It is important to define some goals for your therapy:
- What would you like to accomplish?
- Are you struggling with depression or anxiety?
- Are you grieving a loss that’s been hard to get over?
Having a general idea of what you would like to get out of therapy is helpful to know what you want to work on, as well as to help you measure your success. But don’t worry too much if your goals are not immediately clear and all you can think is “I just want to feel better!” That’s normal. Your therapist can help you sort it out and set some attainable goals for your work with him or her.
If you’re struggling with any kind of addiction, or if your spouse is and you’re seeking marriage therapy, it is strongly encouraged that you seek help first with getting the addiction under control before attempting actual psychotherapy. Sure, the addiction most likely has emotional or psychological underpinnings so it may seem counterintuitive to not work on them first but if there is an active addiction in play it can actually short circuit your success.
In most cases, addictions arise as ways to cope with emotions, problems, or traumas that a person does not already have the skills and inner strength to deal with directly or that happened at a time when they did not have the emotional strength or maturity to process. In therapy you will be (or should be) discussing and working on those painful feelings and events which will, in all likelihood, make reaching for a drink or drug more compelling as this is the pattern of addiction.
I recommend that you first get help with your addiction either through a 12-Step group or rehabilitation program. You should have at least 90 days of continuous sobriety before you start therapy. When you do, it is important to let your therapist know your status with the addiction so they will proceed accordingly.
If it is your spouse that has the addiction, the tendency is to want to bring them into therapy to fix them, but this is usually not productive. Instead you would benefit more from individual therapy. As you learn more about effective strategies for dealing with him or her it can benefit your marriage in the long run. It’s also strongly encouraged that you seek help through a free support group like Al-Anon that is specifically designed for spouses and family members of those with addictions.
Once the addiction is under control, dealing with the underlying issues that may have fueled the addiction is essential for maintaining sobriety. Therapy is a great next step. One of the reasons for the high recidivism rate among addicts is that the underlying issues are often not resolved.
Need to be Honest and Open
For therapy to be successful you will need to be honest and open with your therapist. It may take a little time before you’re comfortable sharing deep emotions, painful experiences, or past events that you feel ashamed of. That’s normal. It is important that you take a little time to get to know your therapist and develop a sense of trust in him or her. You need to take therapy at a pace that is comfortable for you. A good therapist will understand that and will not push you to share before you are at ease. That being said, a good therapist will gently encourage you to share over time in order to help you. Let him or her know how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing so they can adjust the process to your needs.