So, you’re thinking about going to therapy — what are you supposed to do next? We got in touch with Registered Psychologist Sean Keating to ask his advice. Sean has been a practicing psychologist for six years, and currently works as an early psychosis clinician. He focuses on early intervention for young people between the ages of 12-25 who have experienced their first episode of psychosis, or are at an ultra high risk of developing psychosis.
We asked him for his advice on how to find a therapist, what to do if you’re not connecting, and how to get the most out of therapy.
Tell us, how do you know if therapy is for you?
I think the biggest problem in mainstream mental health at the moment is stigma. We’ve drawn a line in the sand where if you show vulnerability or cracks in your ability to function as a human, then you’re not of sound mind, or — the cringeworthy statement I hear quite often — “you’re weak.” It’s not true.
Finding an outlet for your thoughts and feelings is important. If you find it hard to resolve a problem you’re having, it can help to talk to someone independent of your own life who might be able to provide strategies to help. You might also think of it this way: When you have a physical ailment, you generally attend to it by seeing a medical doctor. My thoughts are that if your head is bothering you, why not approach it in the same way with someone who works in mental health?
Once you’ve decided you’re ready to speak to someone, what should be your first steps?
- Talk to someone you know: If you know someone who has a therapist, ask them about their experience. You might feel comfortable seeing the same professional — it can humanize the process knowing that someone you’re familiar with has benefited from seeing that particular therapist. You can also check in with your primary care doctor and ask about local mental health providers.
(Tip: More than 1,300 PatientsLikeMe members living with MDD have tried therapy — connect with them here.)
- Search online: If you’re not ready to talk with your friends or family about your decision to seek therapy yet, check out online resources like Psychology Today. If you have an understanding of what the problem is – feeling depressed or anxious, or both, or wanting to resolve a traumatic experience from the past – you can look online for a professional in your location that specializes in that area.
- Ask your insurance provider: You can ask your insurance company to provide you with a list of in-network mental health providers that you can contact – they’re not always perfectly up-to-date, but they’re usually a good place to start.
The takeaway here is to take the plunge and contact a professional. It can be daunting at first, but ultimately it’s just two people sitting in a room, having a chat to see if they can work together to solve a problem.
What if you’ve gone to your first session with a therapist, but you’re not sure you’re connecting with them? What should you do?
It’s important to talk to someone you’re comfortable with, because it’s hard to trust someone you have trouble relating to. Although you’re most likely going to feel uncomfortable for the first few sessions, you should trust your intuition. And if you don’t feel like you can open up to a particular therapist, don’t feel bad about seeking out other options.
If your options are limited, whether by insurance, your location or something else, you are free to discuss what’s not working with your therapist. It’s a collaborative effort; you can work towards connecting in a way that is beneficial for both sides. Also, don’t forget that there are online options available now (telepsychology). If you can’t find someone you’re connecting with in person, try going virtual.
What type of therapy do you need?
That’s something that you and your provider can work together to decide. Different therapies work for different people, but here are a few basics:
- If you’d like to work on changing your current behavior, or work on breaking bad patterns, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly endorsed type, and most therapists are trained in this approach.
- If you’re looking to resolve past conflict or trauma, and you think there are some unconscious motivations behind your behavior, you might want to look into psychodynamic psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis. These tend to be longer-term approaches that usually go for two or more years.
There’s also group therapy, marital and family therapy and lots of other approaches to therapy. And don’t worry if you’re not sure — I think that trust and rapport with your therapist are often just as valuable as the therapeutic style. I’ve found that the most effective therapy sessions occur when you click with the other human being in the room.
Do you have any advice for someone who has decided to seek out therapy?
Approach it with an open mind. It’s challenging to talk about your vulnerabilities, but I’ve found it very healthy to verbalize my problems. The most important thing about seeing a counsellor or psychologist is that you feel compatible, that you click at some level. This is most likely going to strengthen your rapport and ultimately promote a more healthy and honest dialogue.
What if you’re not ready for therapy?
If you’re not comfortable speaking to a stranger about personal things (understandably), try to find some effective outlets in your life like exercising more or making time for a hobby you used to enjoy. It can be the little things that help the most sometimes.
To speak with others who’ve tried therapy, Join the PatientsLikeMe community and start a conversation.
Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.