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From the Readers: Questions About Going to Therapy

I missed posting this for Mental Health Awareness Month back in May, but I figure that the purpose of my blog is to generate awareness around mental health year-round.

Last month I gave some of my followers an opportunity to ask questions anonymously about going to therapy using a Google form I had created. My hope was that if anyone out there felt hesitant about going to therapy, they could ask a question and I (a frequent therapy goer) or my husband, Dean (a licensed therapist) could answer it.

We answered the same question separately from each other, so you may see a little overlap in our advice below.

The question I want to focus on in this post is:

How do you “try out” a therapist to see if they are a good fit without having to retell your trauma every time?

My perspective:

  • Choose a therapist recommended by a trusted friend – this is how we found our current therapist, a close friend highly recommended her, and it turns out she was (and is) truly amazing. If you don’t know anyone personally who has a therapist they can recommend, at least do some research on the therapist and counseling center before arriving. Look at their website, read reviews, etc.
  • Use your first few sessions to develop trust – your first therapy session can be somewhat like an interview to see how well you and the therapist interact together. Ask them questions (ask about their style of therapy, if they have any specialties, or how long they’ve been practicing). Keep the session light until you feel comfortable sharing more deeply.
  • Remember you are in control of how much you share at any given time – even if the therapist point-blank asks you a question, you have the option to decline to answer or only share a limited amount of information. You are not obligated to say anything you don’t want to. You are paying them for their services, and a good therapist will try to accommodate you (especially if they want you to keep paying for their services).
  • Speak up if you feel uncomfortable or need to say “no” – it may feel unnatural to do, but be very clear if you feel uncomfortable at any moment during the therapy session. The last thing a therapist would want is to cause more harm/trauma to you, they are there to help. Be vocal about your needs, and if you need to say “no,” say it (you can still be polite while expressing your needs.)

Dean’s (LMFT) perspective:

  • Look up the therapist online (and/or their practice) to see what their philosophy and experience is – therapists will often post some information about themselves, and this can give you a clue to see if they might be a good fit with your own particular worldview.
  • Call the site where they practice (if they practice in a group) and indicate the basics of what kind of help you are seeking without sharing your particular story of trauma – this can look like calling a Private Practice site and saying, “I am looking for help with <substance abuse> or <a history of trauma>”.  Feel free to share as much as you are comfortable with, such as sharing a general outline of trauma <divorce, grief and loss, sexual trauma>.  You can let the intake specialist know what kind of therapist you think would be beneficial for you (male v. female, etc).  
  • Request to do an interview with a therapist – this can be a shorter timeframe (15-30 minutes) and not every practice may do it, but you can specifically request this and be explicit that you are just wanting to see if the therapist would be a good fit. You would probably pay out of pocket for this time, but different therapists might approach this differently. 
  • Don’t answer questions if you are not comfortable sharing – if you do attend a traditional therapy appointment and you don’t feel comfortable answering all of their questions, or if you are wanting to go slow, just say that. You can be up front about wanting the process to move slower to make sure that the therapist is a good fit. 

I hope this information will be helpful to those who are beginning to seek out mental health services. Healing from trauma can be a slow process, and so it’s really important to find a therapist that you like and trust, and that you also don’t mind seeing often. Unfortunately sometimes, despite our best intentions, it still takes a few tries to find the right therapist. Hopefully these suggestions, at the very least, can minimize any unnecessary retelling of trauma and make you feel more empowered as you look to start therapy.

Thanks for reading.

For any other questions you’d like to submit anonymously regarding therapy, feel free to do that here.

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