I support anyone who is going to therapy, especially now.
Micheal Phelps, the greatest olympian who ever lived, is openly seeking and supporting therapy. Despite mastering one of the toughest sports on Earth, he was still willing to admit that he had problems he did not know how to handle.
I’ve seen five therapists in my life. I know that’s a lot. But trust me, I’m not a serial therapy seeker. I needed to go through the duds before I could find the right one. I like handling my own problems, and I hate asking for help.
Counterintuitively, seeking help is one of the strongest ways of handling your own problems.
Therapy is a process, and not an easy one. It is an act of will to discover who you are and where your pain comes from. Some even go as far as to call it spiritual. So, if you’re bold enough to take the leap, here are the things you need to prepare for before going to therapy:
Going to Therapy Starts With Finding Someone Right For You
When I began seeking therapy online, I was fixated on what techniques the therapist specialized in, how long they’ve been in practice, what they studied — the nitty-gritty details.
These do matter. You don’t want to see a behaviorist if you’re having issues with your mother. I remember one therapist’s selling point was, “I’m not going to ask you about your mother.” But what matters in therapy goes beyond where your therapist went to school and what techniques they use.
You might invest time into one person and not feel you’re getting much out of it. But when you find the right one, you’ll know. It’s a connection you start to have. It almost feels like a friendship. You feel like they are on the journey with you, and that they actually care about seeing you move forward.
You have to feel safe. And they have to try to understand you, not judge you and give you room to express your feelings.
After you get comfortable with someone, it doesn’t feel like a therapist-client relationship. It feels like an ally. Like having someone in your corner.
Even if you see your therapist multiple times per week, there will still be waiting periods. Sessions will blow by, and you won’t be able to continue your thoughts until the next time you meet.
A standard therapy session is fifty minutes long. That always felt short to me, but there are practical and psychological reasons for this:
- Therapists need time to prepare for their next client
- Clients have to get back to their jobs, families, etc.
- If you’re exploring something painful, the time limit reminds the client that they won’t be in that place forever.
- It encourages good use of time so that the client will get to the most important topics.
You likely won’t be getting to the bottom of things in one session, and the wait between sessions will be difficult. When I was at my worst, I remember having “just make it to Wednesday” weeks.
When you’re hurting all the time, it will take endurance to hold out until the next session. But if it’s truly an emergency, you can always try and schedule sooner.
Trial and Error
Therapists are equipped with tools and techniques for alleviating pain and revealing what your problems are. They analyze you in ways that you aren’t aware of. Even talking about what you had for breakfast gives them clues as to how to treat you.
But the things they try might not work, or might not be relevant to you and your needs. You don’t know what will help until you try it, that’s the trick. It can feel like taking shots in the dark.
Don’t get discouraged if you invest time into a technique that doesn’t work for you. You need to be honest with your therapist and let them know if you feel like you’re moving in the wrong direction.
But then again, maybe you aren’t, and you just haven’t realized where they are taking you yet.
If you stick with it long enough, change will occur.
Therapy can be expensive, especially when you don’t have insurance. Not all therapists use the same insurance providers. But you’ll know what they offer once they give you the initial call.
During the call, they ask you what you’re struggling with to see if you are a “good fit” for them. When I did it, I was not in the mood to tell my life story to a stranger over the phone.
But all you have to do is say something generic like, “I’m feeling too anxious lately” or “ I’ve felt depressed and down on myself for a while now.”
If you’re leery about the cost, then consider what you could get out of this process. Consider it like earning your degree in self-knowledge. It’s an investment in wellbeing, and that could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make.
Opening Up and Trusting
People who aren't keen on going to therapy often dismiss therapists as quacks. They don’t need anyone’s help. They don’t need someone to coddle them and tell them nothing is their fault. It’s an overpriced scam.
These people are probably just afraid of opening up.
That is one of the toughest parts of therapy or any relationship. Eventually, you have to reveal yourself. You have to wince and say what is truly bothering you. Exposing your emotions like this feels like jumping into a frigid lake. But it’s the only way you can make progress in my opinion.
You need to trust that this person has your best interest in mind. You need to believe that therapists don’t get into their profession because they like to make people suffer.
You need to believe that no matter how bizarre you think your problem is, a therapist will hear you out without judgment and guide you in the right direction. Give them your rough edges, and then you can get better as a team.
Going to Therapy Is Worth It
Being mentally unwell has become the norm in 2021, and not the exception. So it matters when people take steps to figure themselves out. Healing the world starts with the individual.
Therapy is a long trip. You probably won’t see significant changes until you’ve invested serious time into it.
But the results will prove to you that things can be different. That hope didn’t disappear. You’re up to the challenge. It’s worth it.