INsight Guide:

5 Things to Talk about in Therapy

Navigating the difficulties of the expat and nomadic lives through mental wellness and therapy

Written by: Chris Nam, MS Neuroscience - Chief of Staff at Insured Nomads

I remember being 22, a college graduate, and had no direction of where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. Don't we all feel that way some times? It may come at different ages, but I think we all experience an existential crisis at some point of our lives. With past traumas, current pressure, and and anxiety about the future, no part of my life seemed like blue skies ahead. Then came people who opened up my mind to new opportunities and allowed myself to let go of my past. People who gave me experiences I needed, people who gave me words of affirmation that I wanted, and people who listened to me. This is all part of therapy; community.

Sometimes, you need just one hour to sitting down and opening up completely to someone you barely know to understand yourself more: and I did just that. Fall of 2020, I completely opened myself up to a professor in my graduate program who I barely knew, and the rest is history. She brought out parts of my mind that I didn't know I had locked up unconsciously, parts of myself that I forgot about, and opened up doors to new opportunities.

"Do you want to reach far or do you want to reach deep?" - Dr. Lisa Kerr asked me in 2021.

"Can I do both?" - I answered.

An expat child who came with nothing, learned to immerse himself into a new culture, start movements, lead teams, receive degrees with honor in molecular biology, design thinking, and neuroscience, and became a Chief of Staff at a global company, reaching far...and deep.

Come with me as we talk about the importance of therapy - the importance of opening up to someone you barely know so they can open up your own mind to yourself.

Introduction

Therapy is all about embarking on a journey of self-discovery and healing through courageous steps toward a brighter and more fulfilling future. I see so many people ages 18-45 suffering from "It's because of my past" disorder where every mistake, setback, or even an emotion they feel is blamed for their past.

Therapy offers a supportive space for individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and it can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth and emotional well-being. Yet, many people find themselves wondering, "What should I talk about in therapy?" This question is entirely natural, and in this friendly article, we aim to provide you with guidance on five essential topics to discuss during your therapeutic journey.

Remember that therapy is a collaborative process, and your therapist is there to support and guide you. Open and honest conversations about these five key areas can lead to a more enriching therapeutic experience, helping you make positive strides in your mental and emotional well-being. Let's get out of our heads, learn to let go, and love ourselves more everyday.

5 Things to Talk About to Your Therapist

Although the following topics are highly suggested to be discussed in a session by modern therapists, they may not be as equally effective for everyone. Therapist is a unique experience for each individual and may have different results or even no results at all - and that's okay.

1. Your Current Thoughts and Emotions

A good place to start a therapy session is by addressing how you're doing currently. Where are you thoughts most of the time? What emotions have you been feeling lately? Every session with your therapist, begin by sharing what's been on your mind and how you've been feeling since your last session. Tell them your thoughts, worries, anxieties, and any noticeable shifts in your emotions. This sets the stage for a deeper exploration of your mental and emotional well-being.

Reflect on these questions during your session or even before, to help you prepare for your therapy session.

2. Life Events and the Challenges

Next, talk about significant life events, challenges, or anxiety you're facing. These can be anything from work & career issues, conflicts in relationship, or personal worries like finances, community, or health. Discussing these situations with your therapist can help you gain perspective and develop effective coping strategies. Where I see the most difference in people opening up about life challenges in therapy sessions are the deep things - things that you don't really think about until you talk about it like the following:

3. Your Relationships

I cannot emphasize the importance of your relationships enough. Your interactions with humans - family, friends, romantic partners, and strangers - play a crucial role in your mental health. Open up about all of your relationships; how you communicate, how they communicate, how often you're discussing important topics of your relationship, any boundaries you've set, and more. You'll realize that there may be more or less tension in your relationships as you open up and start to realize that you may have to reach out to the person you're talking about! Here are some talking points:

4. Goals & Progress

Although you could seek a life coach about this, therapists can often help you realize that you are, in fact, ahead of your goals. Share your goals and aspirations with your therapist and share with them about all of your dreams and goals you've had since you were young. For example, I wanted to become a Navy SEAL when I was in elementary school. Then, from middle school to high school, I wanted to become an attorney, but ended up going to university for medicine. Look at where I am now; nowhere close to any of them. Your progress in life, your upbringing, and your dreams and visions are important for your therapist to understand why you are feeling certain ways and how to bring out the best version of you. Reflecting on your growth and setbacks can help you and your therapist tailor your mind to aim for a brighter future. Think about the following topics:

5. Past Challenges or Traumas

This is an an opportunity for self-discovery; not to trauma dump on someone and walk out feeling worse. Reflect with your therapist on the insights you've gained about yourself through your past traumas and events. Most times, these events may have affected your behavior towards similar events or your patterns of thinking. Your therapist will benefit from knowing these things about you and be able to help you move past your traumas and challenges.

