Therapy 101: How to Start the Process
You have reached the point where putting off therapy is no longer an option. I have seen it many times. We often have obstacles, maybe create obstacles, in our way that stops us from seeking help.
Regardless of what got you here, learning how therapy works and how to find a therapist can help you on your new journey.
So what is therapy? How can it help? What should you know before you start looking for a therapist? Where do you start looking? What should you ask? What should you do when you start?
I get it ... you have questions. I am more than happy to answer them for you.
What is therapy?
Granted, therapy can look different based on the therapist you choose and the modality they use, but once you break it down therapy is a way to process what is going on for your currently (or in the past) and what you are looking to change in your future.
What is a modality? Which one is best?
A modality is how a therapist does therapy. There are different types of modalities and it is important to know what you are seeking therapy for because it can help figure out what modality you need. For example, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a good modality for trauma as it helps clients shift the way they think and feel about their trauma.
So the first step before even looking for a therapist is to think about what you are seeking therapy for.
Take a second to jot down what is going on for you and what you are looking to change. Having an idea of what is happening for you (or in your relationship) is going to help you figure out the type of therapist that you need. It can be extremely helpful to find a therapist who SPECIALIZES in your particular issue.
Why does it matter if a therapist is specialized in my issue?
I think you know the answer to this one, but just in case I will let you know. Someone who is specialized in a particular issue does their best to keep up with research, knows the best resources, and can help to reduce the feeling of being alone in your problem.
Do I have a preference in a therapist?
It is important to think about what you need from a therapist and maybe if there are requirements that are going to help you feel more comfortable. Whether that is someone who is a specific gender, maybe religious background or a specific language, think about what you are looking for in a therapist.
I do want to stress that not all therapists are open to divulging specific information. For example, if you want someone who is a happily married therapist, that may be a bit too personal for a therapist to share. Remember, the sessions are not about the therapist, they are about you and we need to ensure that we are keeping professional boundaries. So don't take it personal if there are things that you want to know about your prospective therapist that they aren't willing to share. We need to protect ourselves too.
When thinking about preferences, just be realistic and open.
Ok ... so now you have thought more about why you need therapy and what you need from a therapist, what is the next step?
Well, unfortunately there is still a bit more things to think about before you start researching. Sorry for the bummer, but this is going to help, I promise.
The next step before contacting a therapist is to think about the financial aspect. It can be uncomfortable, but it is a necessary part of the process. So how do you see yourself paying for therapist? Do you want to use your insurance or do you want to pay out of pocket? Either way, I am here to explain the process to you a bit.
You want to use your insurance, here is what you need to know -
Contact your insurance company directly and ask them the following questions:
Does your plan cover mental health services? If you are seeking couples counseling, ask if your plan covers couples therapy.
What is your co-pay? What is your deductible?
Are there limitations? Meaning are you limited to a certain amount of sessions?
Do they cover experiential type of therapy, like equine assisted therapy?
Are you required to have a mental health diagnosis on your record? How does that work? (Keep in mind that this may be placed on a permanent file that could come up on background checks)
Do you have out-of-network benefits?
For more information about using insurance for mental health services, check out this article (of course after you finish reading this one LOL) - Zencare Guide
If you hear all good things and want to continue to use your insurance, ask them for a listing of providers that take your plan. If you have out-of-network benefits, keep in mind that you are not limited to their listing.
If things seem more confusing and limiting by using your insurance benefits, maybe paying out of pocket is the best option. So here are a few things you need to ask yourself -
How much can you afford for weekly sessions? Keep in mind that therapy is a journey. It isn't a one session type of thing and it is always recommended to start off with weekly sessions to learn more about you and see if there are patterns and consistency.
To be honest, that is the only question you need to ask yourself when paying out of pocket.
However, it is important to keep in mind that if you are looking for a therapist that offers services that are hard to come by and you REALLY want to work with them, it may be out of your initial budget. That isn't to say that therapists aren't willing to provide a sliding scale or maybe have a referral within your budget, but knowing what you can afford is a good start to the conversation.
