Choosing to see a therapist is a huge decision. It’s that moment when you decide:
- You need or want help (did you actually just admit that to yourself?).
- You can no longer manage this situation as effectively as you’d like to.
- You’ve been stuck for a while and want to move forward.
As a therapist, I can often perceive a shift in the person I’m speaking to on the other end of the line once that first appointment has been set. I can sense that person breathing just a little bit easier, and there’s often a subtle acknowledgment of hope and even accomplishment, as in, “I’ve just taken the first important step toward my future well-being.”
What leads up to that first step? How can you take that first step with more confidence so that you don’t feel like you’re grasping at straws? So that you feel empowered in the process?
I recommend doing five things before finding a therapist.
1. Think About What You Want to Gain from the Counseling Process
It’s helpful to have a goal or two in mind as you begin. For example, are you focused on processing a particular incident in your past? Are you interested in developing better communication skills? Are you eager to challenge the way you customarily think about yourself or the world around you (your inner dialogue)? Do you want to create a toolbox for coping with anxiety? Are you looking for a “safe” place to express your feelings regarding a loss?
It can be helpful to have a place to begin and to be able to express that to the person you choose to work with. Of course, you can alter your goals or add to them once you begin counseling. Sometimes a deeper objective comes to the surface later on, once a therapeutic foundation and a sense of trust has been established.
Find out which therapists in your area are accustomed to helping people with the kinds of things you hope to explore. Most therapists have online profiles that outline the type of work they typically engage in.
2. Do a Little Research
If you’re comfortable asking, find out if people you trust have any recommendations. You will need to be sure that if you choose to work with someone who also counsels someone you know, you will not find yourself censoring what you have to say. (You can expect anything you say to remain confidential.) Otherwise, it’s probably best to find someone on your own.
Stack the odds for a successful and pleasant experience in your favor. This might mean finding someone you don’t need to travel too far to see, finding a therapist who has an ample parking lot (so that you don’t get stressed trying to find parking each time you go), making sure the office is handicap accessible, or ensuring the office has hours that will accommodate your schedule. You want to remove as many potential barriers as possible to getting there and obtaining the help you desire. You certainly don’t want therapy to add an additional layer of stress.
This leads us to the third thing to do before therapy.
3. Explore Your Behavioral Health Benefits
Be familiar with the insurance coverage you have, if any, and what it will cover in terms of behavioral health, both in-network and out-of-network. Find out if you have a deductible and how much you have satisfied so far, what the therapist’s fees are, what your copayment is, whether you need a referral or authorization, and whether you are allotted a limited number of sessions. Having this information will enable you to be an informed consumer.
It’s best to know what therapy will cost per session before you begin so there are no surprises once you start. Again, you want it to be as comfortable and smooth a process as possible.
4. Have Questions Ready When You Schedule Your First Appointment
Write down the name, number, and location of the therapist you are calling, as well as the questions you want to ask. This way, you can keep track of responses if you reached out to more than one counselor. Don’t be afraid to get the answers you need. You may want to ask the therapist directly about how they work, how long the sessions are, and how often you will typically meet. Feel free to ask about office procedures such as last-minute cancellations, what happens when there’s bad weather, etc.
This conversation gives you the opportunity to get a “vibe” or sense of whether you will be comfortable working with a particular therapist.
5. Prepare to Do Some Work
You will get out of counseling what you are willing to put into it. It’s not always easy. It requires thought, introspection, reflection, and effort, a willingness to “try on” different perceptions or experiment with alternative behavioral approaches.
Know that there will be days you will feel resistant and won’t want to attend your session. I tell people I work with in therapy that THOSE sessions, when you DO show up, are often the most meaningful and powerful ones. Hesitation can serve as a signal that important work is about to be done. Showing up and telling your therapist that you contemplated canceling can open up a significant dialogue about where you are in your healing process, as well as where you’re going.
Don’t throw a dart at an online directory. Take responsibility for your healing as best you can. Don’t expect that every therapist will be the perfect match for you. Find the right fit. Feel the relief and self-assuredness that you are making an informed choice when you make that call and schedule your first therapy appointment.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.