Love, Wellness

Things no one tells you about what going to therapy is actually like

Finding a therapist that you click with can suck.

Starting therapy is scary and difficult. You don’t know where to start. You don’t know what to expect. You may not even know what therapy really is.

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Accepting you need therapy is stressful enough, but as someone who suffers from debilitating anxiety, actually getting myself to go was even more challenging. I was about seventeen when I first realized that I needed someone to talk to about feeling depressed. My guidance counselor encouraged me to come in and speak with him periodically since he noticed I was struggling, but pretty soon, high school was over. Suddenly, I was an adult. The responsibility fell on my shoulders to seek help. It took me years to figure out how to go about finding a good counselor during college, and then finding a therapist after that was an entirely different predicament.

[bctt tweet=”Suddenly, I was an adult. The responsibility fell on my shoulders to seek help.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Today, thankfully, I’m much more educated on matters of mental health. I know I need to prioritize my mental health. I’ve put together this guide so that you, or someone you know, can hopefully have an easier time than I did, taking every step needed in order to feel better. Therapy, while it’s not a cure-all and you shouldn’t expect it to be, is one of the many things that has helped me. If you’re considering therapy, here’s everything you need to know.

What therapy ISN’T:

  • For people who aren’t intelligent enough to figure out their own problems.
  • For “crazy” people.
  • For weak people.
  • For people who are diagnosed with something.
  • For people who are full of themselves or self-important.
  • For women only.
  • For white people only.
  • Always about your parents and childhood.
  • Easy.
  • A place where you go once to cry and leave feeling like your life has been changed for the better.
  • Anything like a scene from any movie that depicts therapy.
  • Not the same as talking to friends and family about your feelings.
  • Someone being paid to sit there and listen to you vent.
  • Something that will necessarily last for years, possibly the rest of your life.

What therapy IS:

A general term. There are all different specific types of therapy, such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc. It’s an experience that is completely unique for everyone. It is something that works with medication, if you take medication, and studies have proven that both of these things working together is most successful. It is also something anyone at all (regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious background or anything else) could potentially benefit from. It is something you make time for. It is a commitment to better your wellbeing. 

Therapy is difficult, requires strength, and makes you strong.

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No matter how intelligent you are, it helps to have an outside perspective on your experiences and feelings. Everyone needs someone to talk to. You may have friends that you speak to, and they might be able to show you love and support (which is important!), but they are not necessarily educated and trained to help you with the specific problems you’re encountering.

[bctt tweet=”Therapy is difficult, requires strength, and makes you strong.” username=”wearethetempest”]

You might feel like another professional would be better suited to your needs. WebMD’s Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling is an excellent resource that can help you differentiate between the roles of different professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, marriage and family therapists, etc. If you’re unsure, a doctor or therapist will be happy to help you.

How to find a therapist:

Start with speaking to your doctor and asking for a recommendation. Presumably your doctor lives in the same area as you, plus she or he is familiar with your health history and (hopefully) has a sense of your personality and family background. 

Speaking to your friends is another option. If any of them see someone, they might be able to make a suggestion because they’ve been through the process of finding one themselves. However, I tend to avoid seeing the same therapist as a friend, because I want my therapist to be someone that is sufficiently removed from the rest of my life. 

If you are in college, free counseling services should be available to you. Talk to your professors or an RA.

If this does not prove helpful, go online! Search for a therapist in your area. Google is your best bet, but you can also try the following websites.

  1. Healthgrades.com
  2. Psychologytoday.com
  3. Zocdoc.com
  4. Locator.apa.org
  5. Treatment.adaa.org
  6. Findcbt.org

Look at the therapist’s availability. Make sure it coincides with your schedule, otherwise, your subsequent research will prove useless.

Look at the therapist’s experience. Try to find someone who specializes in areas that are most similar to the issues you are experiencing. For example, if you suffer from an eating disorder, it’s probably best to find someone with a background in eating disorder (ED) recovery; if you are suffering from trauma or PTSD, it’s also highly recommended that you see a specialist.

[bctt tweet=”Finding a therapist is a trial and error process.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If you cannot find someone who focuses on your area of need, keep in mind that experienced therapists (those who have been in the field for a long time) have often seen a wide variety of patients and are qualified to deal with most situations.

Look at the therapist’s personal style and philosophy, as well as their preferred treatment methods. Some will click with you better than others.

[bctt tweet=”Remember, this process is about YOU.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Now that everything is online, go ahead and look for reviews. Make sure there are positive reviews from people who have seen a therapist you’re considering seeing. More importantly, make sure there are no glaring complaints.

It is okay if you are narrowing your search to a particular gender; don’t feel bad. Personally, I feel much more comfortable speaking with another female about my life as opposed to a male, so I only consider women when searching for a therapist. Again, it’s your call. 

