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  • Writer's pictureDr. Beth Marnix

What to know about starting therapy

Updated: May 22

You've heard the word "therapy," but you're not sure what it means. Maybe you've considered going to therapy, but you don't know where to start. Whether you're curious about the process or have never gone before and want some guidance, here's what you need to know about starting therapy.

Therapy Session

There are many reasons to seek therapy.


Therapy is a safe space to have conversations about what's happening in your life. You don't have to be suffering from any particular mental health issue or crisis in order to seek out help from a therapist. It can help you feel better, improve your relationships, deal with crises, cope with stressors, and more.


More reasons to seek therapy:

  • To alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression

  • To process through traumas

  • To improve other mental health conditions (such as bipolar disorder)

  • To learn more about yourself (for example: why you do certain things)

  • To improve your relationships (for example: with family, friends or partners)

  • To help you cope with loss (for example: death of a loved one)

  • To deal with crises (such as unemployment or divorce)

  • To better cope with stress

  • To talk through something that has been bothering you for awhile

  • To help you make a big decision (for example: whether or not to have children)

  • To improve your self-esteem and confidence


In fact, after you have worked through the problems and stressors that brought you to therapy, many therapists will recommend speaking with them on an as-needed basis rather than scheduling appointments every week or two weeks, as you initially did to address what brought you to therapy. This will allow you to make sure you are implementing the changes and resources that you gained as well as address any new difficulties that arise in which you may benefit from working through with a therapist.


You don't need to be "crazy" to see a therapist.


Therapy is for everyone, whether you're dealing with depression or anxiety, feeling stuck in your life or career, or just want to be happier and more productive. It doesn't matter if you think of yourself as "crazy"--mental health professionals are trained to help people who are experiencing a variety of different stressors and concerns. They aren't going to call you "crazy" or "insane" The goal of therapy is not necessarily to fix everything about your life, but rather to work together with your therapist on improving specific areas of your life that are bothering you.


Therapy is a powerful tool that can help you get unstuck, feel better and change your life.

If you're thinking about starting therapy, but don't know where to begin, don't worry!


You don't need a referral to see a therapist (most of the time).

reads: Mental Health Provider Search Website Cover over dark teal background

You can start by searching online. There are many provider directories where therapists describe themselves and their therapy style. To learn about our therapists, click here.


You could also ask friends and family for recommendations. If someone has been seeing a therapist for years and loves them--or even if they've only had one session--they will be able to provide you the name of the therapist or the practice the therapist is a part of.


You can also search your insurance provider directory. Many insurance companies offer directories where they list all of their providers who accept their plan, along with contact information. This is a great place to start because it will allow you see which therapists are in-network with your insurance company before making any appointments.


Another option is to ask for referrals from other providers, such as your physician, dentist, OBGYN, even your physical therapist, stylist, or yoga instructor!


What to expect from your relationship with your therapist


Your therapist is there to listen and help, not judge or criticize you. You don't have to worry about your therapist talking about you behind your back, sharing it with their friends and family, or worrying that what you talked about in therapy is crazy. Your therapist will treat everything as confidential, unless they feel it's necessary for safety reasons (i.e., if you threaten harm against yourself or others). Your therapist will not discuss your private information with others unless you give permission. This includes other professionals, their friends, and your family members.


What makes therapy a safe place to be open, honest, and vulnerable is the therapeutic relationship and the safety of the therapy space (you know...the relationship and hour you and your therapist agree to meet on a consistent basis).


Therapeutic relationships are one-sided. What this means, is the therapist is there to listen, support, and guide you through your issues. You are not there to talk about your therapist or what they do outside of therapy. This is a common misconception, especially for those who have never been in therapy before.


Your therapist will use their expertise to guide you through the things that are causing you pain, distress, or difficulties in your life. Your therapist will not give you advice. Your therapist will not tell you what to do.

In Person Therapy Session

They will help guide you through the process of getting to that point, but they will not give advice or solutions. They will listen, reflect back on what you are saying and feeling, then offer suggestions based on their expertise. In therapy, you may learn coping skills, tools, and resources to help you manage and navigate what you are struggling with.


You always have a voice and can say what you think, feel, and need from the therapist. If the current approach that your therapist is trying is not working, say something so your therapist can try different approaches to find something that works! Having direct communication between you and your therapist may help improve the relationship and work you can do together.


Your therapist wants open and honest feedback about what is and is not working for you. If you are not feeling heard or understood, it is important to let your therapist know. If something your therapist said feels like a mistake, it is okay to say so. Your therapist is a human too. They want to understand you, from your point of view. They also want to work out any disagreements. Engaging in hard conversations with your therapist, such as advocating for yourself or communicating through disagreements or tension, will help you learn skills and tools to do this in your relationships outside of therapy.


