Are you considering going to therapy for the first time, but don't know where to start? First of all, congratulations for taking a step in self-care by reflecting on if sharing with a therapist would better your life. I'm a big proponent of therapy and have been going on and off for the past 10 years — from that, I've collected some tips for friends and others that have considered seeing a therapist.
Do Some Homework Before Going In
First, the logistics — you'll need to find a therapist, whether a psychologist, a social worker, or a counselor. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask a friend or a loved one if they have any recommendations of a person you can see. Even if you don't want to see the same therapist as that person (understandable), they may know of a well-regarded person or practice so that you don't have to be starting from scratch. You can also ask a primary care provider or other medical resource for any recommendations. (And check your insurance coverage, too, to see what your copay would be for therapy sessions). A note, though: mental health providers are very much in demand, so if you are considering going to therapy, you may want to start this research early because there may be a wait before you can be seen as a new patient.
Allow Yourself Time to Adjust
If you've never been to therapy before, allow yourself time to adjust to sharing confidences with a stranger. This is especially true if you are a private person who doesn't often share deeply personal thoughts with loved ones or friends. It may take time to get used to talking about difficult or painful subjects or things that are embarrassing or taboo. Try to remember that your therapist isn't there to judge you — they've heard it all before. Don't give up if you find in the first few weeks that you aren't comfortable discussing difficult things — it's part of the process. (I've actually found that sharing things with a therapist has made me able to open up more in friendships and relationships — to my benefit.)
Remember to Treat Therapy Like a Two-Way Relationship
Notwithstanding the recommendation above — allowing yourself time to adjust — remember that a relationship with your therapist is a two-way street. You should feel comfortable with your therapist — even if you are uncomfortable with what you're talking about — and feel like your therapist is really listening to you. Now, like in any relationship, your therapist may disagree with you, but you should feel like you have a connection and that this is a person you can trust with your inner thoughts and feelings. Don't be afraid to move on and find another provider if you don't think that you and your therapist are clicking.
Consider Taking Notes
If you're a goal-oriented person (hello, friend!), consider making some short notes after each session — the general topics you discussed and any particular conclusions, insights, or coping skills suggested. I find that this practice (for me, no more than a few sentences typed into a password-protected note on my phone) helps me reflect after each session and move on with my week. It's also been a resource between sessions if I'm feeling particularly stressed — I can refer back to my notes and read what my therapist has previously recommended. Before I started this practice, I used to think back on a therapy session and not remember what we talked about — making me wonder whether I was making any progress. You can look at the notes or not, but they'll be there for you if you need them.
Give Yourself Credit
Most of all, give yourself credit for considering trying therapy to help you with your problems or concerns. Even if you're not sure after reading this that you're ready to sign up with a therapist, just considering it as an option means that you're taking a step to take care of yourself and see what's out there. Good luck! Note: this article is not a substitute for obtaining advice or treatment from a licenced medical or mental health provider.