Making the decision to begin therapy can be a big step. Whether you have a vague underlying sense that something is wrong or you are aware of a specific issue (or somewhere in between), a therapist can help you understand your situation and ultimately help you find relief from the pain or unease you are experiencing. But where do you start?
Why you might consider therapy
Life can be hard, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Change or loss can create anxiety, stress, depression, or anger that can be difficult to overcome on your own. Sometimes we find ourselves on a path and we don’t even know how we got there. All we know is that it isn’t serving us, and that things can and should be better.
People go to therapy for a number of reasons. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers these examples:
- You feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness, and your problems do not seem to get better despite your efforts and help from family and friends.
- You are finding it difficult to carry out everyday activities: for example, you are unable to concentrate on assignments at work, and your job performance is suffering as a result.
- You worry excessively, expect the worst or are constantly on edge.
- Your actions are harmful to yourself or to others: for instance, you are drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs or becoming overly argumentative and aggressive.
Where to begin your search
There are several options for finding a therapist in your area. APA and Psychology Today both offer online locator services. Or you can start by asking your physician or other health professionals. Your local or state psychological association, a nearby university or college department of psychology, your community mental health center or your place of worship can also supply referrals. Family and friends are also a good resource. (APA, n.d.)
“Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapist,” writes Tracey Cleantis, LMFT. However, she cautions, “…if they tell you that they don’t like their therapist [but] keep going just because they don’t want to hurt the therapist’s feelings, it is best to get a referral elsewhere.” (Cleantis, 2011)
What to look for
Finding the right therapist is important enough to warrant some time and effort. Proximity and convenience, while reasonable considerations, should not be the deciding factor. There are many other things to consider, both tangible and intangible.
First, you may want to consider whether you have a preference for either a male or female therapist. If the thought of speaking candidly with one makes you uncomfortable, then limit your search to the other. Keep in mind that having a strong “no way” feeling about one gender, says Cleantis, may be something worth discussing with the therapist you choose.
Next, ask questions.
- How long have you been practicing? Where did you go to school? Are you a licensed therapist? (Check with the state licensing board to find out if there are any infractions against his/her license.)
- What are your areas of expertise? What experience do you have helping people with [anxiety, depression, anger, etc.] or difficulties with [work, marriage, eating, sleeping, addiction, overcoming trauma, etc.]? “Be wary of therapists who specialize in EVERYTHING,” advises Cleantis. Conversely, “Beware of therapists who are too identified with a particular therapy ‘brand,’” offers Jonathan Shedler, Ph.D. “They have already decided how to treat you before they have met you, let alone understand you.”
- What kinds of treatment do you use and have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue?
- What are your fees? (Fees are usually based on a 45-minute to 50-minute session.) Do you have a sliding-scale fee policy?
- What are my payment options?
Your comfort level and the rapport you have with the therapist are necessary factors, but Shedler believes it goes a step further to what he calls a “therapeutic alliance.” In essence, Shedler says that alliance “is based on a shared, mutually agreed upon purpose—an alliance around the work you are there to do,” and consists of three elements: “1) There is connection; 2) there is mutual agreement about the purpose of therapy; 3) there is mutual agreement about the methods you will use in pursuit of this purpose.” (Shedler, 2013)
Prepare for your first appointment
It is normal to apprehensive and nervous during your first therapy appointment. In order to make the most of that session, there are some things you can do to prepare during the time leading up to your first session.
Keep a notebook or a sheet of paper handy to gather any information that will be useful for your therapist to know at the start, including notes or thoughts about your condition and/or your situation, such as:
- How have you been feeling?
- What has been going on in your life that brought you to therapy? When did these difficulties start?
- Is there something that makes things better or worse for you?
- What do you want to accomplish with therapy?
Write down any questions you have for the therapist about how therapy works, what you can expect, what will be expected of you, etc. Bring a list of any medications you take. (liveandworkwell.com)
Re-evaluate after the first meeting
Now that you’ve spent some time with the therapist, take a few moments to think about what you liked or didn’t like about the experience, your comfort level with this person, and whether you feel your needs will be met by continuing. If you have any concerns or questions, write them down and bring them up at your next session. If after a few visits, you still have concerns that are not being addressed in a professional and satisfactory way, you may want to move on to another therapist.
Now make the call
If you have been thinking about therapy, don’t wait. There is no need to suffer or struggle alone. Carapace Counseling can help. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment call 303-906-2618.