Beginning psychotherapy can seem daunting to many, especially if you have never seen a therapist before. While psychotherapy can look differently depending on the clinician and the presenting concerns, I’m hopeful that this information will be useful to you as you consider embarking on the therapeutic process. I’m here to share with you some tips as to when therapy might be the right choice for you and what to expect before, during and after an initial session.
So, when is the right time to seek out a therapist?
Today, Tomorrow, or whenever YOU believe it is the right time for you. I like to think about the role of a therapist as similar to a coach or teacher. We are here to help provide direction, empathy, and honest reflection at times, but ultimately you are the leader of your own life. You choose what skills you want to work on and concerns you want to address and we can help you sort through the messiness, unpack it and make sense of it. We can coach you through the difficult moments and celebrate the successful ones.
Similarly to a teacher or a coach, we do not do all the work for you. Instead, we provide support and guidance while you put in the effort to changing whichever aspect of your life it is that you wish to change.
If you are wondering whether or not it is the right time for you to begin therapy, I encourage you to consider the following questions:
Are you feeling stuck or experiencing distress? Are your concerns impacting you in negative ways that no longer feel manageable? Do your struggles interfere with your ability to live your everyday life? Are you ready to make a commitment to mental health and wellness by changing whatever it is in your life that is not working for you?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, therapy sounds like it could be helpful.
You may not know what is going on. You may just realize that you’re not feeling like yourself or something seems off lately. You may not have a clue how to get there (and by there I mean feeling better). That’s okay. You may feel as stuck as being knee deep in quicksand. But, you know you want a change in your life and you’re ready to accept the responsibility of getting yourself there.
So, you’ve decided that you want to give therapy a try, now what? Maybe you type therapist into Google and then a bunch of names pop up and you are suddenly feeling quite overwhelmed. One way to narrow your search is to think about what you are looking for from a therapist.
What are the concerns that you want to address in therapy?
Many therapists are familiar treating anxiety and depression, but sometimes the presenting concerns are more complex and someone with more training would be a better fit given the nature of the concern. For example, my training is in marriage and family therapy with an emphasis on sexuality. A client who struggles with intimacy or reports low sexual desire in their marital relationship may seek me out because of my clinical training in those areas.
If you are unsure, maybe grab a pen and paper and try writing down what has felt different or concerning to you lately that you would like to address in therapy. These ideas can be buzzwords to help you connect with a therapist who has experience or extensive training in treating those concerns.
Other things to consider…
Location, Availability & Payment Options
Do you want to see someone closer to work or home or somewhere in between?
Do you need to see someone at a specific time such as during your lunch break? Usually evenings and weekends are high-priority times for therapists, so you may want to keep that in mind as you begin your search.
Are you looking to see a therapist that is in network with a particular insurance provider or are you going to be paying out of pocket?
Once you have some more details, you will be better prepared to connect with a therapist to fit your needs. Perhaps you’ll utilize a search engine like Psychology Today which allows you to locate a professional near you by selecting different filters based on specific criteria such issues (ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, etc.), location (zip codes), age (children, adults, teenagers), treatment orientation (Cognitive-Behavioral or CBT, Structural, Dialectical-Behavioral or DBT, etc.), insurance provider (self-pay, Medicaid, BCBS, etc.), faith, language, or sexuality.
Another way to connect with a therapist is through a referral from someone you know. Maybe the referral comes from a friend or family member or maybe another clinician. Doctors and other health professionals often have lists of clinicians that they refer to which can be helpful if there’s a doctor you trust that you can speak to about looking for a referral.
Connecting With A Therapist
Once you have narrowed your search and have some names of clinicians and their contact information, you are ready to reach out.
When you first contact a therapist, you might indicate that you are looking to set up a time for you two to talk about whether working together will be a good fit. During this time you can ask all the questions you have about how they practice, find out if they are a good match for you in terms of availability, you can discuss the payment process and any other concerns you have. You may decide to go ahead and schedule a session with them at this time or you may want to think about it and let them know. The choice is yours.
Prior to the session, the therapist may opt to send you some paperwork to sign that includes their privacy practices and consent for psychotherapy treatment. Some therapists choose to review these documents with you at the beginning of the first session. These documents will cover their legal and ethical duties in regards to confidentiality, your protected health information and privacy. They also cover the policies implemented by the practice, clinic or agency where the therapist works. It is important to read these carefully and mark any questions you have so that you can ask the therapist if you would like more clarification on something. Treat these documents like any legal document that you would sign.
The Initial Session
The first time you do anything, it’s normal to be a little nervous. You’re not sure what will it will be like. Many first sessions are about therapists leaning in to understand what lead the client into their office. This is an opportunity for clients to share with therapists what’s going on that seems concerning, challenging, bothersome or unusual that ultimately lead them to choose therapy. The goal of this session for you, the client, is to see if this therapist is a good fit for you and your needs.
Do you feel comfortable addressing your concerns with this person and developing a trusting relationship with them? I encourage you to listen to your intuition or your gut on this one. If it feels like a good fit, you’ll know. If it does not feel like a good fit, I encourage you to think about what it was that left you feeling that way. These can be helpful cues to pay attention to as you continue looking for a better fit.
At the end of the first session, the therapist may ask you if you are interested in scheduling another session (not all therapists phrase it this way). This is a good time to let the therapist know if 1) you would like to continue 2) you would not like to continue or 3) you are unsure and you would like to think about whether or not you would like to continue. It is not a big deal if you choose to think about it or even if you tell a therapist directly that you do not think it’s a good fit. Remember, this is your therapy- so you get to choose who is a good fit for you.
Congrats, you made it past the first session. Hopefully that was not as scary or terrible as you had anticipated. Maybe you are even feeling a sense of hope. What are you feeling right now? It might be useful to do some reflecting on what this experience (the first therapy session) was like for you. This way, you can refer back to those feelings in the future when you evaluate your progress.
So now, you have the chance to either schedule another session with the therapist you met with OR you can reach out to a different clinician that seems like a better fit and schedule an initial session. Usually therapists will talk about their therapeutic process, how they communicate with you around scheduling, payment, etc. when you first meet. If they missed something, feel free to bring it up and ask them. Therapists forget things sometimes – they are human too.
I hope I was able to shed some light on the process of therapy for you and I hope you feel more prepared going forward. I wish you the best on your therapeutic journey – may it be filled with great insight and profound learning opportunities.
If you have any other questions about beginning therapy, I encourage you to share your questions below or reach out to me via email. As always, I appreciate your feedback