Contributed by therapist Kristen Peterson, LISW
Making the decision to begin therapy is a big step. It’s an investment in your mental health that takes time, money and some vulnerability to talk about the not so fun stuff in life. It’s important to remember that you are the consumer. It’s likely you wouldn’t make a big purchase (house or car) without doing prior research. The same effort should be made when looking for a therapist. There are many good clinicians out there; however, it’s not a one size fits all. You must do some work.
A simple first step is figuring out what kind of person you feel comfortable talking to. We are all naturally drawn to different people. Spend some time thinking about who you think would be the best fit. Would you prefer a more nurturing person? Someone who is more straightforward? Do you prefer someone older or younger? Do you prefer male or female? All these preferences are valid and should be taken into consideration.
Internet searching therapy clinics can seem rather daunting. Get referrals from family, friends and social media groups. They may be able to help guide you in the right direction based on their own experiences. Look at all potential clinic websites and read therapist bios. Find out what they specialize in and what population they work most with. When calling to set up an appointment remember to ask what the therapist’s available hours are, as well as, what insurance they accept. Often, therapists don’t follow a regular 9-5-hour work week. It’s helpful to know right away any issues there might be with scheduling or insurance coverage.
If the thought of starting therapy gives you some butterflies rest assure that it’s completely normal. You are basically meeting a stranger with the intention of sharing your life story … the good, the bad and the ugly. Where do you even begin?! Do you start with the fight you had with your partner ten minutes prior to your session, or do you take it back to middle school drama? Find comfort in knowing that a (skilled) therapist knows you will be nervous and will guide the conversation, so you don’t feel like a chicken with your head cut off. The first session is a great time to express any concerns or fears you might have. Therapy is a team effort and you are the captain of the team – don’t hesitate to say what’s on your mind.
The first couple sessions will quickly reveal if you feel a genuine connection. However, it’s important to invest enough time to get past initial fears and preconceived notions. Once that subsides and you realize something is missing it’s okay to look for services elsewhere. If you aren’t feeling a connection, you will never fully open up, which will hinder your progress. Remember that therapists can read body language, not minds. If you disagree with the path your treatment is going down or feel like you aren’t being fully heard speak up! You will not offend or hurt feelings.
The bottom line is therapy works and can be a powerful tool used to heal and improve one’s quality of life. Studies show that if a person feels genuinely connected to their therapist success and personal growth is much higher. Hopefully this provides some encouragement to take the next step in finding a therapist that will join you in healing. You deserve it!