A Beginner’s Guide to Starting Therapy
Is it possible we live in a world where therapy is no longer so taboo? Society is becoming more and more accepting of seeking therapy, whether you are seeking individual, couple, or family therapy. It is a vulnerable yet powerful step to begin your therapeutic journey as it doesn’t only provide you with a safe space to think out loud and discover your internal world, but it also works to normalize the experience for others. So, let’s talk about what it’s like to start therapy, specifically what you should know and how to be prepared.
Step One: Know what you’re getting into.
Your first step surrounds making an informed decision. This means really knowing the benefits and risks of therapy and deciding whether you are ready to embark on this journey. Each therapy experience is unique to the individual and their working relationship with their therapist, although there are some general benefits to consider. Therapy is known as a healing, empowering, growth-promoting, and safe process. Our duty as therapists is to act in the best interest of the client and work to reduce harm and promote stability. Therapy has the potential to increase clarity and joy, improve relationships with yourself and others, and lead you to live a more functional life. Think about how you might feel when you talk to a trusted friend or family member about something distressing. Now imagine talking to a stranger removed from your life, whose job it is to be non-judgmental, compassionate, and positive about your concerns. It’s the same feeling of relief but without the risk of unsolicited advice or underlying judgment.
In addition to considering benefits, you must also think about the risks. Therapy has the potential to bring up sensitive and intense emotions, as well as thoughts that you perhaps don’t bring to the surface as often. The resurfacing of these experiences can lead to low affect/mood and may likely feel uncomfortable as you try to understand and heal from them. This is a sign of growth. When you think about it, you don’t learn to walk without falling down a few times. It’s the same with therapy, as those moments of low mood and intense emotion are necessary for healing and living with your past. A specific risk related to remote therapy is simply making sure you have a confidential space to engage in sessions. The last thing you want is to be worried about someone overhearing you when therapy is supposed to be this safe and private space.
Step Two: Align your therapy goals with your finances.
Once you’ve considered your benefits and risks and made the decision to start therapy, your next step is to figure out the financial aspects. This entails considering how you plan to pay for services, especially whether you have insurance coverage, or if you plan to pay out of pocket. The best way to inquire about coverage is to call your insurance company and ask what services are covered, and how much coverage is available to you. If you have X number of sessions covered, and you do not plan to pay out of pocket once your coverage is up, make sure to mention this at the beginning of therapy so your treatment can be planned accordingly. Solution-Focused Brief Therapists are trained to provide treatment in a limited number of sessions and might be the right fit for you, in this case.
Step Three: Find the right therapist!
Your next step is finding the right therapist! There are several ways to find a therapist, including simply using google, psychology today, referrals from friends, family, or your doctor, etc. Finding the right therapist is like finding the right pair of jeans, you need to try them on and shop a little before you commit to the right one. Our suggestion is to book several free phone consultations with different therapists. Some people like to base their decision on how the therapist aligns with their therapeutic needs, while others may choose a therapist based solely on their comfort level and connection during the call. We’ve put together a list of questions you might want to ask during phone consultations to help with your decision:
- Do you have experience treating…? (Your presenting concern or mental health issue)
- What type of therapy or theory do you use? (See a Brief Summary of Common Therapies to learn more)
- What is your approach to therapy?
- What can I expect sessions with you to look like?
- What is the fee for sessions and how long are they?
- How often should I come to therapy?
- Can I have your contact information? (This is helpful if you decide to move forward with them)
- Ask yourself,
- Is this someone you can see yourself being vulnerable with?
- Is there potential for you to trust this person with personal information?
- Do I feel comfortable talking to this person?
Step Four: Prepare for your first session.
After you’ve chosen a therapist, now you might consider how to prepare for your first session. Most importantly, if you are engaging in remote therapy services, make sure you have a confidential space and sufficient internet connection. Next, you might want to think about what topics you’d like to discuss and/or what goals/intentions you have for your treatment. Therapy often starts out broad and narrows down as sessions go on. Do not feel pressured to know exactly what your goals are for therapy, but try to have an idea of what concerns you want to explore further.
Step Five: Commit and enjoy the process.
Once your therapeutic journey has begun, try to hold yourself accountable for committing to sessions. Booking your next appointment at the end of each session is one way to stay consistent and committed to therapy. Another strategy to show commitment to therapy is practicing what you learn in between appointments, and taking note of what works and doesn’t work for you. Therapy can often involve trial and error, and providing this feedback to your therapist is crucial to therapeutic success.
Lastly, enjoy the journey! Like anything in life, therapy can have its ups and downs, and it is not always an easy path. Notice the positives, and the signs of growth, and praise yourself when you notice progress. When the “downs” show up, try to be mindful of them as an experience that will come and go, and try to learn something from it.
If you are looking for a remote therapist and you reside in Ontario, check out Evergreen Therapeutics. We have a team of therapists who treat individuals, couples, and families through an integrative, trauma-informed, and anti-oppressive approach. Please feel free to visit the website to book a consultation, or to learn more about the services offered.
- American Psychological Association. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? (https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral) Accessed 8/4/2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therapy to Improve Children’s Mental Health. (https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/parent-behavior-therapy.html) Accessed 8/4/2022.
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- Dobson, D., & Dobson, K. S. (2018). Evidence-based practice of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Guilford publications.