I have been a self-proclaimed advocate for talk therapy since the first time I attended, back when I was in college. That weekly 45 minutes gave me dedicated time to talk about myself without an ounce of guilt. I loved it. I saw a counselor for a few months through my university, and it helped me work through the stresses that come with being a college-aged kid dealing with lots of change.
Fast forward five, ten and now 13 years since my last session, and I hadn’t been back to therapy since. It’s not that I was “okay” all that time either – my twenties were a time of more change, and with it came loss, stress, and feelings of anxiety and depression. On countless occasions, I searched my insurance’s website to identify potential doctors, but I never made an appointment or followed through. I became the cliche of dealing with my feelings through other coping mechanisms. And, as much as I love to run, talk to my mom, and drink wine, none of those are substitutes for therapy. Something had to change, and that shift came this spring when I finally scheduled my first appointment.
Taking a real step towards my mental health care was empowering and I’ve consequently been intentionally up front about it. I’m tired of the stigma surrounding the subject and I believe that my openness helps combat that notion. On the flip side, I also need to be held accountable. Putting it out there that I’m seeing a therapist helps me stick with it and do the work. Just like I need accountability buddies to get me to the gym, every person I tell about therapy is another friend to motivate me to show up.
Being open also leads to questions from my family and friends. If you have a friend in therapy or if you’re on the fence about therapy, we may share some of the same questions.
Q: Are you having a particularly hard time right now – is that why you started therapy?
A: Yes. And no. I’ve been flirting with therapy for years. I finally made good on my intentions when at a routine physical exam, I told my practitioner that I sometimes get chest pain when I’m stressed out. When she heard that, she immediately asked me if I was treating my anxiety with therapy. Since I was not, she asked if it was something I would be interested in, and I said yes.
Q: How did you find your therapist?
A: My doctor referred me to a therapist during that same physical exam. There are a lot of ways to find someone to talk to, but something about getting a referral helped me seal the deal. I called her and scheduled an initial appointment. Here are additional ways you can find a therapist.
Q: How did you know your therapist was right for you? And what do I do if mine isn’t?
A: I’m lucky that I synced with the therapist to whom I was referred pretty quickly. It was part gut feeling, part realizing that the way she conducts our sessions just clicked with me. If you’re seeing someone and your instincts are telling you that they aren’t a good match for your care, don’t be afraid to let them know that you’re not going to continue treatment and seek out someone who is a better fit. This article has some advice for knowing if your therapist is a good fit for you.
Q: How are you fitting therapy appointments in with your work schedule?
A: I told my boss that I was getting help for my mental health, and that I had scheduled a weekly appointment. I told her because I needed to be able to prioritize my standing sessions and didn’t want to skirt around why I was out of the office. My manager is awesome and empathetic and I didn’t think twice about telling her, and I know I’m lucky.
Remember, who you tell about your life choices is a personal call. If you’re not comfortable sharing your treatment plan or you just don’t feel like talking about it, you don’t need to give a reason to your manager about why you’ll be out. Use personal leave, paid time off, or schedule your sessions around your required hours. Talk to your HR rep if you’re not sure how to handle. Many therapists also offer nighttime and weekend appointments.
Q: How did you know what to talk about at your first appointment?
A: I didn’t! I felt awkward and started babbling about my family. I looked at my hands a lot, and followed my stream of consciousness. Eventually, I talked through my thoughts and we started to make progress and pick up on themes. Now, we sometimes even make plans for what to discuss at my next session. If you feel weird, be gentle with yourself. You’ll get there.
Chances are, most therapists will use your first session as an informational session where they learn about your history and background. Looking for more advice on your first session? Learn more about what to expect.