Beginning Therapy

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It’s not too difficult to  find a therapist but it can be difficult to know if you’ve found one who is right for you.  The first step is often going on the internet and looking at Psychology Today, Therapy for Black Girls or other therapist directories.  After you find a therapist it’s important to see if they are the right fit for you.  Here are some questions to ask yourself  to see if you’ve found the right therapist for yourself.

1. What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist? Do you feel safe and comfortable?  Is the person down-to-earth and easy to relate to or does he or she feel cold and emotionally removed?  Is the therapist arrogant?   If a therapist  doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s okay; there’s absolutely no contract or rule requiring you to continue working with any therapist. However,  If you find yourself reacting negatively to every therapist you see, then the issue could be yours and may warrant your sticking it out with a therapist in an effort to work through your fears  of beginning therapy.

2. What’s the therapist’s general philosophy and approach to helping? Does your therapist  approach people in a compassionate and optimistic way? Does he or she believe humans are born loving and lovable?

3. Can the therapist clearly define how he or she can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy?  A therapist should be able to  explain how they can help and  be able  to give you a basic “road map,” to their approach.

4. Can your  therapist accept feedback and admit mistakes? A good therapist  is open to feedback and to learning that something he or she said hurt or offended you. Good therapists are willing to look at themselves and to honestly and openly admit mistakes.

5. Does the therapist  encourage dependence or independence? Therapy doesn’t solve your problems; it helps you to solve your own.  Therapy doesn’t soothe your overwhelming feelings; it helps you learn to soothe your own feelings.  If your therapist never encourages you to access your own resources, it is more likely you will become dependent on your therapist to help you feel better, rather than learning to depend on yourself.

6. Does the therapist have experience helping others with the particular issues for which you are seeking therapy? The more experience a therapist has addressing a particular issue, concern, or problem area, the more expertise they have developed.

9. Does the therapist make guarantees or promises? It’s important for a therapist to provide hope but not give  absolute unconditional guarantees.

10. Is the therapist  licensed? Licensure means  that a therapist has engaged in postgraduate counseling experience which, depending on the state of licensure, may include up to 3,000 hours of required supervised experience. It also means the therapist has passed a licensing exam. There are many unlicensed therapists who have years of experience and do excellent work, but licensed therapists  have (generally but not always) undergone more extensive supervision than unlicensed counselors. You can contact your state professional licensing board to verify the licensure of a provider.

11. Have any complaints been filed with the board? To see if a therapist has a record or is under investigation, you can check with your state licensing board for their profession.

Remember the most important thing is the relationship, if you feel comfortable and have a good rapport with your therapist then you know you’ve found the one for you.

Misconceptions about People who go to Therapy

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“Talk to your family and friends, why are paying someone to talk to you”.  “Are you crazy or something?”  These are phrases people often say to others when they hear that you’re seeing a  therapist.   Many people won’t seek therapy because they don’t want to be labeled as “crazy”.   Therefore in order to shed light on the truth about seeing a therapist and raise awareness, I’ve  complied a list of things you shouldn’t assume about people who go to therapy.

1. They’re weak.

Going to therapy is a very courageous and strong thing to do.  You have  to be open to facing every corner of your mind and heart and be completely open about fears, truths and experiences in order to really get the most of what a therapist can offer. This requires strength.  You need strength  in order to explore your own emotional and mental limits and boundaries, strength to be guided in directions you wouldn’t go and strength to learn and actively seek a better place.

2. They’re crazy.

Whether someone  is suffering from a mental illness or seeking help for overwhelming feelings/thoughts, “crazy” is never an appropriate term.

 

3.  Therapy is for rich people.

Therapy can be expensive, but there are different ways to pay for therapy.  Many therapists accept insurance and some have sliding fee scales.  Also Open Path Collective can connect you to therapists who charge between $30-$50 per session.

4. They have no friends.

Therapy is not a replacement for friendship, and a therapist is not a friend. Friendships are two-way streets, which can cause a very biased view of experiences and circumstances; therapy is a one-sided relationship with a professional who has the skills to guide and help you through your struggles and needs.  Most of my clients have many friends who love and care for them.

 

5.  They’re in a bad “place.”

Someone  does not need to be in a “bad” or “dangerous” place to see a therapist.  There’s usually a catalyst for deciding to go, but it could be a culmination of experiences or feelings, not necessarily that something bad recently happened to you.

6. There’s a set time frame for being in therapy.

Some people go to therapy for years while some only go for a few months to work on a specific issue.  The client and therapist will decide together an appropriate plan for treatment.

7.  They’re  on medication.

It’s common for people to believe that if you’re in therapy, you must be on medication.  While some people who are in therapy are also taking medication, many are not taking any medication.  Most of my clients in my practice do not take medication.

8. Their  therapist tells them what to do and what to think.

A therapist is there to help you  uncover your strengths, work through your struggles and help  you to lead a healthier, happier life not tell you  what to do.

 

It’s my hope that these common misconceptions will change and people will feel less ashamed about going to therapy.  Remember there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help.

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Finding a Therapist

Sometimes finding the right therapist for you can be a long process and sometimes you will find the right person right away.  It’s important to find someone you trust who makes you feel cared for and has the experience to help you make changes for the better in your life.
Talking about your thoughts and feelings with a supportive person makes you feel better. It can be very healing, in and of itself, to voice your worries or talk about something that’s weighing on your mind. And it feels good to be listened to—to know that someone else cares about you and wants to help.  It can be very helpful to talk about your problems to close friends and family members. But sometimes, we need help that the people around us aren’t able to provide. When you need extra support, an outside perspective, or some expert guidance, talking to a therapist  can help.

