If you've never been to therapy before, it can be pretty intimidating. Even if it's not your first time, just starting with a new therapist can be enough to talk yourself out of going.
If you're dealing with mental health difficulties, it's even harder to conjure up the motivation to drag yourself out of the house, over to a stranger's office, and talk to them about things that are too painful to even think about. You may have even cringed just reading that.
Here are 7 tips and things to know before you go to help make this easier:
1. There are other ways to do therapy than your typical sit-on-the-couch-and-talk type. Some therapists do walk-and-talks, which just means your session can be done while walking with them. Others provide tele-therapy, which can be done from the comfort of your own home via secure video conferencing. Others provide music therapy, art therapy, bibliotherapy, sand tray therapy, yoga therapy, animal-assisted therapy, or have the credentials to provide ear acupuncture (acudetox). There's also Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which mimics REM sleep to work through distressing memories, and is particularly helpful for the stuff that's just too painful to sit in and talk about for very long. There are so many options out there, so find someone who provides what you need!
2. Your therapist has probably also been in your shoes. Most therapists have also had therapists, and may even currently. And that's a good thing! It means they are invested in being the best person they can be, and are working through their own crap in an appropriate setting so it doesn't impact you. After all, we are human too, and sometimes life is just hard. It's perfectly healthy for anyone and everyone to seek help getting through the yucky stuff sometimes. It also means your therapist knows what it feels like to be in your position, and can appreciate how uncomfortable it can sometimes be, especially when starting off with someone new.
3. Your therapist does not expect anything from you. If you feel like crap, think you look like crap, or have a crappy attitude--that's okay. We aren't judging you. You don't have to put a happy face on for us like you might feel obligated to at work or around friends.
4. Similarly, you don't have to be concerned about us or feel obligated to make us feel good. Really. This even means that if we are not the right fit for you, yes, you can tell us. In fact, please do! You don't have to worry about sparing our feelings. Likewise if we tick you off, or said something that bothered or upset you. Once again, we are human, and sometimes we mess up. But the last thing we want to do is make you feel worse, so let us know if something isn't working. We won't take offense.
5. Your therapist should make you feel comfortable, and set the parameters of what to expect. It shouldn't be a guessing game. They are obligated to tell you about the limits of confidentiality. They should be able to explain the modalities and therapeutic techniques they use. They need to explain their credentials and scope of practice. They should model good boundaries and keep the focus on you. They are required to keep up on recent relevant literature, and to continue to attend continuing education trainings, conferences, and workshops. They should be able to refer you to outside resources that may be beneficial to you, particularly if you request it.
6. Please give us feedback. It helps us know what works for you, and what doesn't. If you're thinking about ghosting us--disappearing without a trace--please don't. We would like the opportunity to discuss your needs, learn how we can improve, and provide referrals for another therapist that might be a better fit, if that is what you would like.
7. On that note... all therapists should be open to feedback. And they certainly should not guilt you or otherwise make you feel bad for providing it. If they do, however, definitely do not hesitate to find a new therapist. And contact their licensing board if you feel they have violated their ethical duty.