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So You Want to Start Therapy?: A Simple Guide to Starting Therapy for the First Time


Little girl being curious


In the past decade psychotherapy has become even more accessible and mainstream. As a therapist, this has been very exciting to watch. This was all exasperated when the pandemic began in 2020. The pandemic transformed the field of therapy via Telehealth and brought mental health treatment into the homes of clients all over. Not only that, but the state of the world and the many changes we have been experiencing these past few years has catapulted many folks to want to begin their mental health journey. However, what I have found is that many folks who are new to mental health treatment and therapy struggle to know exactly what to expect and know what they really want from therapy. So here are some things to consider in your pursuit of mental health treatment through this simple guide to start therapy.


Before You Go


Assess Your Expectations

There can sometimes be a misconception that therapy is where you go to solve all your problems and there are somehow answers or a cure all treatment that will help you fix everything. Much of this conception comes from therapy being seen as similar to the medical model. Folks are used to getting sick, going to the doctor, describing their symptoms and then the doctor either prescribes something to cure it or conducts some type of treatment and that’s it. However, it’s a little bit more nuanced than that. Therapy is a space that is created collaboratively with client and therapist. In fact, much of the change and progress that occurs in therapy sits within the relationship that's developed between the client and therapist along with the effort and work brought into the space.


For many of my clients, I have found it’s more helpful to see and understand therapy as a tool. And like with any tool it is important to understand how and when to utilize it. Why is it important to think of therapy in this way? Well for one, it encourages the you, the client, to take more ownership of the therapeutic process. This is not something that is happening to you or around you but an interactive process that you are choosing to be apart of. Something that I often will say to clients in our first appointment is that although I may be the expert on mental health, but you are the expert on you. So together we determine how the therapeutic process will look and be utilized.


Assess Your Capacity

Assessing your capacity for therapy is important as it allows you to sit with what it will mean for you to start your therapeutic journey. Ask yourself, have I created space for therapy? This could look like assessing your schedule; do I have the time, or even assessing your capacity; do I have the motivation. Sometimes folks underestimate what they will need to invest in themselves. I’ve had clients start therapy and realize 'Oh I don’t think I actually have the time necessary to really dive into things.' Or sometimes they realize maybe 'I’m not in the place to start unpacking certain things.' This is not to say one needs an absorbent amount of time and energy for therapy, but this is something to think about and discuss with your therapist in the beginning.


During your search


Think about what's important to you

Like with anything that is important to you, it’s helpful to do your research. There are a million different types of therapy that are helpful for various issues. Research therapies that are helpful for your specific issue. This is not to say you have to become an expert but the more knowledge you know, the more you'll be able to advocate for yourself and what you need. It's also helpful to think about if there are specifics about your potential therapist that are important to you. Some clients may want someone of the same ethnic or cultural background, someone who is queer, etc. This is valid and important to think about because it will impact the therapeutic relationship in the long run.


Be Selective

This may come as a shock, but it is ok to interview potential therapists. Finding a therapist may not be a one and done situation. It may require you to set up some consult sessions and really ask questions of the potential therapists to ensure the right fit.


Here are some potential ones:


  1. How would you describe your therapeutic style?

  2. Have you worked with clients with ( your specific issues)

  3. How do you handle client feedback and or pushback?

  4. I am nervous to talk about (specific topic) how might we go about that?

  5. What is your approach to cross cultural therapy?


While Your In Treatment


Normalize check ins and feedback

Even once you've found your therapist and have begun therapy, it is important to keep an open dialogue with yourself and your therapist about how treatment is/isn't working for you. You want to be able to acknowledge and work through any concerns. Also, a part of knowing if a therapist is the right fit for you is determining if they can receive feedback from you and work through any issues.


Extend the work beyond the session

Lastly and most importantly, remember that this is YOUR healing journey. So be an active participant. For most clients, you are only seeing your therapist for an hour a week. This means that it's up to you to extend the work and lessons from the session into your daily life. With the help of your therapist, you can think about ways to engage lessons learned in therapy outside of session. This may look like journaling your thoughts and reflections, bringing something into a session that you watched or read that brought something up for you, or even sharing and processing things with a close confidant. Whatever way it looks , the point is to be contending and engaging in “the work” even outside of session.


Time to start therapy?


Starting therapy is a big step and it can be overwhelming to know where to even begin. However, it doesn't have to be as scary if you're able to do a little groundwork to find your right therapist. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs, desires, concerns etc. This is YOUR healing journey so take ownership of it.


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