Therapy is designed to help you feel better and live better. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Therapy, also known as psychotherapy, talk therapy, or counseling, aims to help you tackle troubling emotions, thoughts, behaviors or life situations.
On a routine basis, therapy involves visiting with a mental health professional one-on-one, whether online or in person. Starting therapy is a personal decision, so you decide what environment or schedule works best for you.
Everyone’s reasons for seeking therapy are different. Some people attend therapy every week for years, while others just go for a few sessions. Most importantly, if you feel like you need someone to talk to right now, or if difficulties are greatly interfering with your life — this is probably a good time to start therapy!
Therapy aims to investigate the root cause of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Your therapist can help you shine a light on harmful patterns, and assist you with adjusting and coping.
People seek out therapy for a variety of reasons, including:
- managing long-term or severe stress
- discussing personal issues you don’t feel safe or comfortable talking about elsewhere
- processing a traumatic event
- major life events, such as the loss of a loved one, a new move, or relationship issues
- experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, or are concerned you may have a mental health condition
- having been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and needing help coping with your symptoms
Let’s look at some general tips for starting therapy.
Primary care physicians and family doctors are
Mental health is just as important as physical health, so be open and honest about how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Primary care physicians often refer people to a psychiatrist, which is a mental health professional who can prescribe medication. If you want a referral to a therapist or counselor, request this early on.
While your doctor might have a name in mind right away, you can also do your own research.
Finding your therapist
While many people like and stick with their first therapist, others need to try different options before settling in. Working to improve your mental health is a journey, so try not to be discouraged if things don’t work out perfectly at first.
Here’s some guidance for finding the right therapist:
- Find a Therapist and Mental Health Support
- How To Find the Right Therapist: 10 Tips
- How to Vet a Therapist
- How to Change Therapists: 5 Steps
You might consider looking for a therapist who understands your cultural background, or has expertise in working with people from your community.
No matter what you’re looking for in a mental health professional, there’s someone out there for you.
Sometimes, it’s helpful to bring a loved one to your first appointment for emotional support. You may feel nervous or anxious, and feel more comfortable knowing that someone you trust is waiting outside.
If you feel like having a loved one in the room with you would be helpful, you might consider:
You can consider your therapy sessions a no-judgment zone, so make sure you remain as open and honest as possible at all times!
If you are over 18, your therapist is bound by confidentiality. This means anything you discuss in your sessions is completely private — with exceptions including homicide, suicide, and abuse.
If you are under 18, therapists are trained to bring information to parents only in rare circumstances, and the therapist will inform the client before they do so.
Having clear communication and a secure level of trust allows therapy to work effectively and efficiently. The more information your therapist has, the more they can help. Try to explain your symptoms in detail, including severity and frequency.
A strong relationship with a mental health professional depends on communication from both parties.
Feel free to ask questions, whether about the process of therapy or your symptoms. Your therapist is there to not only listen, but also to give you constructive feedback and guidance.
This includes openly discussing your goals with your therapist. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of therapy?”
Your therapist will also have some questions for you. Their queries may include basic demographic information and your reasons for seeking therapy.
What should I ask my therapist?
When you connect with your therapist, you will want to ask some of the following questions:
- What type of clients do you normally work with? (This can help you find out if they specialize in working with a particular gender or age range.)
- Are you licensed?
- What are your areas of specialty or expertise? (You can decide whether their areas of expertise fit with what you are experiencing.)
- What treatment methods or approaches do you use?
- Do you accept my insurance? (Make sure you know your therapist’s hourly rate, what your copay will be, and what the late fee policy is.)
If you don’t feel an ideal connection with the first therapist you try — don’t stress! This is completely normal, and you may have to meet a few different therapists until you find the one right for you.
First impressions can be misleading, so even if you don’t click right away, it can be helpful to give that therapist a try for a few sessions, and then switch if needed.
The American Psychological Association estimates there are 85,000 licensed psychologists in the United States, so you have plenty of options to choose from.
When you initiate contact, it’s best to speak to a potential therapist on the phone or via video call to get a feel for their personality and style. This can help you feel more confident going into that first appointment.
Try to remember therapy is a process, not an overnight fix.
If you walk out of your first appointment feeling the same, or even worse, don’t be alarmed. It usually takes several sessions to develop a rapport with your therapist, and working through your thoughts and feelings takes time.
Sometimes, therapy may make you temporarily feel worse before you feel better, as you bring up difficult or traumatic emotions and experiences. Remember it’s okay to set boundaries around topics you aren’t ready to dive into yet. And it’s okay to cry.
Trust the process and focus on the work at hand. You got this!
Hope is at the heart of therapy.
You can continue your wellness journey by finding a therapist you’re interested in meeting with, and scheduling your first appointment.
Feel confident that you can feel better and live happier, and that by reaching out for support, you’ve taken a crucial step forward.
If you’re still not sure whether therapy is the best option for you, consider taking our free therapy quiz.