A Beginner’s Guide to Therapy
You’re probably already aware that being able to self-regulate emotions is one of the best ways to build resilience, and that processing your pain, trauma, communication blockers, or motivation challenges with the support of a therapist would do you a world of good, but you’ve been procrastinating on booking that appointment because you don’t know what to expect.
We want to help. Not only because normalising help-seeking is our mandate, but also because therapy could be the step forward you need towards becoming your healthiest and best self.
So here’s a quick guide to help you prepare for what you can expect.
What is therapy?
Therapy is a form of treatment and a self-help tool. It is a process through which you can explore actions, behaviours, thoughts, and feelings with the guidance of a trained professional who can help you resolve a wide range of issues from stress to sleep, gain perspective in relationships, deal with past trauma, manage situations better, outgrow old habits and form new plans, or move forward from a crisis. But you don’t need a problem to “fix” to benefit from therapy. Experts also say that therapy is worth it even when you’re not struggling with mental health issues.
Which should you choose - online or in-person therapy?
Therapy is traditionally a face-to-face treatment but technology has made it more convenient, affordable, and accessible for more people to receive mental health support via online or remote therapy. It is also a safe way to access mental health support services during a pandemic.
This isn’t to say that in-person therapy is out-of-date - more severe mental health conditions may still require in-person treatment and it allows the therapist to pick up non-verbal cues better. However, online therapy platforms like Naluri have the benefit of quicker response times between your therapist and you via asynchronous chat and video call.
What are the different types of therapy available?
Therapy is a very personal journey and everyone will have a different experience. Each therapist has their own approach and is trained in one of more therapy methods. That means that no matter what issue you’re trying to solve, there’s going to be a therapist that can help you.
Here are some common types of therapy:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Identifies and alters maladaptive behaviours by challenging negative thought patterns through focused actions. It is an effective treatment that is used to treat eating disorders, insomnia, symptoms of depression, and other disorders.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
Teaches you how to live in the moment, develop healthy coping mechanisms, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. It was originally intended to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) but has been adapted to treat other mental health conditions.
Emotion-focused Therapy (EFT)
A type of therapy that encourages awareness, regulation, and resolution of emotions to improve bonding and attachment in adult relationships. It is a form of couples therapy but can also be used as family therapy to build better communication skills.
Uses roleplaying to understand the context of your life and highlight personal responsibility instead of placing blame elsewhere. At its core, this therapy is about awareness to gain an improved sense of self-control and improved emotional understanding.
Explores unconscious feelings and/or thoughts and how the present is impacted by the past. It is used to help you gain a deeper understanding of how you feel and think in order to put your emotional life into perspective and to express emotions healthily.
Helps bring subconscious closure to a traumatic experience. This form of therapy can help you if you are unable to cope with abuse, illness, death, sexual assault, and violence, and other forms of trauma that may be affecting your ability to function.
Do you even need a therapist?
85% of Naluri respondents said they didn’t feel that their problems were “big enough” to seek professional mental health support in our recent survey. But as mentioned before, you don’t need to have serious problems to seek a mental health professional - therapy can benefit everyone. That’s because you can equip yourself with the tools and techniques that will help you manage your day to day stresses too and will train you to overcome adversities and setbacks.
Therapy can help you become more aware of the unconscious and subconscious aspects of your mind and emotions, help you understand why you might be thinking or feeling it, and how to cope in order to exert better control. You may be surprised to learn just how many highly successful people use therapy as a tool that equips them to pursue and achieve great things.
Here are some other reasons why people might go to therapy:
To treat addiction and substance abuse
To manage anxiety and stress
To improve confidence issues and get self-esteem support
To address depression or depressive thoughts
To cope with grief and loss
To make peace with a life-altering diagnosis
To manage phobias
To improve relationship issues, whether at home or at work
To fix sleep disorders
To deal with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorders
To build health habits and routines that would influence transitions and the achievements of life goals
How do you find a therapist?
Finding a therapist is easy, but finding one that suits you may not be so straightforward. After all, like any relationship, it must be the right fit. Common ways to find help are by speaking to a general physician, asking friends and family for recommendations, or searching online. You don’t have to look far, because Naluri also has a directory of registered mental health professionals with whom you can book a session. Sometimes insurance providers that cover mental health will also have a list of panellists that policyholders can utilise.
Counsellors, Psychologists, Psychiatrists - What’s the difference and who should you see?
A therapist is a broad definition for someone trained to provide treatment and rehabilitation, but in this case, is used in the mental health support context, and includes the following three main types of mental healthcare providers:
Counsellors offer targeted counselling and talk therapy for marital issues, family therapy, or workplace counselling among others. They generally focus on what’s happening to you in the present and are skilled in active listening to make sure you feel heard and understood, but are not licensed to prescribe medication nor do they diagnose mental health conditions.
Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental health disorders with counselling and other therapy approaches. They are not typically licensed to prescribe medication and often work closely with other healthcare providers who can. Psychologists may also participate in clinical research.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors that diagnose and treat serious mental health disorders that may require medication such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They often work closely with psychologists to treat and manage patients, prescribe medication, and carry out general health checks.
How do you know if a therapist is right for you?
Therapists are trained to tailor their approach to the needs and conditions of their patients. Because therapy is such a subjective experience, there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. Finding a good fit with a therapist can take some time but like every relationship, establishing trust is incredibly important. That said, it’s not unusual to “test run” a few people to see who suits you best. Here are some things you should consider:
What are you hoping to get out of therapy?
This is a common first question in many therapy sessions. You may be experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress and are looking for ways to feel more like their usual self. You might be interested in learning how to manoeuvre office politics or identify deep-rooted childhood traumas. You may also want to work through guilt and low self-esteem, overcome procrastination, or understand your inner emotional and mental workings better. But if you can’t pinpoint exactly what you’d like to work on, a good therapist will be able to help you identify the issues when you know things in your life don’t feel quite right.
There is no right or wrong answer here, but considering the question can help you determine the type of treatment that might be most effective.
What is the therapist’s general approach to clients?
Some therapists are more active in sessions - asking questions, leading the conversation - while others are more passive, preferring to let you, the patient, direct the conversation. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a common therapeutic intervention, is typically goal-directed and collaborative, involving homework assignments with a set of objectives to be worked on together with the therapist. Person-Centred Therapy, on the other hand, generally focuses on helping a patient find solutions to problems on their own.
Again, neither approach is right or wrong. It really depends on how compatible the therapist’s approach is with your end goal.
Does a therapist have the expertise to address the issues you face?
Each therapist is an expert in his or her own field or approach. Therapists are licensed to treat a wide variety of patients and conditions, but some matters, like marital problems or work-related stresses are better addressed by therapists with more niched expertise.
Do you even like the therapist?
This is a very important question that is often overlooked by those who are new to therapy. Therapy isn’t always easy nor enjoyable. There are sometimes painful and difficult life patterns that will be dredged up and addressed. This is a part of the healing process and can quite frankly be uncomfortable. It is therefore essential that the therapist is respectful, appropriate, trustworthy, and likeable.
Here are some things to remember:
You can test drive multiple therapists to find the right fit. This is 100% normal. Patience is part of the process - it can take a lot of effort and time to properly process overwhelming emotions and thoughts in order to heal.
Things a therapist won’t (and shouldn’t) do:
A therapist won’t “fix” you
They are there to guide and to help unpack pent up experiences and energies. Therapy is not magic, but it can help provide the building blocks with which to rebuild a healthier life.
A therapist won’t tell you what to do
While therapists do teach patients new skills that can be used to figure out solutions to existing problems, they will not tell the patient what to do nor how to do it. Therapy is about regaining control by slowly building up new habits and rewiring negative thought processes.
A therapist won’t judge, pressure, or shame you
As human beings, therapists are susceptible to their own prejudices and conditioning. However, a good therapist should never make a patient feel uncomfortable for their experiences.
A therapist won’t enable your bad habits
There is no doubt that support, compassion, and empathy are critical tenets of effective therapy. That said, therapists are able to recognise problematic behaviour, ineffective patterns, and resistance to help foster your growth.
What can you expect from your first few therapy sessions?
The first few therapy sessions will be spent getting to know each other, and establishing needs and boundaries. While it isn’t necessary to talk about deep, dark secrets immediately, being able to communicate openly and candidly and understand each other will determine how well the therapy will go.
Questions a therapist might ask:
Have you attended therapy in the past?
What symptoms are you experiencing?
Do you have any mental health issues in your family history?
How is your home life?
Do you have a history of suicidal ideation?
Do you have a history of self-harm?
What do you hope to get from therapy?
What do you want to accomplish in sessions?
How you might feel
We all have different responses to therapy. It is not uncommon to burst into tears or to feel embarrassed, awkward, frustrated, and nervous. Therapy is a safe space to process feelings and emotions. The right therapist will be able to help you process how you are feeling even if it isn’t a “good” feeling.
What you might talk about
Besides getting to know each other, the first few sessions will also be spent finding out how often or how long therapy might be needed, what to expect, or how payment is processed. There will also be some discussion about which strategies, skills, and techniques may be relevant.
Why you are given “homework”
Just as therapy isn’t a magic fix-all, therapy doesn’t end when the session is over. A lot of the therapeutic work actually happens between sessions by putting in practice the relevant strategies, skills, and techniques.
Homework in therapy can be journaling or additional reading that may help provide context. Therapy takes time and a willingness to be open. Committing to unpacking and processing mental and emotional experiences that may have been suppressed or brushed aside is a noble pursuit and the ultimate exercise of self-care.
- Written by:
- Chloe Pharamond