Starting therapy might be the best thing you can do for yourself. That doesn’t mean the process is always easy in the beginning. If you’ve never done it before, knowing how to start therapy can feel overwhelming. Still, the end result can be so rewarding and life-changing that most people agree therapy is worth it.
Research done by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that not only is psychotherapy effective, but it might offer long-term health benefits and reduce the need for other mental health services in the long run.
This guide will help you with every step of the process in starting therapy. From finding the right therapist to understanding which type of therapy might work best for you, to preparing and committing to the process…we’ve got it all here for you. Keep reading to learn more about how you can get started with in-person or online therapy.
Let Your Guard Down & Don’t Let Stigmas Get In the Way
One of the biggest hindrances to knowing how to start therapy can often be letting go of the perception you have of therapy in the first place. Our society often makes it seem like asking for help with mental health issues is a bad thing. The reality though is that taking the plunge and deciding that you’re ready to start living your best life, and then actually doing the work, is one of the best things you can do. In fact, mental health treatment can be a huge act of self-care.
Let’s walk through the steps of how to start your journey to use therapy to improve your mental, emotional, and psychological health.
Find the Right Therapist
One of the most important parts of the entire therapy process is going to be finding the right therapist for mental health services. The role of a therapist is unique. They need to be someone you can trust, are comfortable opening up to, and who you respect. You also need to feel confident in their ability to help you. So, what kind of therapist do you need?
Make sure that as you look for a therapist, you ask about specialties, qualifications, and experience. This can be particularly important if you’re hoping to reach a specific goal. For example, if you’re grieving, find a therapist with extensive experience in the stages of grief and overcoming trauma or loss. This will be hugely beneficial in terms of how much growth and progress you make in therapy. This is the same for finding therapists who specialize in anxiety, depression, or other conditions.
Tips for finding the right therapist:
- Get a recommendation from a friend or family member you trust
- Look online and read biographies or other client review
- Ask your family doctor or primary care provider
- Check your health insurance’s website for a list of in-network therapists you can choose from
Consider the Type of Therapy You Need
Not all therapy is equal. It’s important to understand some of the major types of therapy techniques. This way, you can determine which one might be best for your goals and needs. Deciding what you want to get out of therapy up front can help you focus and work towards healing.
“Honing in on what you are hoping to achieve in therapy will allow you to narrow your search for a therapist. Consider all aspects of the therapy, including your background (i.e. cultural influences, family histories, etc.). Keep in mind what type of therapist may feel more comfortable for you. Perhaps it’s a specific gender, cultural background, or area of expertise.”
Types of therapy:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of psychotherapy that looks at how the way you think and feel affects your behavior. By changing your thought patterns, you can change your responses to specific, often difficult, situations.
- Behavior therapy: While it can be used in a variety of therapeutic settings, behavior therapy is often beneficial for parents and children. It’s a way to highlight behaviors that are desirable while discouraging unwanted ones.
- Psychoanalytic psychotherapy: The talk therapy known as psychoanalytic psychotherapy is used to reveal unconscious feelings and thoughts in your psyche. It’s based on Freud‘s theories of psychoanalysis. By exploring your unconscious mind and looking at how it influences your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, you can become aware of the unconscious material and begin to enhance how your ego functions. The ultimate goal of psychoanalytic psychotherapy is to help you resist the demands of the superego and become less controlled by biological urges that can hinder you and your mental health.
- Psychodynamic Therapy: This form of talking therapy aims to help individuals understand their emotions and mental process at a deeper level. The therapy helps individuals become more self aware and recognize patterns they develop overtime.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): Interpersonal psychotherapy is an attachment-focused therapy technique that helps you solve interpersonal problems, reduce stress, and improve social functioning. It’s a highly structured approach with a very strict timeline that should be completed within 3 to 4 months. This evidence-based technique is often used to treat mood disorders.
- Systemic therapy: Systemic therapy is a form of group therapy that can help you on an individual level and in relationships. It focuses on interactions and relationships in groups, so problems can be solved and relationships can move forward. By reducing stress and conflict, the interactions between family members can be greatly enhanced.
- Imago relationship therapy: Imago relationship therapy focuses on conflict in relationships. It takes the approach that any conflict you experience in your relationships as an adult stems from childhood circumstances that shaped how you respond to challenges and difficulties. It can be a very effective form of therapy for couples wanting to better their relationship, improve communication skills, rebuild trust, or enhance intimacy, among other things.
- Somatic Therapy: this type of therapy incorporates the mind, body, soul, and one’s emotions. It focuses mainly on the connection between the mind and body to help those who have suffered from trauma and abuse.