If the following topics are too stressful to think about, start simple.

Why Therapy?

Remember that therapy is a unique and personal journey, and what works best for one person may differ from another. It's essential to tailor these strategies to your specific needs and preferences. Open communication with your therapist is key to ensuring that you're both on the same page and working effectively toward your goals.

Therapy offers a confidential and non-judgmental space for individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a trained professional. It can be a valuable tool for improving mental health, enhancing relationships, and achieving personal growth and well-being. It's important to note that therapy is not only for those experiencing severe mental health issues; it can benefit anyone looking to improve their quality of life and overall happiness.

10 Ways to get the most out of a therapy session:

1. Choose the right therapist

Finding the right therapist is crucial. Invest the time to find the one that fits you the best; someone that makes you comfortable, respected, and understood. This may require you to meet several therapists before you choose the right one, but this matters. A lot. Some criteria you may want to consider are their background, qualifications, therapeutic approach, and compatability. Once you find the one, be sure to make the most out of it with the following.

2. Be YOU!

Going into a therapy session without expecting to fully open up about yourself is like going shopping without your credit card. You can eye shop, but you can't get what you want. Being open and being your true self is the best way to get the most out of a therapy session. You may not know yourself as much as you think you know yourself. Don't be afraid to be authentic and let your therapist know if you don't know how to be "you". To let out your inner self out to the public is a scary feeling, but once you let go, you'll feel the difference.

3. Be honest

Honesty is crucial in therapy. If you lie, you'll dig yourself into a hole that you can't get out of and you'll only have to keep making up new things to cover up the story. Share all of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences honestly, even if they are difficult or uncomfortable. Therapists can only help you as much as you let them and as much as you give them.

4. Be responsible

Therapy is a collaborative process. Take ownership of your own thoughts that will lead to your own growth and change. This is about YOU; not the therapist. You can only grow as much as you let go.

5. Be emotional

It's totally okay to cry and yell. Don't apologize for your emotions in your sessions; it's all part of the process. If anything, holding back your emotions may limit you to not opening up fully about your traumatic events. Imagine yourself being talked down to, being disrespected, and you just let the person walk away. Does that feel good? You have to let your emotions show to let go of that emotion towards the specific event.

6. Be patient

It's completely normal to experience setbacks and challenges in the process. It may take weeks, it may take months, but something inside you may be changing without you knowing. Look at it from this perspective: you go to a workout class consistently for 3 months. At first, you don't see a change. Then one day, you're looking at yourself in the mirror and go "Wow! What happened?". Be patient with yourself and the process, and fully engage in the discovered process when you're ready.

7. Be prepared

Literally for anything. You could cry, you could have a panic/anxiety attack, you could laugh, you could feel nothing. But on the more logistic side, be prepared coming into the session. Gather your thoughts, be ready to talk about anything, and come with a fully prepared brain. They could open up doors that you have locked yourself out of for years, but that's just a part of therapy!

8. Set boundaries

This is a bit controversial, yes. The point of therapy is to not have boundaries and be open. That's not the type of boundary we're talking about here: set boundaries around what you say in therapy so that you don't have to sensor out what you talked about in therapy to a friend or family. What happens in therapy stays in therapy; what you choose to say to your friends and family should be what you're comfortable with sharing. Some times, sharing your therapy talks with a friend or family may be more harmful and negative than good.

9. Forget the time

I get it. You might pay by the hour. But if you're too focused on what time it is, you may limit yourself to not open up as much as possible. Think of it like a show that you're binge-watching; you're leaving the therapist at a cliff-hanger so that they WANT you to come back. Tell your story at your own pace and leave the worry about time behind. If you are asked a question, don't be afraid to talk as much as possible and as you want on the topic; they're there to listen.

10. Journal it

After the session, you may want to go home and lay down or go out for a walk. But before you do that, make sure to take note of what happened in the session by writing it in your phone's notes app, a physical notebook, or even record yourself talking about it via voice notes on your phone. It's important to keep track of what happened this time, so you won't repeat yourself next time OR to remind yourself in the future that you've let go of that event.

Picture of Chris Nam, MS in Neuroscience

Chris Nam, MS in Neuroscience

Chris is on a 18-year long expat journey, from South Korea. A resident of Atlanta, USA, Chris has a Masters in Neuroscience and is passionate about the progressive journey of curing Alzheimer's Disease and studying the BIology of Aging, as well as memory formation and retention. Currently, Chris serves as the Chief of Staff at Insured Nomads.

we'll walk with you

Talk to our Trusted Partners

Below are some of our favorite mental health coaches and consultants. If you or someone you love needs immediate help, please dial 988/your country’s emergency number or access this suicide hotline.

Kristin Vierra
digital nomad & Slomad Coach
Eutelmed
Support for quality of life at work

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