“I can remember certain things vividly about the moment when I fielded the returned call from the lady who became my therapist,” says Wayne Lewis, a talk therapy patient living in Los Angeles who identifies as moderately depressed. “I was at a ‘drinky,’ family Mexican restaurant, on my lunch break from work.
“When I said the words into my phone, ‘I'm depressed and I need help,’ I cried because hearing myself say it fully brought home to me how bad things had gotten. I know I apologized to her. She was kind, said I didn't need to apologize, said she could help me. Although still in tears, I felt a great deal of relief and some real hope. Things might get better.”
Whether dealing with depression or just wanting to achieve a goal or help dealing with change, most people can benefit from having an outlet to talk things out—that’s exactly what therapy or counseling is. It doesn’t mean the person seeking it out is weak or “crazy,” and it’s not just for crisis management. Depression, anxiety, or even just moderate stress can affect everything from hormones, to inflammation and immune function. According to Trailtalk therapist Megan Perry, maintaining good health encompasses mental wellness too, and there’s no shame at all in seeking help to get there.
"We go to our medical doctors for preventative measures and to keep us healthy; we go to our trainers [or] the gym to get in shape and stay healthy; we do yoga and try to improve our diets. Why would we ignore our emotional health?" poses Perry.
If you are considering trying out therapy, here are five things to expect.
Finding a therapist will be challenging at first
Once you’ve cleared the hurdle of indecision over whether to go to therapy or not, there’s one more barrier to push through. “The first psychologist I left a message for never even called me back. Dejected, it took me a couple of weeks to even hunt down another name,” Lewis says. “The help is out there. It's just harder to find than it ought to be. That's a bitter irony. But...persevere.”
Start by perusing a directory of therapists, or get referrals from friends or family—try to remember that it’s not shameful to ask people who care about you to help.
And for those afraid of the cost, many therapists are willing to work on a sliding scale that allows clients to pay only what they can afford—just ask.
A therapist isn’t there to give advice
Don’t expect a therapist to be a hero who solves every problem. They're there to listen and share knowledge that can help a patient make rational, informed decisions for themselves. "A therapist can provide a neutral perspective and a nonjudgmental space for someone to identify problem areas—areas they want to increase growth in and develop specific goals and improve coping strategies," explains Perry. In this way, therapy can help a person develop more autonomy, balance, and self-esteem.
Patients are generally expected to take the lead in a session. Before stepping into a therapist’s office, have an idea of the issues you want to talk through and what you want to get out of it. Just winging it can be a waste of time and money. Figure out how to describe your initial problem and your feelings about it ahead of time. Journaling can help sort this out.
It’s like a relationship
Starting to see a therapist is akin to getting into a new relationship—and it will essentially follow a similar course to one. Early on, make sure to discuss your goals, expectations, likes and dislikes, boundaries, and priorities. Open up and be willing to share—but also be receptive to what they have to say. Like any relationship, there has to be respect and trust there. And if you don’t click, it’s totally fine to break up and move on. You don’t have to stick with the same therapist forever. If in-person therapy doesn't fit the bill, you can always try alternative options such as message therapy.
Therapy is not a quick fix
It’s a process, and it’s okay if it’s a slow one. Sometimes it could take weeks, months, or years to get to the bottom of an issue. To make progress faster, be ready and willing to put new behaviors or thoughts into action, rather than reveling in rehashing problems each week. Practice mindfulness throughout the experience.
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