 

Myths about therapy

  • I don’t need a therapist. I’m smart enough to solve my own problems. We all have our blind spots. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. A good therapist doesn’t tell you what to do or how to live your life. He or she will give you an experienced outside perspective and help you gain insight into yourself so you can make better choices.
  • Therapy is for crazy people. Therapy is for people who have enough self-awareness to realize they need a helping hand, and want to learn tools and techniques to become more self-confident and emotionally balanced.
  • All therapists want to talk about is my parents. While exploring family relationships can sometimes clarify thoughts and behaviors later in life, that is not the sole focus of therapy. The primary focus is what you need to change unhealthy patterns and symptoms in your life. Therapy is not about blaming your parents or dwelling on the past.
  • Therapy is self-indulgent. It’s for whiners and complainers. Therapy is hard work. Complaining won’t get you very far. Improvement in therapy comes from taking a hard look at yourself and your life, and taking responsibility for your own actions. Your therapist will help you, but ultimately you’re the one who must do the work.

Finding the right therapist for you

. The connection you have with your therapist is essential. You need someone who you can trust—someone you feel comfortable talking to about difficult subjects and intimate secrets, someone who will be a partner in your recovery.

  • Experience matters. One of the main reasons for seeing a therapist, rather than simply talking to a friend, is experience. Look for a therapist who is experienced in treating the problems that you have.  Experienced therapists have seen the problems you’re facing again and again, which broadens their view and gives them more insight.
  • Check licensing. Credentials aren’t everything, but if you’re paying for a licensed professional, make sure the therapist holds a current license and is in good standing with the state regulatory board. Regulatory boards vary by state and by profession. Also check for complaints against the therapist.
  • Trust your gut. Even if your therapist looks great on paper, if the connection doesn’t feel right—if you don’t trust the person or feel like they truly care—go with another choice. A good therapist will respect this choice and should never pressure you or make you feel guilty.

What’s most important in a therapist  is a sense of connection, safety, and support. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it seem like the therapist truly cares about you and your problems?
  • Do you feel as if the therapist understands you?
  • Does the therapist accept you for who you are?
  • Would you feel comfortable revealing personal information to this individual?
  • Do you feel as if you can be honest and open with this therapist? That you don’t have to hide or pretend you’re someone that you’re not?
  • Is the therapist a good listener? Does he or she listen without interrupting, criticizing, or judging? Pick up on your feelings and what you’re really saying? Make you feel heard?

Types of  therapists

 

The following types of mental health professionals have advanced training in therapy and are licensed.

Common types of mental health professionals
Psychologist Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) and are licensed in clinical psychology.
Social worker Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) have a Master’s degree in social work (MSW) along with additional clinical training.
Marriage and family therapist Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) have a Master’s degree and clinical experience in marriage and family therapy.
Psychiatrist A psychiatrist is a physician (M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in mental health. Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medication. Psychiatrist generally do not provide therapy but provide medication management and you will see a different therapist.

What to expect in therapy or counseling

Every therapist is different, but there are usually some similarities to how therapy is structured. Normally, sessions will last about an hour, and often be about once a week, although for more intensive therapy they maybe more often.

  • Expect a good fit between you and your therapist. Don’t settle for bad fit. You may need to see one or more therapists until you experience feeling understood and accepted.
  • Therapy is a partnership. Both you and your therapist contribute to the healing process. You’re not expected to do the work of recovery all by yourself, but your therapist can’t do it for you either. Therapy should feel like a collaboration.
  • Therapy will not always feel pleasant. Painful memories, frustrations or feelings might surface. This is a normal part of therapy and your therapist will guide you through this process. Be sure to communicate with your therapist about how you are feeling.
  • Therapy should be a safe place. While there will be times when you’ll feel challenged or when you’re facing unpleasant feelings, you should always feel safe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or you’re dreading your therapy sessions, talk to your therapist.

Your first therapy sessions

The first session or two of therapy is a time for mutual connection, a time for the therapist to learn about you and your issues. The therapist may ask for a mental and physical health history.

It’s also a good idea to talk to the therapist about what you hope to achieve in therapy. Together, you can set goals and benchmarks that you can use to measure your progress along the way.

This is also an important time for you to be evaluating your connection with your therapist. Do you feel like your therapist cares about your situation, and is invested in your recovery? Do you feel comfortable asking questions and sharing sensitive information? Remember, your feelings as well as your thoughts are important, so if you are feeling uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to consider another therapist.

 

Making the most of therapy

To make the most of therapy, you need to put what you’re learning in your sessions into practice in your real life. 50 minutes in therapy each week isn’t going to fix you; it’s how you use what you’ve learned with the rest of your time. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your therapy:

  • Don’t expect the therapist to tell you what to do. You and your therapists are partners in your recovery. Your therapist can help guide you and make suggestions for treatment, but only you can make the changes you need to move forward.
  • Make a commitment to your treatment. Don’t skip sessions unless you absolutely have to. If your therapist gives you homework in between sessions, be sure to do it. If you find yourself skipping sessions or are reluctant to go, ask yourself why. Are you avoiding painful discussion? Did last session touch a nerve? Talk about your reluctance with your therapist.
  • Share what you are feeling. You will get the most out of therapy if you are open and honest with your therapist about your feelings. If you feel embarrassed or ashamed, or something is too painful to talk about, don’t be afraid to tell your therapist. Slowly, you can work together to get at the issues.

Remember your therapist is there to help you and it’s important to find the right person for you.