[bctt tweet=”If you are considering therapy, for any reason at all, I am proud of you.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Finally, consider which insurance the therapist accepts. Therapy can be very costly without insurance, which is unfortunately a deterrent for many people. There are times, however, when a therapist will speak to you and make some sort of financial exception. Really, it does happen. You might receive a discount. You can also speak to your insurance company, as some companies will reimburse you for the cost of therapy in special situations.

The most important part of therapy is finding someone you feel comfortable with, no matter how you go about finding them.

Ok, you found a therapist you’re interested in seeing. Now what?

Give them a call. Leave a message with the receptionist expressing that you would like to schedule an appointment and provide any necessary information.

If you speak to the therapist directly, they will probably ask you a few more detailed questions over the phone. Try to be as open as possible, but it’s okay if you do not want to reveal personal feelings over the phone. They will understand, but remember, they are only asking questions to see if your problems are something they have experience with so they can determine if they are the right person to provide treatment before wasting your time and money. 

[bctt tweet=”It’s not easy overcoming the stigma associated with therapy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

This phone call is the time to inquire about any information you were unable to find online you want to know. Think of it as a chance for you to interview the therapist. If you speak to the receptionist, go ahead and ask him or her for more information. They will probably know.

So…it’s the morning of your first day of therapy. 

If you need a friend to go with you and wait in the lobby during your session, trust me, you are not the only one. That is both normal and okay. It is also very common. If you are especially anxious, and want the friend or a family member to sit in with you, you can always ask for permission to do this. Arrive half an hour early, since there will be paperwork on the first day prior to your session. I like to arrive even earlier than that, if the location is somewhere that does not have easy access to parking, and so I’m not anxious about getting lost or being late.

What should you expect on your first day?

Your therapist is going to want to get to know you, that’s all.

There will probably be a discussion about what brought you in (past history, current symptoms, etc), what you hope to achieve from therapy, and what your personal goals are. It’s okay if you don’t know the answers to these questions; that does not mean you should not be there.

They will also most likely ask about any medications you are currently taking. If you have a hold of any prior medical documents, bring them with you.

[bctt tweet=”If you are suffering from trauma or PTSD, it’s highly recommended that you see a specialist.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If you have any family history in regards to whatever issue you are dealing with, try to have as much knowledge about that as possible. For example, if your mother took a particular antidepressant in the past and responded well to it, it’s likely (but not certain) that you will also respond well to the same drug. In addition to this, if you have been feeling depressed, it is important to know if anyone else in your family has suffered from depression.

You are allowed to ask questions! The session is for you to get to know each other. Sometimes, if you are nervous talking about yourself, you can listen instead.

What to do if you don’t like your therapist:

Don’t worry. Finding a therapist is a trial and error process. You have to shop around. Most professionals will understand if you do not choose to return and will not pressure you. Remember, this process is about you. If you are not comfortable with a person, you deserve the opportunity to find someone you are comfortable speaking to.

At times, of course, therapy will be uncomfortable. Just know that your first day should not be a time for you to be pushed emotionally.

[bctt tweet=”No matter what, don’t give up. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

It does usually take 2-3 sessions to know whether or not you and the therapist are a good fit. If you find yourself jumping from therapist to therapist after one session with each, you may want to try sticking with one for a few more sessions. Some of us just need more time to connect than others. 

No matter what, don’t give up. Have a friend or family member find someone for you to see and set up the appointment if you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the process. Trust me, I know the feeling. It is definitely frustrating having to repeat your story to people over and over again. I met with four different counselors and therapists on and off over the course of years before finally finding one I liked.

What I’ve learned so far:

It was hard getting started. Sometimes, I felt like I was okay. At those times, I’d wonder, “Do I really need help?”

“I’m probably fine,” I’d tell myself. And I would remain fine, until of course something triggered me and then I wasn’t fine anymore. It became a vicious cycle of breakdowns and denial. I put off getting help for as long as I could, constantly finding reasons not to do it.

However, I’ve never regretted my decision to go to therapy.

I have, at times, regretted seeing a particular therapist, but I’m happy I continued my search regardless of a few not-so-helpful experiences. None of my friends (both male and female friends, all of whom see a therapist for different reasons, began therapy during different stages of their life, and have completely different personalities) regret starting therapy, either. Once you find someone that works for you, as difficult as that process is, it really isn’t something you regret.

[bctt tweet=”I’ve never regretted my decision to go to therapy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If you are considering therapy, for any reason at all, I am proud of you. You are amazing. It’s not easy overcoming the stigma. It’s not easy making time for yourself. It’s not easy going through this process of opening up to strangers until you find one you didn’t mind opening up to. It’s not easy showing up week after week without being able to see or feel immediate results.

But you can do it. 

I repeat: you are amazing, and I am proud of you.

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