World Mental Health Day: Tips for Those New to Therapy

by Ariela Paulsen
Mighty Well World Mental Health Day 2020 World Health Organization

These last several months of uncertainty, quarantine, and constant risk-assessment have been taxing on all of us. Our collective mental health has taken a hit. There is so much we can do, however, to feel better! Check out our resources for supporting loved ones, caring for your whole self, tips for time at home, and keeping spirits high.

One tried and true way to maintain mental health is counseling. From my own experience, I have found that having an impartial person to talk to during this strange time has made a massive difference. I feel my stress level rising all week until my appointment, at which point I reset and return to a sense of peace. It gives me an opportunity to share my fears, the challenges I’ve faced, to practice coping strategies, and to return some structure to my life.

In recent months, we have heard questions from our Friends in the Fight who are interested in therapy but also nervous and unsure of what to expect. In honor of World Mental Health Day, we reached out to a Friend who is also a therapist for some advice:

Why might someone want to start therapy?

There are many, many reasons to start therapy! It’s very common for people to fear that seeking out therapy will mean they’re “crazy” or something is wrong with them. This is not the case! Life is full of stress and challenges for everyone. Therapy can simply be a space where you get to unpack these stressors and process your emotional reaction to the world around you. 

Therapy will be most effective if you decide to go for yourself. (However, if a trusted friend or family suggests trying it out of kindness, perhaps it’s something to consider!). If you find yourself struggling to break patterns that seem to bring more stress to your life, feeling overwhelmed by emotions, struggling to adjust to a recent life transition, or in any way feel a little out-of-sorts, therapy could be helpful for you 🙂 

What are the benefits of therapy? 

Therapy can help you gain a deeper self-awareness and achieve more emotional balance in your life. Many of us feel at the mercy of our emotions and thoughts, but when we take the time to examine the way we experience our feelings with curiosity and acceptance, we often find that there is a reason we react the way we do. This insight into ourselves cannot only be a relief within itself, but an opportunity for growth and change. 

When we feel better emotionally, we often feel better physically as well. We hold so much of what we are feeling in our body. Therapy can help give you the tools to recognize the physical symptoms of stress so you are better able to take care of yourself. 

Therapy can be a non-judgmental source of support. There aren’t many spaces in life where the expression of your feelings is not only encouraged, but validated and normalized. Giving yourself this experience can be an empowering step towards deciding you deserve to feel heard. 

What should I expect for my first session?  

Every therapist has a different process for the first session. However in most cases, the first session usually consists of the therapist asking direct questions about what you’ve been experiencing and your motivation for pursuing therapy. Some therapists may have a more structured approach and will refer to a questionnaire while taking notes, while others may approach the process in a way that feels like a casual conversation. Sometimes first sessions can feel like a brief overview of a lot of information, but it’s a good opportunity to talk about your goals and get a feel for the therapist as well. 

You don’t need to prepare anything in particular for the first session, unless the therapist asks for something specifically, such as your insurance info. Going into the first session can be nerve wracking, but remember, even if you feel a little unsure about what to say, most therapists will guide you through the process and be very understanding that you may not share everything upfront. 

I went a few times and it didn’t feel right. What should I do? Is therapy just not for me? 

There are a few factors to consider if you feel on the fence about whether or not therapy is for you based on past experiences. One factor may be where you were in your life when you tried therapy last. Sometimes people start therapy during a period in their life in which they are unable to fully engage in the process. This could be due to logistical or external reasons, like a demanding schedule or finances, or for emotional reasons, such as not feeling ready to be vulnerable. Another factor to consider is whether or not the therapist you worked with in the past was the right fit for you. Therapists can vary greatly in approach and intervention style. Many people stay with therapists that they don’t feel entirely comfortable with just because they think this shouldn’t matter or assume it’s their own lack of effort. This isn’t true! It’s perfectly okay to shop around and find the right fit for you because it will make a difference. 

How do I get the most out of therapy? 

You will get the most out of therapy if you find a therapist that you really trust. Studies have shown that the most important factor of effective therapy depends more on the therapeutic relationship than any specific modality or intervention style. Also, the more you feel you can trust your therapist, the more honest and open you’ll be in your sessions. 

Go into the process with realistic expectations. Therapy can be an impactful, rewarding experience, but unfortunately it isn’t a magic fix. Many people feel disappointed because they expect their therapist to give them direct advice about what to do with their lives. Therapists may share tips or skills for managing emotions, but will not give you the answers about how to live or how to eliminate all negative feelings. Therapists are really there to provide the guidance and reflection that will help you find the answers within yourself! 

Additionally, you’ll get the most out of therapy if you are in a place where you can commit to a weekly or biweekly session, especially when you are just starting with a new provider. This consistency in attending appointments is important because it allows you to build a strong therapeutic relationship, plus it will be easier to track progress. 

What type of therapist should I look for? 

Looking for a therapist can feel really overwhelming! Here’s where to start to make it feel a little easier. First consider if you have any demographic preferences in regards to the gender identity, race, ethnicity, and/or age of your therapist. Additionally, many therapists have a professional statement on their website or profile that highlight their values or approach to therapy. 

Ask yourself what you need to feel comfortable with a provider. Perhaps confirming they are dedicated to providing anti-oppressive services or have experience working with diverse communities is important to you. If a therapist doesn’t specifically list an approach you value in their profile, it is perfectly okay to send a private message or phone call and ask! 

Therapists can practice with various degrees, licenses, and academic backgrounds. This can be confusing, but ultimately it really doesn’t make a huge difference unless you have a desire to work with someone that has more professional experience or specific training. Most therapists these days, no matter their academic background, are trained to provide integrated services. This means they studied multiple intervention approaches and will pull from various therapeutic modalities depending on what works best for the client. Most therapists will list the modalities that they work with most often. Some therapists may specialize in one modality in particular and this can be useful to know if you really have a strong desire for a very specific type of intervention style. 

How much will it cost?  

If you have insurance, the first step is to call your insurance plan (or check online if possible) to verify if your plan covers weekly therapy sessions. All plans are different and unfortunately a therapist can’t look at your insurance card and know for sure if you have coverage by this information alone. To be on the safe side, researching ahead of your first session is your best bet. Some plans may require a copay and you’ll work out with your therapist the best way of handling this (most therapists are pretty flexible with payment routines that work for their clients). 

If your plan requires you to see an in-network provider, this means you need to seek out a therapist who is “contracted” with your insurance plan. Typically, a therapist will include the insurances they are in-network with on their website or profile. I also encourage anyone contacting a therapist to confirm they are in-network with their plan just to be sure! 

If you don’t have insurance, the cost of therapy can range, but is usually somewhere around $150-200 per session. Some therapists may offer a sliding scale fee or might be willing to offer a lower price depending on someone’s situation. You can always ask!

For more mental health tips, visit the World Health Organization’s resources for World Mental Health Day!

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