Now, you are ready to start looking!
I want to prepare you for the search, because it is a lot like online dating. It can be overwhelming, but it is important to think about what you need from a therapist and make sure you feel good about your choice.
The best place to start your search, if you aren't using insurance, is to look on therapist directories. There are a BUNCH of them. Here is a short list of options:
Open Path Collective - for those who need a sliding scale
I am sure you are wondering why I didn't include BetterHelp or TalkSpace in my list. There are things about those two platforms that I don't necessarily agree with. I know a lot of people find the benefit from those two platforms, but I think what happens behind the scenes isn't great. If what brings you to those platforms is the cost, then Open Path Collective is a good alternative, plus a lot of therapists offer sliding scale on online sessions without the need of a third party.
Having a lot of options to find a therapist is great, but I can understand that it can become overwhelming. Give yourself some time to go through the therapist profiles and make a list of your top ten that resonate with you. Make a note of what it is about their profile that you like and any questions that come to mind.
After you have your list, now it is time to call.
A lot of therapists offer a free 15 minute consultation to talk to you about what is going on and answer any questions that you have. Since you did a lot of work already to figure those things out, the consultation call should be smooth.
Here are few things to note when you are on the phone:
How was the rapport?
Did you feel heard?
Did you feel understood?
Do you like their approach?
Do you feel like you can connect with them?
Did they answer your questions?
Now, if you call a therapist and they don't answer, I suggest to leave a message. Let them know that you are a interested in services and would like a call back. I personally don't return phone calls if a person doesn't leave a message because I can't confirm if it was a.) spam b.) if the person calling is using their direct line (sometimes people call from work or a shared number) c.) if it was an accidental dial (which happens). For those reasons, I do like when someone leaves a message so I know that they want to talk to me about therapy. It is super helpful.
Also keep in mind, that it could take a day or two for them to call you back (especially if you call on the weekend). A lot of us work independently, so we may be busy, but we do our best to return phone calls.
So you have talked to everyone, now it is time to make a choice. Once you have decided, I highly recommend to call that therapist back and schedule a session. Our schedules change and most often our appointment times are first-come-first-serve. So if you have schedule challenges, make sure to block out your time as soon as possible.
Now, you are in therapy ... what are some things you should know?
Therapy is work. Mostly work for the client. Meaning it is on the client to take what they have talked about in the session and put them in play afterwards. If you find that you aren't putting into place the changes that are talked about, let your therapist know. There may be something blocking you from the change that you want.
You need to be honest, open and vulnerable. A therapist only knows what you tell them. We can't help you put all the pieces together if you are hiding parts of the puzzle. We know it is hard. We know it is scary. We know you are worried that bringing things up and not being able to hold it together. We get it. But opening up is a necessary part of the process.
Therapy is a process. As I mentioned before, therapy isn't a one session ordeal. You may need to be in therapy for a bit in order to see the changes that you need. At the VERY low end, it may be 4 - 6 sessions. That amount is usually reserved for someone who is open, ready to work, making the changes, being consistent, and with less intense issues. If you have been holding in a lot for years, we have to unpack that. It isn't a process that can be rushed. We need to ensure that we are doing our due diligence to help you.
You can break up with your therapist, but be honest with them. I suggest to give your therapist a few sessions to see how things work, but ultimately if you aren't getting what you need, let them know. Give them the opportunity to adjust approaches and if it still isn't working out, then it is ok to find someone else. They also may be able to direct you to someone that can help. Plus, they can consult with your new potential therapist so it doesn't feel like you are starting completely over.
So ... I shared a lot and there may be things I left out (it happens), but I think this is a good starting point for you to start your journey to finding a therapist. We get in this field to help. Let us help you!
Written by: Jessica Jefferson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Perinatal Mental Health Counselor and Owner of Cloud Nine Therapeutic Services. My passion is helping individuals through heartbreak, whether that is heartbreak with others or heartbreak within themselves. My goal is to be their guide on their journey to their self-discovery so that they can build the life and relationship they want. I am here for when you want to start your journey.