop empathic bonds with them, and to hear about pain endlessly. In fact, we thrive on this kind of interaction and connection. Helping others in this way gives meaning to our lives.


Addressing your concerns with your therapist is a great way to start your first visit. Bringing up past experiences in counseling can help you and your therapist build rapport with one another and talk about ways to help you feel more comfortable. Your therapist should reassure you that your conversations are confidential and that only the topics you feel comfortable with will be discussed. appropriate feedback, and follows ethical guidelines. Good therapy should be tailored to you and your experiences.