I’ve been doing REBT (Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy) for 5+ years now; been flaunting about it for 3+.
If I were to summarize everything and put it into a single word, that’d be something like — AMAZING.
Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how people react when I bring it up. It’s literally as if I released a fart and acted all normal about it.
It’s still a taboo. I get that. The opinion that something has to be badly wrong with you in order to have to “go and seek help” is still present. Hell, even my highly educated parents got a bit taken off when I mentioned that I’m doing it.
I can understand it; but I think it’s a pity. Well, not even a pity, but it’s stupid.
It’s really comparable to having a toothache and yet refusing to do anything about it. Waiting for it to go on it’s own.
It is possible that pain WILL go away, for sure! But why suffer? Why suffer when you can have it sanitized by a professional? Why take the pain? Do you think it’ll make you stronger? No! It’s just PLAIN STUPID!
I was having a walk with a friend and we were chit-chatting about some random stuff. Naturally, the concept of therapy popped up.
“I think I should probably start doing it as well. I definitely need it”, a friend said.
“Well, why don’t you? It’s not like you can’t afford it really”, I’ve answered.
“I think I wouldn’t know how to start. Or where. There’s just so much stuff going on in my head right now and I’m not even sure I can put it into words. They will think I’m a nutjob”, a friend proceeded.
“I can understand that. But you do realize that they are TRAINED for that job, right? As in – they go through YEARS of studying, followed by years of supervised education, all with a goal of learning how to approach and open up conversations, right? It’s what their job is all about!”
“That’s true. It makes sense. But still, I don’t know … I guess I’ll just have to think about it … Thank you”.
Sadly, 9 out of 10 times, fear and anxiety prevail. They’ve known you. They’re trained against you. They are stronger than you. They win. You lose.
The First Session Problem
I’ve observed and learned of one, apparently, most common issue when it comes to therapy. Most people are simply scared of starting it. Not attending it but just purely starting it.
So many uncertainties. So many unknowns. How to start? What to say? Shouldn’t I first come to terms with myself and then go visit a therapist? I probably should collect my thoughts before I share them. What am I even go to say? Will they think I’m crazy? Am I actually crazy? Phew!
As someone who wrote articles both on how to start doing things and how the fear of unknown could be one of the most paralyzing things to happen to you, I consider it as my duty to actually help here by shedding some light on the topic.
Hence, in an effort to help you uncover some of the uncertainties and bring the concept of the first appointment more closer to you, I’ll describe how my first experience looked like and why I even started doing it in the first place.
Buckle up, it will be a journey!
My First Therapy Session – The Intro
I was generally familiar with the concept of therapy. But I think I just got lucky there. Let me take you back some 6-7+ years ago.
I had a (well, thankfully, still do!) a best friend who brought the topic up on multiple occasions. There was this N guy (I’m not going to use his full name as he specifically asked me not to do it). A therapist of a kind. My best friend mentioned him multiple times and said he helped him with some things. His ex used to visit as well. He helped her too.
Now, what you need to understand is that, at that point, I was somewhere in my mid-twenties I think. I knew a whole bunch of things on programming, software architecture, etc. but I had zero clue about pretty much anything else. Zero clue as in having a zero clue on the difference on the difference between gas and diesel, (which happens to be something every male on this planet knows; except myself). I’m generally a kind of person who doesn’t care much about ANYTHING except a really narrow field of my interest, which happened to be – software programming. This changed as I grew older though, but I digress.
From my point of view, there was only one kind of therapy – Psychotherapy. And every therapist would, logically, be a psychotherapist, right? Wrong!
The thing is that, if you think about it – how many types and forms of therapy are you familiar with? Pause and think for a sec.
You must have seen or heard of some in movies? Or in casual conversations with your friends? Or learned in school? Right? WRONG!
Nobody freakin’ tells you about it! Just like nobody talks about farting. It’s (mostly) a taboo and nobody wants to talk about it; unless you’re really comfortable with the person next to you!
So, naturally, I had zero clue. Therapy equals psychotherapy. The N guy has to be a psychotherapist.
I’ll give you a brief overview of all the crap that was going on in my life at the time – I was on the verge of a burnout, eventually crossing that line, I had a shitty breakup with my long term GF and I managed to crash my motorcycle into a guy who stopped to pick up some hitchhikers, resulting in both my arms and legs being fucked up (pro hint: ALWAYS invest in a good equipment! That shit saved my life and made my hands work long enough to write this article).
As you could imagine – my life was FUCKED at the time.
I also happened to have incredibly painful mood swings. As in – I would be hyperactive in the mornings, being all “YEAAAAH! LET’S ROCK THIS LIFE!!! WOOOO!! I WANNA BE A FUCKIN’ PLAYBOY, BITCH!!”, resulting in my mood plummeting around the noon when I would realize that it’s all shit and I’m shit and pretty much everything around is shit … and I won’t be a playboy as it seems … which peeked again somewhere in the night when I’d have myself hammered from booze and (occasionaly) recreational drugs.
