Advice from a Therapy Patient

A huge stigma surrounding therapy is that seeing a counselor makes you weak—that somehow, asking for help means you have been defeated. No one wants to be seen as incapable or overdramatic for going to therapy. Of course, there’s going to be a doubt in many people’s minds: what could I possibly get from talking to a stranger?

It’s easy to say "no" to therapy with the mindset that “a therapist won’t help me anyway.” However, the worst outcome is that it doesn’t help you, and the best is that it dramatically improves your outlook on life and your ability to cope. With that in mind, here are some things to get you started!

Q: What is therapy?

A: Therapy takes many forms. Primarily, it focuses on changing patterns of thought. Different therapists will focus on their own distinct practices and types of therapy. The following is a list of a few of the various types of therapy:

Counseling is one of the most common forms of therapy and is generally talk-based. It is good for people who are generally healthy, but who need assistance with a current issue.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is very similar to counseling, but it is usually more in depth and focuses on past issues rather than present ones. It helps with long-term mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, etc.

There are several types of psychotherapy, which delve into both the past and present. Patients and their psychotherapists work to figure out how the past influences the present and vice versa. It tends to last longer than counseling and CBT.

There are also many group-based therapies such as relationship counseling, family counseling, interpersonal therapy, group talk therapy, and recreational therapy (art, music, exercise, etc.).

Q: How do I find a therapist?

A: My pediatrician gave me a referral to a therapist. Do research online to try to find a therapist you might like! If you have a regular doctor, family doctor, or pediatrician, ask them to write a referral for a therapist’s office, as it will likely get you an appointment faster. Many therapy offices fill up quickly and it can be difficult to get an appointment on your own. If you don’t have a regular doctor, you should still call the therapist’s office and see when the next available appointment might be. Sometimes it can take up to six months to get an appointment. If you really cannot wait that long, look online for another therapist. If you can wait, then go ahead and book an appointment.

Q: How much does therapy cost?

A: It really depends on if you have insurance or not and what your insurance will pay for. My insurance pays for most of my therapy, but I do have a $25 co-pay for every session. Check with your insurance company to see which therapists are in your network and how much of the cost they will pay for.

Q: Does it matter if my therapist is male or female? If I am a woman, do I need to see a female therapist, or vice versa?

A: What gender therapist you seek out is all about what you are comfortable with. Many male therapists will not accept female minors as patients, just out of discretion; however, it is totally okay for a female minor to have a male therapist. 

Q: Is therapy confidential?

A: Therapy is confidential unless it is an emergency situation and you are planning to harm yourself or others. Therapists cannot legally disclose anything that you say, even to family members. You do not have to tell anyone about what you are discussing in therapy either. 

Q: What if I go in for suicidal thoughts? Is my therapist going to immediately call someone to take me away to a hospital, or is she going to talk to me about it first?

A: Any good therapist will talk to you about what you are thinking and feeling before calling anyone. Generally, a therapist’s first question when you tell her you are feeling suicidal is “do you have a plan?” If you do have a plan, then your therapist is legally obligated to tell someone. I went to therapy for feeling suicidal, and my therapist helped me figure out the root of the problem and gave me some exercises to do if I start to feel suicidal. 

Q: Is it awkward to sit there in front of someone you don’t know and try to talk to them about your personal situations?

A: It is definitely really weird at first. If you have a therapist that you don’t like, then it can be really horrible to try to open up about anything, even your simplest thoughts. You really need to find the right therapist. I went through three therapists before I found one that I really like and could truly open up to about my fears and dreams and self-esteem issues and everything else I had been bottling up inside. I got really discouraged after the first therapist I saw and that almost turned me completely away from therapy, but I kept searching and I’m really glad I did. Once you find the right therapist, it can still feel awkward, but after a few sessions it should get easier. 

Q: Do I go straight in and tell them all about my deepest darkest secrets? Is there something I have to fill out with my symptoms like I would in any other doctor’s office?

A: Many therapists ask people to take a questionnaire, which can give them an idea as to what they might have to work with someone on. If a therapist asks you to do a questionnaire, go ahead and to it. Be honest in your responses! Sometimes, therapists will try to push you to talk about the obstacles you are trying to conquer during the first session, and that can make you feel tense and anxious. My first few therapists did that. I finally found a therapist that slowly built up to that point. He asked me about my favorite activities, books, movies, songs, artists, etc. We steadily worked toward a common goal: I needed to be comfortable enough to truly talk about my problems. If at any point your therapist makes you feel really uncomfortable, think about switching to a new one. It’s important to have someone you can trust. 

Q: Do I just talk to the therapist, or will she give me exercises to work on?

A: It really depends on the therapist and what she thinks you might need. Talk therapy works really well for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I needed to find a therapist who gave me tips and tricks to practice and worksheets to take home and do. My therapist now is having me write down the traumas I can think of from my life. After I finish my list, he is having me write about each one. First, I write each one as an almost funny story; then, I write it out with all of the horrible feelings I had; finally, he wants me to go through all of the emotions and thoughts I wrote to see which thoughts are actually accurate and which ones are exaggerations that my brain is making. For example, I wrote in one of my drafts that I felt like everyone was staring and laughing at me as soon as I walked into my fifth grade classroom after breaking my tailbone, which wasn’t true because many of my classmates didn’t even realize that I had broken it until I sat down on a pillow. Many of my classmates were also concerned about me, but those few people who did stare and laugh and point are the people who stuck out in the initial memory. The whole idea behind this exercise is to help me work through my traumas and figure out why they are so horrible in my mind, and how truthful my thoughts about them are. 

Some therapists offer really good advice and help you help yourself, and others sit there and listen to whatever you need to say. It all depends on what you need.

By Dharma Gilley

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