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. Still, you’ve been procrastinating on booking that appointment because you don’t know what to expect when seeing a therapist for the first time.
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 therapy 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. Issues ranging from stress to sleep, gaining perspective in relationships, dealing with past trauma, managing situations better, outgrowing old habits and forming new plans, or moving forward from a crisis. But you don’t need a problem to “fix” to benefit from therapy. Experts also say 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.
This isn’t to say that in-person therapy is out-of-date - more severe mental health conditions may still require in-person treatment, and it allows the therapist to pick up non-verbal cues better.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 calls.
What are the different types of therapy available?
Therapy is a personal journey; everyone will have a different experience. Each therapist has their approach and is trained in one or more therapy methods. That means that no matter what issue you’re trying to solve, there will 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 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 initially intended to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) but has been adapted to treat other mental health conditions.
Emotion-focused Therapy (EFT)
A 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.
This therapy 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 thoughts and how the past impacts the present. It is used to help you gain a deeper understanding of how you feel and think to put your emotional life into perspective and 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, 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 problems to see a 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 and 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 think or feel it, and how to cope with exerting better control. You may be surprised to learn how many highly successful people use therapy to equip 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 achievement of life goals
How do you find a therapist?
Finding a therapist is easy, but finding one that suits you may take more work. After all, like any relationship, it must be the right fit. Common ways to find help include 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. Still, in this case, it is used in the mental health support context. It includes three main types of mental healthcare providers:
- Counsellors offer targeted counselling and talk therapy for marital issues, family therapy, or workplace counselling. 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. They are not licensed to prescribe medication or 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 severe 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 conduct 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 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 establishing trust is incredibly important in every relationship. 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 your usual self. You might want to learn 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 better understand your inner emotional and mental workings. But if you can’t pinpoint what you’d like to work on, a good therapist can help you identify the issues when you know things in your life don’t feel 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 with the therapist. On the other hand, person-centred therapy generally focuses on helping a patient find solutions to problems on their own.
Neither approach is right nor wrong. It 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 their field or approach. Therapists are licensed to treat various patients and conditions, but therapists with more niched expertise better address some matters, like marital problems or work-related stresses.
Do you even like the therapist?
This is a fundamental question often overlooked by those new to therapy. Therapy isn’t always easy or enjoyable. Sometimes painful and challenging life patterns will be dredged up and addressed. This is a part of the healing process and can, quite frankly, be uncomfortable. Therefore, the therapist must be 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 process overwhelming emotions and thoughts to heal properly.
Things a therapist won’t (and shouldn’t) do:
- A therapist won’t “fix” you
They are there to guide and 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 teach patients new skills to find 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 new habits and rewriting negative thought processes.
- A therapist won’t judge, pressure, or shame you
As human beings, therapists are susceptible to their prejudices and conditioning. However, a good therapist should never make patients feel uncomfortable about 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 can 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, communicating openly and candidly and understanding 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 common to burst into tears or feel embarrassed, awkward, frustrated, and nervous. Therapy is a safe space to process feelings and emotions. The right therapist will help you process your feelings, even if it isn’t a “good” feeling.
What you might talk about
Besides getting to know each other, you will also spend the first few sessions determining how often or how long therapy might be needed for you, 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 ends. A lot of the therapeutic work happens between sessions by putting the relevant strategies, skills, and techniques into practice.
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.
This article is brought to you by Naluri Mental Health Coaches. Naluri empowers you to develop healthy lifestyle habits, achieve meaningful health outcomes, and be healthier and happier through personalised coaching, structured programmes, self-guided lessons, and health tools and devices. Download the Naluri App today or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on utilising digital health coaching and therapy to become a happier, healthier you.