Now that I come to think of it, I WAS living the life that I dreamed of, but it’s just that I didn’t like it … Interesting .. Anyway, I digress, again.
Put in a simple word, my life was PAINFUL at the time. Nah, I take that back. It was F.U.C.K.E.D.
Now this is the point where the friendship comes and shines. “Why don’t you get in touch with N, man? At least go and talk to him …”.
I pondered this idea. And this is where my complete lack of knowledge in anything outside a narrow area of interest, comes to it’s shine. Having zero information on what I would be setting myself up for, gave me way easier time in actually doing it.
“Sure, send me his number please”.
And that’s how it all started.
My First Therapy Session – The First Call
I can’t really remember if I gave N a call immediately or if I waited a few days before doing so. All I do remember is that I was pretty sure that I’m fucked. My life’s in a mess; and I couldn’t handle those mood swings any more. I was seriously afraid that I’m starting to lose my mind (and rightfully so).
“How does his voice sound like? What should I tell him? Should my friend give him a call first to ‘introduce’ myself? WHAT AM I EVEN GOING TO TELL HIM?” were just some of the thoughts that I’ve been struggling with. I was AFRAID!
“Hello?”, a voice answered from the other side. It was an incredibly soothing voice. A pleasant one as well. One that makes you feel like someone is tucking a blanket around you when putting you to sleep. It didn’t have very masculine features and yet it gave away confidence. It radiated that It’s all gonna be OK feeling. This guy was trained for it and he knew his shit!
“Good afternoon, N. This is Mihailo Joksimovic. I was given your number by a friend of mine, Nemanja”. I was afraid; and yet felt safe. I was confused; but clear on my intention. I panicked; and yet stayed calm.
“Good afternoon, Mihailo. Of course, I know Nemanja. How may I help you?”. Confident and calm. He knows why I’m calling. He’s had millions of people call him for the first time. He disarmed my anxieties and instilled a confidence that I needed in order to do what I had to do. This guy was trained for it and he knew his shit!
“Well”, I stuttered for a second, “I would like to make an appointment, if possible?”. Did I just squeak while saying it? My inner voice was at it’s full blast now! Hell, what am I even doing? Why am I doing this? I asked NO ONE about it. I don’t even know who this guy is! Maybe I should have researched this a bit more! Maybe I should hang up, NOW!
“Of course. Would Thursday at 10AM work?”. Just like that … he said it as if it’s the most normal thing in the world! He said it as if making an appointment for your first therapy is something that you go and do every day. Like grocery shopping! This dude made scheduling my first therapy session look and feel like grocery shopping! Damn! This guy was trained for it and he knew his shit!
“Sure, see you at Thursday, then. Bye!”.
And just like that. I made an appointment. I scheduled it. It’s going to happen … What now? Fuck!
My First Therapy Session – The Appointment
I drove my car to the address that he gave me. I still had a cast on my right hand (remember – I crashed my motorcycle at the time), but I managed to drive with it.
The address was in a middle of city center. Easily reachable by public transport, but, as I would learn over time, a nightmare to park.
Thankfully, it was a beginning of a holiday season. Many have left the town. I found a parking.
People wore shorts. Fresh and happy faces all around. It was sunny and hot. God, do I love Belgrade at summer time!
I started getting an itch underneath my cast. Not that much because of the temperature, but mostly because it was happening! I was really doing it! I was going for my first-ever therapy! Just like when you go for a first date with your crush, I was feeling nervous and yet excited! It was happening! I was doing it!
“Hello?”, the same soothing and yet confident voice answered shortly after I pressed the intercom buzzer. It was just a regular building. An old one in the city center. Nothing spectacular about it. Just a plain old building with a plain old door and a plain old elevator.
“This is Mihailo”, I said. “Coming for appointment as agreed, He He”. I tried to make myself sound funny. Whenever I feel anxious I try to make fun of it and laugh. He He. The confident people smile right? I was confident!
“Come on in! Take the elevator, it’s the last floor. My door is to the right.”. That same confident and soothing voice … Hell, this guy knew his shit.
I can still remember as if it happened yesterday. I expected EVERYTHING. Everything ranging from a short bald bearded guy, wearing a plaided shirt and trousers, all to a massively tall cleanly shaved dude, wearing a white coat and gloves. Everything was in game. Everything!
What I didn’t expect was what, or, better said, him WHO opened the door. That I didn’t expect.
“Good Morning, Mihailo. Please, come on in”.
Did I miss the door? The building? The apartment? The Life? He seemed to know my name. He seemed to have been expecting me. Interesting. He had the exact same soothing voice that communicated to me over the phone. Was this some kind of trickery?