- Mentalization Therapy: this type of psychodynamic therapy focuses on how one’s behavior is linked to one’s thoughts, wishes, desires, and feelings.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a form of therapy aimed to help individuals find their way of living in the moment, improve relationships, and regulate their stress and emotions. The therapy is often divided in four key areas; Emotion regulation, mindfulness, distress tolerance, and assertiveness.
- Emotion Focused Therapy: this form of psychotherapy focuses on the link between emotions and identity and how it affects decision making. It helps individuals improve bonding and attachment in relationships.
- Humanistic Therapy:humanistic therapy focuses on personal understandings of the individual as a person. Its emphasis is to help an individual be their true selves and lead to a fulfilling life by understanding one’s worldview and self..
- Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is a form of behavioral therapy that helps individuals confront their anxieties and fears. Individuals are exposed to the situation that causes them fear multiple times. After controlled exposure overtime, feelings and stress are reduced in an individual.
- Unlimited Messaging: this therapy form allows an individual to text, video or voice their therapist at any time, from anywhere.
Finding a Good Fit
Finding a potential therapist who fits your personality and who you can be comfortable with is important. Even if the first person you find ends up not working out, don’t give up the fight. It’s OK to look for a new therapist. The last thing you need is to get stuck with a bad therapist. The important thing is that you stick with your commitment to getting the individual therapy you need.
“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to therapists. It’s important to find the right therapist for you. It’s vital to feeling secure and building a trusting, working relationship. The journey of therapy can be challenging. The therapist will be your anchor and your guide. It starts here — so feeling comfortable is the best way to build a strong foundation.”
Preparing for Therapy
There isn’t much you need to do to prepare for your first therapy session. A good therapist will guide you every step of the way.
You’ll likely have to fill out some basic paperwork with your personal information and your insurance details. You may be asked to complete a brief questionnaire or write a short explanation about why you’re seeking therapy.
Beyond that, there really won’t be much a therapist asks you to do before your first session together. One thing you can work on before you actually go into the first session is attempt to create an elevator pitch of your reasons for seeking therapy. Try to come up with a succinct, clear, simple explanation that expresses your ultimate goals.
Have an idea of what to expect
Your first therapy session will primarily consist of you giving background information to the therapist. You’ll go over why you want therapy and what your goals are. The therapist will explain their philosophy, their process, and other expectations they have for your work together. They’ll probably handle some housekeeping items like their payment process and what their cancellation policy is.
“It’s okay to be nervous about the first meeting. Just remember that therapists are here to help the client. Focus on what you need and ask questions along the way. Therapists expect to orient you but also expect you to have a lot of questions along the way.”
The great thing about virtual therapy is that it can eliminate some of the awkwardness you might feel at a first in-person therapy session.
Decide how often you plan to meet
Often, therapy sessions are once a week for an hour at a time. But depending on the severity of your needs, your budget, the style of therapy you go with, and what the therapist suggests, you may agree to work together more often or decide to space appointments further out. For example, you might discover that bi-weekly or weekly sessions work best for you.
Commit to the Process
For therapy to be successful, you need to be as open and dedicated as possible to the process. The more you put into it, the more benefits of therapy you’ll experience. There can, and likely will be, tough times along the way, but the reward is well worth everything you put into your healing process.
Be open and vulnerable
Make sure that you come to your therapy sessions as open and vulnerable as your comfort level will allow. It’s natural to feel like you’re stepping way outside your comfort zone, but part of becoming mentally and emotionally healthy is working through things that you’ve probably pushed down or been afraid or unwilling to face for quite some time. The more vulnerable you can be, the more quickly you’ll see results and feel the changes therapy can offer.
Don’t expect your therapist to have all of the answers
Therapists are educated and skilled in their profession, and the good ones can seem like they are miracle workers, but remember that they’re human. They won’t be able to give you all the answers, and truthfully that’s not something that would benefit you anyway.
Think of your therapist as a guide. They’ll walk with you throughout the process and help you make better choices and healthier decisions. At the end of the proverbial day, your therapy is yours. You make the choices. You make the decisions. You are the one who’ll grow — and it will be worth it.
Don’t rush the process
Some therapy techniques are intended to be short-term processes. That said, you can’t rush through the process. If you’re hoping to get the most effective results, it’s wise to let the process work for you, in the time that it should naturally take.
If you’re even thinking about how to start therapy, you’ve already taken a huge step. Take pride in the fact that you’re willing to look for mental health care when you need it. You are a strong person, and you deserve it.
1. Research shows psychotherapy is effective but underutilized. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/psychotherapy-effective. Published 2012. Accessed November 8, 2021.2.
2. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy | APsaA. Apsa.org. https://apsa.org/content/psychoanalytic-psychotherapy. Accessed November 9, 2021.