Seeking support for mental health challenges for the first time can be nerve wracking. Navigating something so crucial alone can be overwhelming. You’re contacting a complete stranger whom you hope can help you work through the challenges you’re facing. So where do you start from? We have put together a few things that might help make starting therapy a little less daunting.
Looking for a Therapist/Professional Counselor
Once you have decided on starting therapy, you may do your own research or get a referral/recommendation from someone. Keep in mind that one person’s experience with a particular therapist may differ from another’s. Recommendations are not guarantees so it is important to manage your expectations. Your relationship with your therapist is important for your well-being. So, some factors you might want to consider when looking for a therapist include:
Before starting therapy you should consider your availability. What do your working hours look like? What are they times you have available to have sessions. Are weekends your only available times? Are you hoping to do bi-weekly, weekly, bi-montly or monthly sessions, and can your schedule accommodate that? If you prefer in-person sessions, consider travel time as well. Knowing this will help you prepare to ask about meeting times with the therapist/counselor.
Do you think you would feel more comfortable with a man, woman, or non-binary person? Are you flexible with this preference?
Do you want to work with someone older, younger, or around your age? Are you flexible with this preference?
Does it matter to you if the therapist has a particular religious affiliation? Are you flexible with this preference?
How far would you be willing to travel for in-person sessions?
What are options for meeting, online, in-person, phone, text?
Note that, while preferences are important in feeling comfortable with, and/or understood by your therapist, sometimes we can still get help from therapists who may not necessarily be our preference. It may be more important to get help than to wait for a long time because you haven’t found an exact match.
Many therapists provide free phone consultations to provide a chance to get acquainted and give you both the opportunity to ask and answer important questions. This helps determine if you can work together. The first question to ask is if they are taking on new clients currently. This is important because therapists/counselors typically actively work on a set number of cases at any given time.
Here are some questions you can ask during the initial phone consultation:
- How much are sessions? Can I pay in bulk? Do you have packages? Do you offer special discounts?
- Where are you located? Do you do virtual, phone or in-person sessions?
- What are your credentials and what do they mean for me?
- What are your specialty areas?
- Do you have experience working with people who have concerns like mine?
- How do you approach helping people? What forms of therapy do you use?
- Do you make treatment plans? If so, will you share mine with me?
- How do the sessions work with you? (How long is each appointment? What will we do?)
- How long might I be working with you? (How many sessions do people have with you?)
- Do you accept insurance?
- Do you have a religious affiliation? If so, how does it influence therapy?
The therapist/counselor will also ask you some questions as well. They may include:
- What is the issue you’re hoping to work on? (Or some variation of this)
- Have you been in therapy before?
- When are you hoping to start?
Finalizing before Starting Therapy
Once all questions have been asked and answered, if everything lines up you and your new therapist/counselor will schedule your sessions and begin meeting. If for some reason after the consultation you are unable to work together, you can ask for a referral to another good therapist/counselor. Remember to take your therapy seriously and avoid skipping sessions as much as possible. The tools you gain in the process will serve you for a lifetime.