Not all therapy experiences are alike, nor should they be. Answer these questions for yourself: What do you want out of therapy? This is important because a lot of the success between the therapist and client depends on your expectations and whether those expectations are compatible with what a therapist can and will provide.

Going to a therapist can be a worthwhile growing and stabilizing experience, good for times when you have specific problems, interpersonal problems, or generally feeling down. You can go to a therapist once, for a few months or embark on long-term therapy – each depends on different expectations and goals.

You don’t need to have a “major” problem to go to a therapist. Just feeling unable to deal with your problem or feeling unhappy makes you a good therapy candidate. But therapy should be viewed as a tool that can be used to work on even problems you consider “minor.” Some of the benefits from therapy include:

  • Attaining a better understanding of yourself, your goals, and your values
  • Developing skills for improving your relationships
  • Improving communication and listening skills
  • Finding resolutions to the issues or concerns that led you to seek therapy
  • Discovering new ways to solve problems in your family or relationship
  • Changing old behavior patterns and developing new ones
Everyone goes through challenging situations in life and, although you may have successfully dealt with other difficulties you’ve faced, there is nothing wrong with seeking out additional support if you need it. In fact, therapy is for people who have the self-awareness to realize that they need help, and that is something to be admired. Many people enjoy the opportunity to discuss their life situation with an objective person who has no personal involvement (as family and friends tend to have).
The cost of professional therapy services is an investment in your personal wellbeing. If you have insurance you should check and see if it covers therapy at all and what the limitations are. Limits sometimes include amount of times you can go to the therapist, the reasons you can go, co-payments, or what therapist they will pay for. Keep in mind that using your insurance means the therapist has to assign some type of formal mental health diagnosis that will remain in your insurance records. Sometimes insurance companies will request detailed records of your therapy sessions to continue approving payment of sessions, which means a loss of privacy for you. Some people decide that it is better to forgo using insurance and pay it alone. In that case you have more choice and more privacy. Some helpful questions to ask your insurance company are:

  • What are the mental health benefits of my plan?
  • How much does my insurance pay for an out-of-network provider?
  • Are there any limitations to my mental health benefits (number of sessions, types of issues addressed)?
  • Do I need a prior authorization to use my benefits? If so, how do I get that?
  • What is the coverage amount per therapy session?
The first visit is where you get to assess the therapist and they get to conduct an “intake” interview. In general, an intake session will go into further detail into the issues that are bringing you in for therapy as well as gathering some background information that may be relevant to your current issues. It is also important that you have in mind what you want to ask of your therapist in the session. Here are some suggestions of what to say or ask in an intake session:

  • Tell them why you are there. If you are “shopping around,” let them know what you are looking for.
  • Explain why you want to be in therapy, and then ask the therapist if this fits their training or interests.
  • Ask them what kind of therapy is suggested, how long they would want to do therapy, how much it costs, up front. Compare this with your preferences and needs.
  • If it doesn’t fit, tell them what you want and ask them if they would be willing to accommodate.
  • Pay close attention to how you feel – it is normal for you to feel a little uncomfortable or nervous. Sharing personal information can be uncomfortable. However, do you feel like you would be unable to trust them? Tell them your feelings and ask them how they would deal with it if they were your therapist.
It is well established, from extensive research, that the long-term solution to mental and emotional problems and the difficulties they cause cannot be solved solely through the use of medication. Medication can help with physical and emotional symptoms (such as low mood, anxiety, sleep difficulties), but it does not change the unhealthy behavior patterns that people develop over time. Many people are able to successfully make positive changes in their lives without the use of medications, while in some cases a combination of medication and therapy is the right course of action. If this is the case, your therapist can work with you to establish a referral with an appropriate medical provider for a medication evaluation.
In short, you make therapy successful. Not all therapy experiences are the same and a major reason for this is that each person is different and brings different expectations, skills and experiences into the therapy relationship. A therapist will provide guidance and help you develop skills and attitudes that need to be put into action outside of the therapy office. If you don’t take responsibility for your own mental health, there isn’t much a therapist can do. Practically, this means:

  • Taking therapy seriously, as if it is a class you want to get an “A” in by doing the assignments the therapist assigns you.
  • Think about the session and what you and your therapist have talked about outside of the session.
  • Be patient – sometimes the most “productive” therapy session or time while you are in therapy is when you feel frustrated or even depressed.
  • Remember, therapy is hard work, an investment in your mental health, but just like exercise, the rewards can be invaluable.