How To Get Started In Therapy

You are considering therapy or you’ve made the decision to begin. This is a significant step toward improving your life! There are many considerations when initiating therapy especially if you are new to the process. First, anyone with or without a mental health diagnosis can benefit from counseling. Why? For many people, having someone listen to their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives without judgment can provide healing. In some cases, a therapist is the only trusted person in an individual’s life who can empathize with his or her experience. In other situations, you may be facing a mental health diagnosis or a major life transition and benefit from additional support. Common reasons for seeking therapy include relationship concerns, parenting issues, caregiving support, job loss/change, or any other issue that may cause personal distress.

What kind of therapy do you need? Are you looking for individual, couples, family, group, or addiction counseling? Therapists may specialize in a specific area or work with a range of mental health concerns. Keep in mind that therapists work in a variety of settings, so private practice may not be your only option. In fact, they may work in addiction recovery, community mental health, non-profit agencies, in-patient treatment facilities, and more.

What type of therapist should I choose? The answer to this question depends on your needs and preferences. However, I have included a basic list of mental health professionals, so you can familiarize yourself with their credentials.

  1. Licensed Clinical Social Workers or LCSW
  2. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists or LMFT
  3. Licensed Professional Counselors or LPC
  4. Psychologists or PhD & PsyD
  5. Psychiatrists or MD & DO

In addition to the above list, there are many certifications that qualify practitioners to deliver specific interventions and mental health treatment. When you speak to potential therapists, inquire about additional trainings and certifications they may have that could be essential or beneficial to your therapy.

Now, you are ready to locate a therapist. Be patient with this process. Finding a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and can share honestly is perhaps the most important step in establishing an effective connection. Consider your needs for a moment. Do you want to address self-confidence, a troubled relationship, depression, etc.? These are intimate concerns to be shared with a trusted professional. You may want to identify several counselors and schedule a time to speak with them. Some may offer an initial consultation at no charge. During the call, review your needs and notice if you feel comfortable. If you are uncomfortable, continue your search. Ask yourself whether you could reveal your life details with this particular counselor. Are they understanding of your circumstances? Beyond the relationship with the therapist, you may want to consider office location, financial arrangements, experience, licensing, and scheduling availability.

Once you have gathered the necessary information, you are ready for your first appointment. Tasks included in the first session are usually reviewing confidentiality, your concerns, establishing a connection, and gathering your relevant history. The counselor should offer to answer any questions. You may even, if time allows, begin setting initial goals. If you are seeking couple’s counseling, the first session will likely be similar. Each of you will have the opportunity to share your reasons for beginning therapy. Beyond the initial appointment, there may be a combination of individual and joint sessions. Family therapy may be entirely different depending on the setting, client(s), and other factors. Still, the basics remain the same. If you are beginning group therapy, it is unique. The therapists should review the purpose, structure, and limits of your particular group. They will also review confidentiality and how it may differ within the group setting.

You are well on your way to establishing a beneficial therapeutic relationship! If, at any point, you are dissatisfied with your treatment or progress, ask questions. After all, therapy is a mutual partnership with the goal of supporting and meeting your needs.

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