Written by Corry Hawkins, LCSW, Clinical Director for KPS
Remember in grade school when you learned the six ways to gather information?... Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Not surprisingly, there are a lot of questions out there about therapy and mental health treatment. So let’s get back to the basics and review some simple facts about therapy.
WHAT is Therapy?
Put very simply, therapy is a treatment designed to relieve a problem. There are many types of therapy for physical and mental health concerns. In general, all therapies have pros and cons. Over the course of time, some therapies that used to be common practice are no longer considered effective. For our purposes, we are referring to mental health therapy.
Therapy (or psychotherapy or counseling) involves meeting with a therapist to resolve a problem. This problem can be emotional, behavioral, relational, or professional. Topics in therapy could be anything and typically include transitions, life changes, parenting, grief, anger, sexual problems, relationships, problem solving, mental health symptoms, coping skills, physical experiences, behavioral changes, etc. The list could truly go on and on. Essentially, there is no topic off limits during a therapy session.
WHO is Therapy For?
Who therapy can serve is as diverse as the problems therapy can address. Therapists can treat individuals, couples, families, and groups. Any person can participate in therapy, regardless of gender, age, religion, or ethnicity. Therapy is for moms, dads, stepparents, children, teens, and grandparents. It’s open to couples without kids, single parents, single people, and people looking to change. No matter your profession or goals, therapy can support you.
Therapy is NOT for “weak,” “crazy,” or “broken” people. Nobody is perfect, but a person is not defective simply because they are seeking to improve their mental health. In fact, starting therapy can be the most responsible and brave decision you can make for yourself, your relationships, and your daily life.
WHEN to Start Therapy?
If you have been considering starting therapy and find yourself feeling worse, now is definitely the time. But you do not have to be falling apart or desparate to start looking for a therapist. In fact, many people continue to see a therapist after a crisis has passed. Some people started therapy because a medical professional or a friend recommended it. Many are looking for an impartial person to help them process life events. Regardless of how the idea of therapy came to be, there is no time like the present!
WHERE to Find a Therapist?
This can be tricky for some, especially those in rural areas or regions that lack sufficient mental health services and treatment. Thankfully, telehealth video services have become more common over the last few years. Knowing where to start looking for a therapist can be daunting regardless of how many options are available. My advice would be to start with who you know.
Your primary care physician, chiropractor, or other medical professional should be able to provide you with a referral to a local provider. If you have insurance, you can also contact your insurance provider or search their website for a therapist in your area who accepts your insurance.
It’s important to remember that therapists are people too. No two are alike, and not all therapists have the same training or expertise. This sometimes means that a therapist may refer you to someone else who is better suited to support you and provide treatment for your needs. This is pretty common and shows that your therapist cares about you getting better. If you have any doubts about the treatment you need, schedule a meeting with a mental health provider and ask for guidance.
The Secret “HOW”
Many people want to know how to do therapy the “right” way and can even worry that they have done something wrong in session. The secret is that no one can tell you what therapy will be like for you. With any therapist, you will get to know each other and establish goals for your work together. Other than that, your process will be unique to you and your relationship with your therapist. The good news is that you cannot fail!
Don’t be surprised if your therapist does introduce some therapy “don’ts” early in your relationship. These are typically boundaries set to protect you and them during the therapeutic process. For example, many therapists are not available after hours because they have families to look after. You will probably not be able to friend or follow their personal social media accounts. If for some reason a boundary is crossed, your therapist will address it with you in session. This does not mean you failed, it’s just a part of the process.
If you really want to get ahead in therapy (if that’s even a thing), be prepared to be open and honest with yourself and your therapist. Vulnerability is quite frankly terrifying for many people, but it’s in a trusting, vulnerable relationship where the real therapeutic work happens.