Frankly, he looked just like a random guy you’d meet on a street. Or in a gym (he was definitely working out). Just a normal guy that you’d meet at your barber or in a grocery store. Short hair, short beard, green eyes, approx. 180 cm (5.9 feet) in height. Probably in his late 30s or so. Everything about him seemed just … ordinary! He wore a green shirt that fit him well, revealing the arms that were definitely carried by someone who was working out. He wore a plain blue jeans as well. No suit, no weird pants; no nothing. The only thing that I found weird was that he was wearing boots!
His office looked …. ordinary as well. It wasn’t even an office, but just a regular small flat. Next to the entrance was a very small kitchen, and from it you could immediately see the living room. It was … just an ordinary living room! A regular couch, a desk with a PC on it. A regular working chair. There was a small desk in front of the couch as well with tissues on it. Was this guy actually LIVING here? That seemed plausible.
I sat down to a plain normal couch. He offered me a coffee and a juice. “I’ll have black and a glass of water, please”.
Funny, up to that point – EVERYTHING was in game. And I was damn anxious and scared about it. Is he a weirdo? How does he look like? Will I be able to even talk to him. All this crap just piled up on itself, making me even more anxious of being anxious!
And yet, once I entered and sat .. I felt … Nothing. I felt like I went to my good friend’s place and had a coffee. I felt … normal!
“So, what’s troubling you?”. Just like that … he threw it just like that. Just as if my best friend asked me “how’s it going?”. Just. Like. That. This guy knew his shit!
“Well”, I stuttered for a bit, feeling my lips go dry and palms go sweaty, “I’m feeling a bit off. In a weird way. I broke up with my GF of 5+ years and I’ve been feeling on and off since then. I have incredibly painful mood swings where at one point I’m rocketing myself towards the peek of excitement, whereas at another time I’m plummeting down towards depression. On & off. All the time. And it bothers me a lot”.
He listened carefully. I was nervous enough to look him in the eyes, but I noticed he was looking straight at me. But just like with his soothing voice, he had some kind of really pleasant stare. He stared, but it was a stare of a person who really CARED about what you were saying. He was focusing on every sentence. He was THINKING about my story. This guy knew his shit!
“Well Mihailo”, he went slowly at first, “if I kept that table in front of you for 5+ years and then had it removed, you’d surely drop a couple of cups before getting used to table not being there any more”. Booom!
Just like that … Just like that, this guy blew all my shit away. All my worries, self doubts, reconsiderations, …. he wiped it out like a dust of that freaking table! Within just one freakin’ sentence he put an explanation on top of my crap, gave me a reason and for the first time in a while, made me feel good about not feeling good!
One. Single. Sentence. I was an idiot with a toothache and he was a doctor that fixed it in one session. This guy knew his shit and he was (well) trained for it!
The only question that remains to this day is – why the FUCK did I wait for so long?
You know, I could go for hours on all the positive things that I (believe) I got out of it. And luckily, if you buy me a beer, I’ll make sure to entertain you with the talk.
On a serious note, one thing that I really find amazingly valuable about the whole therapy thing is the “third opinion”. This isn’t some fancy scientific term from high-level literature, but something that I just made up. The second opinion is what you will get from friends & family (and from myself, if you buy me a drink), but the THIRD one is something that you can hardly get anywhere except from a trained professional.
This third opinion is VALUABLE. It’s valuable because A) This person is completely neutral and we all know how observing a situation from neutral stance is way easier than being the main actor and B) They are trained for that shit. Seriously. I think many actually underestimate the value of a TRAINED professional.
Now, is it all about a third opinion only? Absolutely not! I also learned tons and tons of stuff (meditation, ABC model, identifying and tagging emotions properly, …), and did some crazy shame-inducing exercises as well (one of them being a goal of entering one pharmacy per day and asking if they sell dildos maybe; I actually had one fun experience where I had to explain what a dildo is, but I digress).
My point being – it’s worth it. It’s worth both as a long or short term game. But it’s absolutely worth it. And you should do it!
Look, if you were to ask me, there should be no SHOULD I, but instead – WHEN WILL I. Seriously.
It’s a form of mental hygiene. Even if all’s ok, you should go for a checkup at least once a year.
My therapist specifically asked me NOT to share any contact info publicly, primarily because his concern is that this might look like a “paid blog post”, and I can understand that. My advice is – just ask around. Ask your friends if they know anyone. From my experience, there’s a high likelihood that one in four people you speak to HAS done the therapy themselves.
Finally, you can always reach out to me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or just shoot me an email – it’s my first name (Mihailo) dot my last name (Joksimovic) at gmail.com. I’ll be happy to share the contact info privately.
So, don’t wait. Just make that first step. As I told everybody who asked before — worst case scenario is you “wasted” 1 hour of your life. You don’t have to go back EVER again.
NOTE: My therapist does therapy in ex-yu languages only. At this time, he is neither certified nor qualified for working in any other foreign language.