In Person Therapy Session

If you do not feel comfortable with your therapist, then it is okay to find a new one. Even though it may feel awkward, it is important to not ghost your therapist. Your therapist cares about you and if you stop all communication with them, they may worry about you. If you choose to end therapy, end the relationship directly. If you drop out and do not communicate your decision to stop, your therapist will likely reach out to check on you. By openly communicating your desire to stop treatment, you will be able to end the relationship on a healthy note. You will be able to discuss what isn’t fitting, explore what you’re looking for in a therapist, and review your work together thus far. Your therapist may also be able to provide referrals to other therapists who may be a better fit. You may have a bad experience with one therapist, this does not mean that therapy doesn’t work for you. It means you and that therapist were not a good fit and you can find a better fit somewhere else.


If you choose to end therapy, end the relationship directly with your therapist - communicate openly.

It's reasonable not to know what to expect in therapy.


woman looking out the window and thinking

You might be wondering what to expect from therapy. It's understandable for people who are new to therapy not to know exactly what will happen, how therapy helps, or how long therapy will last. It is totally understandable to feel nervous or worried before a first session. It is good to share this with your therapist so they can meet you where you are in the process, and answer any questions.


The length of time you will engage in therapy is different for each person and what you would like to work on. At Bright Light Counseling Center, clients who work with us typically attend appointments on a weekly basis. Once change and progress is occurring, you and your therapist may decide to meet every other week instead. Clients typically report improvements in the first few months. Some clients engage in therapy for a few months and some for years. Some take breaks to try things on their own and reach back out when needing more support. Each person’s time in therapy is unique to them and their treatment goals.


Therapy is a powerful tool that can help you get unstuck, feel better and change your life. Therapy will not only help you work through problems, but it also provides an opportunity to develop new skills and find new ways of thinking. Here are some important points about therapy to keep in mind:


  1. Therapy is a process. It takes time, effort and commitment on your part as well as the therapist's part for the work to be effective. If you're looking for quick fixes or an easy way out of something uncomfortable or painful in your life then this probably isn't the right path for you at this time.

  2. The focus of therapy is learning about yourself and finding ways that work best for YOU (not anyone else) so that YOU can feel better in YOUR life! This means there may be challenges along the way; however if we don't challenge ourselves then we'll never grow as individuals or reach our full potentials! So embrace those challenges because they will help guide us towards where we want/need/should go next!

  3. Therapy works with honesty, openness, and willingness to work through the things that are causing you pain. The conversation can be awkward at first, but it will get easier with time. You may feel like you don’t have anything to say or that nothing happens during your sessions. This is not true!

  4. Therapy is not just about talking about problems; it is about working through them together so that they don’t continue to interfere with your life or those around you. Your therapist will help you understand how you feel and why. You will learn to be more accepting of yourself and others. You may find that your relationships improve as well because you can communicate better with those around you. Therapy is a safe place for you to talk about things that are difficult or painful for you. It’s important not to hold back!

  5. You will talk about what's going on in the present moment while also looking at how past experiences affect present day outcomes. You might learn how old patterns are impacting your current relationships or if there are things from childhood that continue to influence how you relate to others today.

  6. Therapy takes work. If you want yourself and things to be different in your life, you will need to invest time and energy. You may need to try new ways of dealing with your problems, communicating in your relationships, and expressing thoughts and feelings in new ways. Therapy usually has homework…stuff you do outside the therapy session.


It's good to be prepared when you meet your therapist for the first time.


When you meet your therapist for the first time, it's good to be prepared. It can be nerve wracking and exciting at the same time. Here are some things you should know:


  1. Prior to your first session or meeting your therapist you will be asked to review paperwork and sign consent forms, similar to other physician offices. You also may be asked to provide a bit of information about you, what you are currently concerned with, and some history or background information about you.

  2. The first session is usually an introduction where you get to know your therapist. Your therapist wants to get to know you and understand your experiences. Your therapist will likely ask questions like "What brings you here today?" or "How long have you been feeling this way?" Your therapist will ask questions about your past and present experiences. It may feel like a lot of questions and a lot of information all at once. Your therapist will also ask what your goals are for therapy, or what you want to get out of your therapy sessions.

  3. By the end of your first session, your therapist will usually recap what you are seeking therapy for and provide a few initial thoughts about what to expect in therapy to address your concerns.

  4. In order to make sure your therapist is a good fit for you, ask questions about their therapy style and how they work with clients.

The first few sessions are often focused on setting the stage for a safe and trusting relationship between you and your therapist. This is very important, as it allows you to get to know each other. It also helps both of you understand where things might be hard for you in therapy and what might be helpful in moving forward.


If you want yourself and things to be different in your life, you will need to invest time and energy in the therapy process.

Conclusion


If you're feeling stuck and want to change your life, therapy can be a good place to start. It's not always easy and there may be some awkward moments along the way, but if you're ready to try something new then we hope these tips will give you a little boost of confidence as you begin this journey.



Picture of Dr. Beth with short bio information

 

Disclaimer: Our content is on and related to the topic of mental health. The content is general information that may or may not apply to you. The content is not a substitute for professional services. This website does not contain professional advice, nor is any professional-client relationship established with you through your use of this website.

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