I wrote this post to answer the question “What’s it like behind the closed door of a psychology session?” This is a trick question though! So, even though I have accurately answered it below, it has endless answers and all of them are right.
For every person there’s a unique version of the experience. There are limitless combinations of spaces, people, conversations and outcomes. My experience is undoubtedly going to be VERY different to someone else’s.
For that reason, I still wrote the post. I think it’s intriguing to be invited in to someone else’s moment regardless of whether it will prepare you for, or give new perspective to, your own.
And if you’re wondering what it would be like to go to therapy but are too afraid of the unknown, I encourage you to open the door anyway and at least take a peek.
“What’s it like behind the closed door of a visit with your psychologist?”, you ask.I reply, “Well, this isn’t my first time. I can tell you about that first time later (if you’re interested) but today, I’m going through the routine of something I’ve done many times now. Why don’t I just take you with me?”
“Ok,” you say. “Where do we start?”
I begin, “We start at my house… It’s time to go so I grab my bag, kiss my little girl and drive to the private hospital where I attend my sessions. I walk into a doctor’s waiting room and let them know I’ve arrived. An elderly, kind-faced man with a spindly frame leans out of a side door and says my name. It’s time to go in. I know which seat is mine in the room – it’s a big wide sort of conference chair placed next to a huge window and is right next to his plain office desk. ‘The Yoda’ (as I call him) sits quietly tapping at his keyboard and then scoops up a manilla folder that I know is full of things I’ve told him over the last few months. He has a quick skim and then folds his hands in his lap and waits.
“The nickname is telling; he’s a calm, patient and wise man. And the way he says things – or doesn’t say anything at all – is profound. I’ve seen a psychologist before this and she was very different: young, modern and more of a talker. Her office was different too: a little room on the side of a house that you could only get to by walking down a narrow jasmine-lined footpath. We sat on couches and there were books surrounding us as well as a tortoiseshell cat who would snuggle up next to me sometimes. Our sessions felt relaxed and she would often sit with her shoeless feet tucked up beside her.
“Back to The Yoda. After what feels like forever he simply says ‘hello’. And that’s how we begin. Usually I just say how things have been since I saw him last or I might jump right in with a question I’ve been pondering or a goal I feel I want to put in place. Inevitably, it doesn’t much matter what I say – the room is always open to whatever words float out of my mouth and The Yoda seems to be able to pinpoint the ripest word from the lot, pluck it out of the air and use it to begin unravelling something important for me to consider or think about.
“I know that not everyone feels as connected to their psychologist as I might. But I do think there must be a psychologist out there for every type of person and I wouldn’t hesitate to go in search of that if I felt it was missing from my current situation.
“That’s the thing see – honesty is what works in a therapy relationship. As long as I’m being candid I feel we really get somewhere… even if that honesty means I say what’s not working for me. I’ve done that before and, while I agonised over saying what I thought, it’s always ended up being an important turning point for my journey.
“So The Yoda and I talk for a while and there are lots of moments where we don’t say anything. Sometimes I stare out the big window for a bit and after a few beats he gently says ‘hello’ again. Sometimes I feel like crying and try not to. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes, if my daughter’s with me in the room, I peel a mandarin and bite off the pith before letting her squeeze it in her palm till the juice runs down her arm. Sometimes I feel flustered and angry. Sometimes I sigh or have no words. Our time together is always a surprise. I like that. There’s no formula to a session. The Yoda is clear that he doesn’t have all the answers.
“The session is a space where you’re free to process, investigate, observe, self inspect, express, question or simply think. And no one is judging you. You can say what you really think or say that you don’t know what you think or work out what you really do think. It’s freeing. And that liberation gives you space to explore the depths of yourself and find incredible jewels you never knew were there. And all this is done with a steady, safe guide in the room who is there to facilitate that process. It’s like having someone hold your things while you ‘kit up’ for life, adding new tools to your belt. Sometimes they even pass you a few to add to the mix.
“Even though The Yoda has set aside an hour for our session, I know that doesn’t mean a full hour for me. Sessions are made up of a few elements and only one is our conversation. He also has to do paperwork, process my payment, organise our next session and, on occasion, write a letter to my doctor. This is a fact many people don’t realise: you don’t see a psychologist for a full hour. So anyway, we wrap up somewhere along the way and he begins looking at his calendar and asks me “when would you like to come back?”. Sometimes I feel like two weeks is enough time. Sometimes I feel like four weeks is good. Early on he sometimes suggested coming in sooner. It’s very flexible. We sync our calendars and he picks up a ruler, tracing a new meeting in his paper diary too. He scans my card in his swipey gadget and then prints a receipt, meticulously folds it and then writes the date and time of our next session on the back in old world cursive. I like that he does that even though we’ve both just typed the details into our respective virtual calendars.
“And that’s it for another visit. I gather my things and we say goodbye. He smiles warmly and I walk back through the waiting room. Sometimes my cheeks are hot from frustration. Sometimes I’m still patting a few tears away. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking on a cloud. But every time I feel like hard work has been done and I’m one step deeper into a rich and meaningful life.”
“Oh, so that’s what it’s like?” you ask.
“Yep. For me it is. Yeah.” is my simple reply.
I hope this post helped show you a glimpse of a psychology session. It’s important to know that not everyone will have an experience like mine. For some people this process is one that is more structured and clinical and that’s ok too! The main thing is knowing that it doesn’t have to be scary – and that it could very well be one of the best things you’ve ever done in your life. That’s been my story so far.