Millions of people around the globe are impacted by some sort of mental illness. In the United States, due to the lessening of social stigma around mental illness and better access to a more diversified spectrum of professionals for some social groups, the number of American of all ages visiting therapists has been on the rise.
However, there are a few factors you’ll need to consider before calling up and booking your first appointment. Here, we will break some of those down for you step by step, letting you know exactly when you’re ready to work with a therapist.
Think About Your Goals, Expectations for Treatment
Before you ever take your first step on the journey to finding the right therapist, you’ll want to do some thinking about your goals and what you’re hoping to get out of treatment. If you’re looking to talk about trust issues, past trauma or even just looking to get some stuff off your chest or have a “get my head straight” kind of talk, make sure you have a clear goal in mind. And, it’s okay if your goal is relieving acute stress, anxiety, or depression.
Mental health professionals are good at their jobs, but they’re certainly not mind readers. Having a clear intention for your treatment will go a long way.
“A question that you may be asked is, ‘What do you want to achieve through therapy?’ So you might want to give that a little thought,” Arlene B. Englander, q licensed clinical social worker, said. “The clearer you are, the easier it will be for the therapist to be able to know whether they’ll be able to help you achieve your goals.”
You’ll also want to consider what your expectations for your treatment would be. It’s much easier to keep a clear line of communication with a therapist helping you if you know your goals and expectations for treatment and voice them openly.
If mental health treatment was as easy as a therapist snapping their fingers and immediately fixing your issues, we wouldn’t be seeing the massive spike in mental health diagnoses among our youngest generations. Healthy minds are not developed through quick fixes but through treatment and time.
Once you have your goals and expectations for your treatment in mind, the next step is to make sure you have the right one to work with.
Finding the Right Therapist
While this one might seem like a no-brainer, it can actually be much harder than you think to find a therapist that’s the right fit for you.
Those issues have led to the rise of companies like online therapy purveyors, TalkSpace and BetterHelp, allowing access to a licensed therapist via your smartphone. The American Psychology Association have even vouched for it.
A key aspect to successful therapy is making sure you and your therapist click. Someone going to therapy might be digging deep into long closed wounds or touching on some very difficult and personal subject matter, so you’ll want to make sure you feel you can be comfortable working with your therapist.
A great way to tell if you and your potential therapist will be a match is to ask for a free consultation either over the phone or in person.
Most therapists are happy to meet with potential clients to ask questions and get a feel for one another. Studies have shown that the client-therapist relationship needs to be a fruitful one for you to reap the benefits.
If you and your therapist feel comfortable together, you’ll schedule your next session and be on your way. If you don’t like the vibe between you and the therapist, you can always keep looking and the therapist is free to refer you to a colleague more suited to you. Having that first meeting is a win-win.
Scheduling Your First Appointment
Once you’ve done some internal digging and identified your goals, along with sitting down and figuring out which therapist you have the best connection with, your next step is the simplest one: make an appointment that works for you and your schedule.
The best thing you can do ahead of your first appointment is to keep in mind that your therapist is on your side.
“The best way to prepare for your first counselling session is to focus on the fact that the counsellor/therapist is there to help you,” says Psychotherapist Jeffrey Von Glahn. “That person is not there to expose your frailties, your weaknesses, your mistakes; to make you more fearful/anxious than you are already feeling. Perhaps most important is to know that once you open your mouth and start talking, your initial fears/anxieties will start to decrease, and rather quickly.”
Most importantly, keep in mind that it’s okay to communicate with a therapist if things aren’t working. They can adapt and change their approach or refer you to a colleague they think can help without your input. Keep a clear line of communication about your treatment with your therapist and you’ll get the best results.