7 Questions To Ask Before Starting Therapy

At one point in the U.S. (not too long ago, TBH) common mental health treatments — like psychotherapy or medication — were thought of as taboo. Though stigma surrounding mental health treatment persists in many ways, more people are beginning to seek therapy to help manage mental health issues, develop new skills, and facilitate personal growth. In fact, a study conducted in 2004 estimated that 59 million Americans had received therapy within the past two years. While therapy is particularly useful for people with mental health disorders, the benefits of it go way beyond managing anxiety and depression or processing trauma. Therapy can help you identify new coping skills, ease physical symptoms caused by stress, give you new perspective, work through relationship issues, and more.

Basically, therapy is all about helping you heal, grow, and feel good. And, choosing the right therapist for the right reasons is an essential component to ensuring your therapy is productive. Of course, therapy requires that you put in time and effort, but having the right therapist can sure make the healing process feel much more effortless. If you are unsure of where to start, or what exactly you are looking for in a mental health professional, here are seven things to ask yourself before starting therapy.

1What Do You Want To Achieve In Therapy?

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Therapy can help you accomplish all sorts of things when it comes to your mental health, and personal development. However, before you choose a therapist, it's important to identify what you hope to gain from going to therapy in the first place. Do you want to learn new coping mechanisms, or how to practice mindfulness? Do you want to gain skills to better deal with interpersonal conflict that arises at work, or among family members? By understanding your therapeutic goals, you can more efficiently work to find a mental health professional or treatment option — such as group therapy — best suited to help you accomplish them.

2What Kind Of Therapy Works Best For You?

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Many people benefit from standard talk therapy, which is what most people think of when they think "therapy," but that doesn't mean it's necessarily the right option for you. Before choosing a therapist — especially if you've previously found talk therapy to be unsuccessful — research your different options for therapies. Art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and movement therapy are all very different from regular old talk therapy, but they could prove to be just as beneficial for some people. Your primary care physician can help you weed through your options, or, if you have the resources, consider trying different kinds until you discover which one is the best fit for you and your mental health needs. Which brings us to...

3Can You Afford It?

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Paying for therapy out-of-pocket can be rather pricey; The Mobilizing Minds Research Group estimates therapy without insurance can cost anywhere on average between $50 and $240 for one-hour sessions. If you have insurance, you almost certainly should consider choosing a mental health professional who accepts your plan to save money, though many therapists don't take insurance full stop. If you are uninsured, research your low-cost treatment options, such as a virtual therapist, and reach out to local organizations — like your regional National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter — to connect you with therapists who won't break your budget.

4How Often Do You Need To Attend Therapy?

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The amount you can afford to spend on therapy will vary greatly depending on how often you need a session. This will likely come up as you consult with a potential therapist, but it's important to have an idea in mind as you're looking for therapists and treatment modes. Also to keep in mind: when are you able to attend therapy? Would your workplace be supportive of your taking time during the workday to attend therapy, or do you need to schedule your appointments either early in the morning, or late in the afternoon? It's important to find a therapist that is able to accommodate your schedule, in addition to checking the other boxes on your list.

5Do you have personal preferences?

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And here's a big one: what are your personal preferences when it comes to therapy? If you have a gender preference — for whatever reason — it's OK to put in a request to see a specific doctor. If you don't feel comfortable seeing a counselor at a clinic that's affiliated with a religion, it's OK to seek out a different mental health professional. Therapy is practically pointless if you do not feel safe opening up to your therapist, so do not be wary of stating your needs in the process of finding a therapist.

6What Style Of Therapy Are You Looking For?

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Therapists are people like everyone else, meaning, they all have individual styles, and unique ways of engaging their patients. As Therese Borchard, the Founder of Project Hope & Beyond, explained in an article for Everyday Health, a "key distinction is whether a therapist is 'directive' or 'non-directive,' which is fancy talk for a leader or follower. [...] directive appeals to some, while non-directive appeals to others." Figuring out what style of therapy is most effective for you, and your mental health treatment, may help you determine which therapist will be the one for you.

7What Is Your Potential Therapist's Training In?

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According to Mental Health America (MHA), there are over two hundred diagnosable mental health disorders. So, it's super important to find a therapist that specializes in the area you'd like to work on. For example, if you are dealing with PTSD, try to find a therapist who has special certifications related to trauma therapy. If you're looking to improve interpersonal skills, you can seek out a family or relationships counselor. This may make the process of therapy go much smoother, since your counselor will already have a broad idea of what you may be experiencing, and how to manage it.

Most of all, don't be afraid to speak up if you feel like the mental health professional you initially chose is no longer a good match. Every few months, try to take some time to reflect on your progress in therapy every few months, and reevaluate your answers to most of these questions. It's OK to make changes to your treatment plan, and to find that your needs change as you go through your treatment. But it's important to know what you're going for when you start out, to set yourself up for success.