So you’re thinking about starting therapy. Congratulations! You are essentially now Dorothy at the beginning of the yellow brick road. You have no idea where it will take you, but the chances seem good that you will be cultivating your courage, heart, and mind. Here are a few general things to keep in mind as you embark on the journey to make it slightly less overwhelming, and to help you get the most out of therapy that you can.
Aim for Realistic Expectations
Before starting therapy it is tempting (and common) to hope or believe that it will solve your problems and banish bad feelings forever. In truth, life will always have ups and downs, and ebbs and flows of good times and bad. What going to therapy CAN do is change how you respond to the tough situations in life that will inevitably arise, and bolster your toolbox of choices and options for HOW you want to respond. Developing a deeper understanding of yourself in the context of your past, your present, and the visible/invisible social forces at play in your world can open up new opportunities for acceptance, compassion, and ultimately, personal growth.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
In the third grade I played the violin. I regularly forged my parent’s signature on the slip saying that I had practiced. I never understood how my teacher knew I hadn’t practiced- was it my illegible third grade handwriting, or the fact that my playing never improved? While this may seem like a random example, therapy works much the same way. If you come to therapy each week without having practiced any of the things you’re working on in session both you and your therapist are going to know it. Finding opportunities to practice in between sessions are key, both because they will help you grow AND because they will give you valuable information and data that you can bring into session. Whether it’s by meditating, having a challenging conversation, or tracking when and what triggers you, getting real world practice will help you get more out of therapy each week.
Yikes, it’s How Much?!
Therapy can be expensive. Unfortunately, therapists are not reimbursed by insurance companies at the same rates that other medical providers are, so many opt to not take insurance. If you go to see an out of network therapist it is likely that they can provide you with a “superbill” to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement, but it is important that you talk with your insurance company to see if this is something they allow.
Whether you are paying with insurance or out of pocket for your therapy sessions, the important thing to keep in mind is that you are making an investment of time and money in yourself. Your ability to cope in healthy ways will impact both your physical and mental health over the course of your life, and therapy can be a great place to learn how to do that. While some folks prefer to stay in therapy for as long as they can, many others view it as a short term venture. The best therapist puts themselves out of a job by helping you understand yourself and the tools that will work best for you.
What’s a Good Fit?
Given the cost of therapy, it is also important to consider the fit and connection you feel between yourself and your therapist. While it can be uncomfortable being vulnerable with anyone, the right therapist will be like a helpful travel companion. They’ll unpack the map, the sunscreen, or the snacks at just the right moment during the trip when it feels like you’re going to be lost forever and never arrive at your destination. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your current therapist, it’s important to discuss it with them. Trust me, they’ll want to talk to you about it. If you’re in the market for a therapist, it’s reasonable to shop around and find one that makes you feel safe in the work you’re about to undertake.
Virtual vs. In Person
It’s safe to say that a LOT has changed since the COVID pandemic shut down the world. In the therapy realm it meant that just about all therapists started offering virtual telehealth sessions. Now that things are opening up again, some therapists have begun offering in person sessions, and many are offering both options. It’s important to consider what will work best for you. Will commuting to and from a therapy office make you feel more invested in the process, or will you stress about the commute time? Does meeting virtually feel less intimate in a way that helps you be more vulnerable, or does it detract from your feeling of safety? Some folks prefer telehealth because they like already being in their safe space after a hard session, while others really benefit from meeting with their therapist in person. It’s up to you, and is an important thing to consider.
Another important element of having a successful experience in therapy is getting clear on what your goals for therapy are from the start. While your therapist can help you get focused and clear on what your goals may be, you are the ultimate expert on yourself, and only you know what really needs to change in your life. “I want to become a millionaire,” is not a therapy goal (nor is financial planning in your therapist’s scope of practice), but, “I want to explore what motivates me and what is preventing me from feeling motivated at work,” absolutely will be.
Where’s my Team At?
Lastly, when you’re thinking about starting therapy it is important to consider who will be part of your support team. Doing “the work” in therapy can mean bringing up difficult feelings you’ve been hiding away underneath hours of television and ice cream. Even though you may only spend 50 minutes a week working with your therapist, those hard feelings can permeate throughout your week. It’s helpful to talk with your close community members in advance to see if they’re willing to be part of your support team. This means having a friend, partner, family member, or even your pet, that you can turn to for a hug, walk, chat, etc if you’re having a particularly hard week given what you’re working on in therapy.
Now get out there, and get growing. You’ve got this!