Therapy, Toolkit

Starting Therapy

So you’ve decided to enter therapy. Maybe you would like support with your relationship, meeting personal goals, or making constructive changes in your life. Whether you have been in therapy before or this will be your first time, here are some tips to make the experience right for you.

A Good “Fit”

When you envision your ideal therapist, what kind of person are you looking for? Someone who is a skilled listener, neutral and reflective of your thoughts and feelings, or perhaps someone more directive? Therapists are individuals, just as you are, and their personal style can help you feel comfortable and able to open up to the work of therapy. In addition, there are a myriad of “theoretical orientations,” or approaches to psychotherapy. A helpful list of therapy models can be found here, at GoodTherapy.org. Take a little time to browse through the descriptions and see which ones appeal to you.  Many therapists utilize an integrative approach, meaning they are experienced in several theories and able to tailor your therapy using more than one approach.

Narrow your search

There are a number of online directories of therapists and counselors. http://www.GoodTherapy.org, http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/, and http://www.therapistfinder.com/ are just a few of these directories. You may want to consider factors such as the therapist’s:

-Licensure (Psychologist, MFT, LPCC, LCSW, etc)
-Education and training
-Location
-Type of insurance accepted, if any
-Rates and fees
-Gender (this can be a factor for some clients)

Narrow down your list of possibilities to the top 3-4 therapists, then make some informational calls to their offices to obtain further information to assist you in making an appointment. Note: some therapists offer a free brief consultation by phone to enable both of you to determine if  you have a potential therapeutic fit.

Your first session

Your first session with a new therapist will most likely involve filling out some required paperwork, as well as discussing office policies, confidentiality, and other information about therapy and what you can expect. You will also be sharing what brings you to therapy – the key issues you are facing, your goals, your challenges. This allows the therapist to get a sense of the type of support needed. Usually the first session or two involve a lot of “fact finding” – learning about the client and their experiences, needs, thoughts, and feelings. This is also your opportunity to ask any additional questions you have, as well.

Subsequent therapy sessions

Therapy involves much more than a client who talks and a therapist who listens. Much of the work of healing comes from the interaction and relationship between client and therapist. Some therapists offer homework assignments or reading in between sessions. One thing that surprises many people who are new to therapy is that the process is not always quick and easy. Exploring innermost thoughts and feelings can be like peeling down the layers of an onion. You work through an event from your adolescence, only to find that you have uncovered a troublesome memory from early childhood. You set a goal to work on your body image and as soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you find your relationship is impacted by the changes you have worked so hard to achieve. You become sober, and then become aware that you have to make amends to your loved ones hurt by addiction. This is to be expected, and good therapists will work with you in a holistic manner – treating the whole person, not just isolated parts.

When does therapy end?

As I have mentioned in other posts, most therapists are not in the business of keeping you in therapy for its own sake.  In my practice, I work with my clients on solutions and personal empowerment, believing that each person has the potential to achieve and maintain wellness without relying on a therapist for the rest of their lives. Once you near the end of your treatment, you and your therapist can discuss your progress, remaining work to be done, and review the tools you have gained in therapy. I have had a few clients move on from therapy, only to check in a couple of times a year for an “emotional tune-up” during a time of stress or challenge.

How can I make the most of this process?

-Come to your appointments prepared – bring questions, thoughts, and participate in the session.
-If something is not working for you, let your therapist know.
-Homework assignments are used by some therapists to help you move through the process more effectively. Give it a try, even if you had hoped your homework days were long behind you!
-Therapy is a place you can be honest and open, even with tough emotions like anger and sadness.
-Remember it is not up to the therapist to “cure” you. Therapy is a team effort and you are in charge of your life, your commitment, your investment in the process.

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