So you think you want to go to therapy?

One of the things I intentionally do is talk about therapy and how helpful it can be. In faith communities and especially in black faith communities, mental illness and it’s treatment are still highly stigmatized. We tend to try to pray away our emotional concerns, or go to pastors and other faith leaders for a quick fix. While these are good steps, some issues also require the attention of a professional. So how do you know when it’s time to seek out a professional? Here’s a list of signs it might be time:
– if you’ve been tired, sad, nervous, overwhelmed, or “off” for more than a couple weeks and nothing seems to help
-if you notice you have difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach issues, or problems with concentration that can’t be explained
– if you are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in your relationships
– if you are having difficulty managing the different tasks in your life
– if you have frequent crying spells, find your self lashing out at others, or have noticed an increase in substance use in an attempt to cope

These are just a few; the reasons I hear most often. But I should probably provide a disclaimer here: I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO THERAPY. Everyone. EVERYONE! Whether your concerns are mild, moderate, or severe, therapy can be helpful for you. One of the great gifts of therapy is that it is an invitation to take a brief hiatus from the hustle and bustle of your life and dedicate an hour of time totally to yourself. You get the opportunity to sit with a person who cares about you, but who won’t share their opinions, tell your business, or insert their own desires in the way they provide support. I can’t think of another place in life where all those things come together. It’s a peculiar and wonderful space! Yet, I understand how scary it is to enter a room with a stranger and bare your soul in such a way. So, I honor that it is a big decision and thought it might be helpful to demystify the process.

First, do some introspective work.

Why do you want to go to therapy? What do you want to get out of it? Ask yourself: If I woke up tomorrow and things were all better, what would be different? What would be the signs that my life had taken a shift?

Your answer to this question is the beginning of your goals for counseling. It’s ok if it’s not crystal clear, but it’s important to have at least a sense of where you want to go. Once you have at least a vague goal in mind, it’s time to begin to search for a therapist. Some logistical questions to consider:

– if you have health insurance, does it cover mental health (behavioral health)? Do you have a deductible that requires out of pocket payments before sessions will be covered? How much is your copay per session? Call your insurance company (or check online) for a list of therapists who accept your insurance. This gives you a place to start.

– if you don’t have insurance, how much can you afford to pay? Frequency of therapy is variable- you can go weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, depending on what you need and how much you can afford.

– what characteristics of a therapist would help you to feel ready? Similarities in gender, race, or religious affiliation? Maybe you can check with a pastor or a friend to ask for a referral

-Do your research: Just like dating, or finding the right furniture, or buying a new car, it’s helpful to get some information before you make a decision. One of my favorite websites is PsychologyToday.com because you can search by a myriad of characteristics and specialty areas, as well as insurance provider. In addition, you can hear, in the therapist’s own words, what they believe about therapy and how they like to help people get better.

Once you decide on a therapist, take a deep breath, and give them a call. You may have to call multiple people- sometimes people aren’t accepting new patients, or maybe your schedules don’t align. That’s ok! Keep making calls until you find someone. Most clinicians will be happy to answer a couple of questions over the phone- how the process will go, what the first session will be like, how you can pay, or something of the sort.

At your first appointment, you will have paperwork to fill out, just like when you go to your medical doctor. Give yourself a few extra minutes to get all that done and arrive a little early to your appoinment. Generally the first session is focused on information gathering- there will be LOTS of questions- your therapist is just trying to get to know you! They may take notes, or have some papers they go through as you explain what’s going on with you. The goal is to get a good picture of how you’re functioning right now and where you want to go. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions about how the process will go, how your therapist does treatment, and what you should expect. At the beginning, you and the therapist are getting to know each other and getting comfortable with each other. The role of a client will be different than any other relationship you’ve had, because you won’t really know a lot about your therapist. While this may seem odd at first, it’s actually a good thing, because it keeps the sessions focused on you!

A note: At the beginning (and often throughout the process), therapy can bring up a lot of emotions. It’s normal for you to feel nervous, sad, or overwhelmed. We therapists have a special tool for if those feelings come up: TISSUES!! We are not scared of your emotions, you will not be “too much” for us, and we can handle it. That’s why we went to school! Remind yourself that discomfort can be a part of the process, and that it can produce change if you stick with it.

Therapy can be scary, but working with the right therapist is so worth it! If you’ve been wondering about it or considering a visit, take the plunge and make the call! It is a great step to take for you and your mental health. You deserve it!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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