Everyone—and I mean everyone—can benefit from therapy.
I say this as loudly and as often as possible, because I think a lot of people don’t realize that therapy isn’t just for clinically diagnosable problems. I’ve had people tell me they think therapy might help them, but they don’t want to offend people with “real problems.”
If you don’t already know this, let me the first to say that if you have a problem, it’s a real problem. Boom, done. No matter what mean things your brain is saying right now, your problems are real and they matter.
Okay, now that you’ve acknowledged your struggles as real and important, time to start therapy! But…how? It’s true, the process can be intimidating. How do you even find a therapist? How in the world are you supposed to afford it? And once you’re in therapy, what do you talk about? Where should you sit? How do you know if it’s helping?
The best way to get into therapy is to take one thing at a time. That’s why I’ve broken this down into a three-week series: Part One: Getting Started, Part Two: Dealing with Insurance, and Part Three: Good Signs and Red Flags. Let’s start simple: how to start looking for the right therapist.
The best way to find a therapist, in my opinion, is through a recommendation from someone you trust. Online review sites like HealthGrades.com rarely present an accurate representation of any healthcare professional, but making appointments with therapists at random can be emotionally exhausting, expensive, and time-consuming. If you know people who have some experience with therapy, ask them what they like and dislike about their therapist and decide if they might be a good fit for you too.
Then again, if you don’t want to have the same therapist as your mom, or don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about going to therapy just yet, that’s fair. In that case, I recommend PsychologyToday.com. They have a “Find a Therapist” page where you can search for therapists in your area, and you can apply filters for your insurance, the particular issue you’re dealing with, even the gender of the therapist if that’s an important factor for you.
If you’re in college, you are in an excellent position to get some cheap, high-quality therapy. Most universities have counseling or “psychological services” centers where the psychology grad students do their clinicals. Even though they aren’t seasoned veterans just yet, I’ve found that grad students are some of the best listeners, and they really want to do their best to help you. Not to mention the fact that university services are almost always cheaper. Like, a lot cheaper. We’ll get into cost and insurance next week in Part Two, but just know that a cheap option is always an option worth considering.
Once you’ve found a therapist you think is worth a shot, just give their office a call, say you’re looking to start therapy, and ask if the therapist you’re interested in is accepting new clients right now. If they are, they will likely ask you what you want to be seen for. It helps to have a brief statement prepared for this so you can avoid bursting into tears on the receptionist (we’ve all done it, don’t worry). Something short like “My emotions are all over the place and I’m not really handling it well,” or “I’m so stressed, I’m just not acting like me lately,” should work. After that, all you have to do is schedule an appointment and you’re good to go!
Before your first meeting, you might want to do a few exercises to help organize your thoughts. I recommend doing the following three things before your first appointment:
- Sit and really think about why you’re starting therapy. Try to push past all the qualifiers (i.e. “Well, my life is really totally fine, but…” or “I’m being silly, but…”) and just get to the heart of the problem. Hold back all those critiques and judgments and just explore your feelings (I know, it sounds so hippie-dippy, but guess what, that shit really works).
- List three things you know you want to talk about in your first meeting. This can be anything from giving the therapist a history of past issues to discussing insurance questions to asking how they typically conduct their sessions.
- Reach out to someone you know for support. Starting therapy is a lot. A lot of emotions, a lot of stigma, a lot of money—it’s just a lot. Even if you don’t want to get into why you’re going, you can always text a friend to say “I’m starting therapy tomorrow and I’m super freaked out, but don’t want to talk about it. Can you just send me cute pictures of birds?” In my experience, most friends completely understand, and you might even discover that they’ve done the therapy thing too.