Tips For First-Time Therapy Seekers

Seeking therapy is an incredibly brave step in actively addressing your mental health. But bridging that gap between deciding to pursue counseling and actually having a regular therapist can feel insurmountable, especially if you're already struggling. So here's how to find a therapist, or at least some tips to get you started.

I first sought therapy last year, after realizing that I was not, as I'd previously believed, "great at living in cold places" and was in fact "extremely sensitive to winter." I had recently moved to a new city, was living with strangers I'd found on Craigslist, and was isolated on a completely different work schedule than most of my friends. It became overwhelming, and for the first time in my life, I felt I needed some outside help in working through some stuff. So I sought that help.

The reason why I talk about this, and why I'm writing this article, is because finding help for any sort of mental health issues comes with the additional weight of stigma. People are afraid to talk about it because they worry it will mark them as damaged or "crazy," which ultimately renders resources invisible to some. But the fact of the matter is, whether they seek it or not, most people go through periods in their lives when therapy is beneficial and, frankly, necessary. Why remain miserable? Like, actually, though: Why do that to yourself? Why not pursue happiness? You deserve it. And if we working together, we can dismantle that stigma once and for all.

Be Honest With Yourself

Before seeking help, it's important to identify what, specifically, you're struggling with, be it depression, anxiety, obsessive tendencies, or low self-esteem. Getting that introspective and honest with yourself is not easy (it never is), but you can't find a solution without first identifying the problem. Break it down into bullet points, if you have to.

Do The Research

"Talking therapies" in which you speak one-on-one with a trained therapist cast a pretty wide net. The many available types of therapy generally fall under the umbrella of Psychotherapy (what you probably think of as talk therapy), but two of the most common schools of practice are Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Therapy. It may take some time to find the right fit for your needs. Clinical social workers, Ph.D. psychologists, PsyD. psychologists, counselors — all have completed different paths of training and are able to approach therapy with a multitude of skill sets. Do yourself a favor, and do the research.

Ask For Recommendations

Therapists know other therapists. Duh. Asking friends and family who see therapists if they'd be willing to ask for recommendations can sometimes be the little push you needed. If you're on this journey truly solo, then the Psychology Today database might be your best bet. It allows you to search by speciality, gender, location, type of therapy, degree, and accepted insurance. Other options might help you narrow down the field if you have specific needs — GLMA, for example, is a great resource for finding LGBTQ-friendly mental health care, and the soon-to-launch Genderis focuses on trans-friendly providers.

Utilize Your Insurance Company's Resources, If You Have One

Therapy is expensive; having insurance can make a huge difference. I know that dealing with your provider is an inherently stressful undertaking, but oftentimes companies will provide patients with a list of covered therapists.

Look Outside Traditional Options

If you don't have insurance, have limited coverage, or struggle with a co-pay fee, there are options outside the traditional psychologist's office. Many community health organizations offer counseling with a sliding scale payment model or a pay-what-you-can system. Additionally, if you live near a training hospital or major university, students in their final year of Ph.D. or PsyD. programs will oftentimes offer therapy at discounted rates.

Prepare Yourself For Frustration

Especially during the winter, offices and community health centers get extremely overwhelmed with people seeking help. Sometimes therapists aren't accepting new patients. Sometimes health centers have a waiting list. This is not a reflection on you. You're not alone in experiencing frustrations like this. I think I cold-called six therapists and centers in mid-January before finding someone. It's OK to feel frustrated; stick with it, though, because your health matters.

Be Ready For Your First Appointment

The first appointment with a new therapist can be draining. Like, always, to everyone. Oftentimes it involves talking about your issue big picture. That's scary! But the better your therapist understands you and your experiences, the better they can help you work through whatever it is you're currently struggling with.

Be Patient

Therapy is weird in that it's intensely individualistic. Therapists are not counseling machines; just like you don't click with every single person you meet in everyday life, you may not click with the first therapist you meet with. Or the second, or the third. But eventually, you'll find someone. I promise. And if you need to find someone else later on, that's OK, too.

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