At the onset of therapy, your therapist will help by providing you with education regarding your symptoms and your diagnosis. With the access to information available today, many people seek answers specific to them from information online. Surely, the internet has the answers, but you might not know the correct questions to ask. It also has its fair share of red herrings that only distract you from your quest. Your therapist can accurately assess the onset and progression of your symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis that makes sense for you.
Many people feel a great comfort in hearing their diagnosis from a professional. It makes them feel that they are not alone with their struggles. Giving something a name makes it less scary.
From there, a therapist can help by planning goals and discussing the treatment plan. The best therapists work to establish clear, specific goals with their clients early in the course of treatment. Some will be formalized on paper while others will be verbal agreements, but these plans serve to give direction to the sessions.
Without direction, it will be easy for sessions to slide off track. Another benefit of treatment planning is being able to track progress over time. It can be hard to appreciate the road that you have traveled without looking back on your movement.
Moving forward, your therapist will teach you a very effective skill that you may have been lacking until now: self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is the ability to accurately know yourself and have insight into what you do and why you do it. This knowledge is accomplished through the combination of acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and noting how they impact your life.
When a therapist asks, “How did that make you feel?” they are really encouraging you to reflect on the connections between events and the feelings they bring up. This can help you identify your anxiety triggers. What makes you anxious? What thoughts do those situations trigger? How do you respond? This process can seem foreign and uncomfortable at first, but the benefits of improved self-monitoring make the process completely worthwhile.
Being able to better understand yourself helps you better understand the people and the world around you. This recognition leads directly to a feeling of power and control over your symptoms, which is another benefit of therapy. Without fail, anxiety has made you feel powerless at some point. Since knowledge is power, you get some autonomy back.
Your therapist will help next by showing you that anxiety is largely self-reinforcing. This means that anxiety, left untreated, makes itself worse over time. This idea can be surprising to those in therapy for the first time.
Anxiety works by making you think that terrible things are lurking around every corner. This makes you stay at home, isolate and cut off your supports. Without supports, your anxiety gets worse and makes your comfort zone shrink.
Another example of anxiety being self-reinforcing involves driving. Think about driving when your anxiety is high. In an attempt to manage the situation, anxiety convinces you to grab the steering wheel with all your might and focus perfectly on the road ahead. Sounds like a good plan, right? Yes, until you consider that squeezing the wheel tenses your muscle making your motor skills worse and focusing too hard on the road will cut off your peripheral vision. Each make your driving skills worse. The best response is usually the opposite of what anxiety tells you.