FAQs: Therapy Edition
My name is Erika and I go to therapy.
Once a week, in fact. And it’s my favorite part of every week. But in some circles, therapy isn’t a welcome topic of conversation. I’ve kept from talking openly about mental health on my blog for a long time — mostly in fear of being judged for discussing my depression, anxiety, OCD and perfectionism on the same platform where I display my portfolio work. But I believe that what isn’t talked about will never improve.
I know a lot of you are going to therapy. Seven million of you, actually. But that’s only 0.02% of the American population. And if you ask me, 100% of the American population should be going to therapy. I’m not joking.
Whatever your views, I want to help break the stigma that surrounds mental health treatment and share a little bit about my experience going to therapy with you. Read on for some As to a few frequently asked therapy Qs.
WHAT IS THERAPY LIKE?
Therapy is different for everyone. Your experience will depend on your history, your therapist, what your therapist specializes in, the type of therapy you participate in, how frequently you go, how quickly you put new ideas into practice, and so much more. Depending on your reason for going, you may participate in group therapy instead of or in addition to individual therapy. In my experience, therapy has been pretty similar to what I’ve seen on TV. I sit on a couch opposite my therapist, who sits in a chair with a pad of paper and a pen, and we talk for an hour.
WHAT DO YOU TALK ABOUT IN THERAPY?
Again, it depends. Since everyone’s lived experiences are so different, everyone will wind up discussing different topics with their therapists. I usually have something on my mind when my weekly appointment rolls around—anything from financial stress to heightened emotions, family updates or reactions to current events, or just a few lingering fears, thoughts, and stressors I want to get off my chest.
Once your therapist has gotten to know you and the two of you are comfortable around one another, your conversations will likely deepen. My therapist now knows me well enough to understand—or at least hypothesize about—why I act and respond to certain things the way I do. The wildest part is that no matter what I talk about in therapy, it always circles back to a few key topics of my personhood.
WHAT IF I HAVE NOTHING TO TALK ABOUT?
You do. And your therapist will coax it out of you without you even realizing it. They’ll ask you questions about what’s going on in your life—even seemingly surface-level questions. They might ask about your day, your week, your job, your home life, or your friends. Nine times out of ten, when I go into therapy thinking I have nothing to talk about, my session ends before I know it and I feel as if I’ve talked my therapist’s ear off.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU GO TO THERAPY?
I go to therapy once a week. But again, your experience might differ depending on your needs. Personally, I tried going every other week for awhile, instead, and I felt like a mess. I find it really helpful to set aside an hour each week to debrief with someone I trust, and to be not only completely open about my thoughts, fears, stressors, and anxieties, but to actively work toward overcoming them.
In most cases, if you can afford it, you’ll probably start with weekly or bi-weekly sessions until your therapist gets to know you better and you have a stronger grasp of the tools and resources they’ve given you. Together, you may decide to scale back to monthly sessions, or a different cadence that works with both of your schedules. Remember, they’re people, too — your therapist isn’t going to be available at the drop of a hat. Respect their time and their work schedule the same way you expect them to respect yours.
HOW DO I FIND A THERAPIST?
You don’t have to feel like that guy. If you’re curious about therapy, or you’ve been meaning to find a therapist for awhile but you don’t know how, you might feel overwhelmed. I did. I had no idea how to go about finding someone who met my criteria: I wanted to get along with them, obviously; I wanted them to be in-network with my insurance plan; and I wanted them to be nearby. Thankfully, you can search via specifications like these on psychologytoday.com.
I was lucky to find a therapist I “clicked” with right away. I searched Psychology Today and found someone whose office is in a building just down the street from my house. I emailed her and asked if she had any openings. She didn’t, but she recommended that I reach out to her colleague. I emailed the colleague, scheduled an appointment, and have been seeing her ever since. Again, I was lucky. I happened to find someone I really get along with, whose office just so happens to be close by. I know it can be frustrating bouncing from therapist to therapist, trying to find someone you gel with, but keep it up. The right person will come along. In the meantime, you’ll grow more comfortable talking through your mental health history and goals.
HOW MUCH DOES THERAPY COST?
Okay, if you haven’t figured it out yet, the answer to all of these questions is “it depends.” The cost of your therapy will depend on a few factors, including your therapist’s fee, your health insurance and benefits, and whether or not the therapy office offers any sliding-scale payment opportunities. Thankfully, my therapist is “in-network” with my insurance, which means my insurance covers a large portion of each sessions’s cost. But it’s not covered in full.
Instead of paying for treatment and my monthly co-pay each time I pop in for a visit, I’m enrolled in a monthly payment plan that allows me to pay $130.00 toward my balance each month. Again, everyone’s experience is different, so be sure to research your options. Your insurance company probably provides information about mental health coverage on its website. If you’re lucky, they may cover your therapy in full. Cha-ching!
WHAT IF I DON’T GET ALONG W/ MY THERAPIST?
That sucks, and I’m sorry. The good news is you don’t have to stick with a therapist you don’t like. If you don’t get along with the first, second, even third, fourth, or fifth therapist you meet, don’t worry. You don’t have to see them again! You can continue scheduling appointments with new therapists until you find the right one for you. Rest assured, there is someone out there for you. On psychologytoday.com, you can narrow your search by a therapist’s speciality, experience level, gender identity (if you feel more comfortable talking to someone with the same identity as you), or religious association (if you want your religious beliefs to play a role in your therapy), to find the right professional for you.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AT MY FIRST SESSION?
Once again, it depends — but there’s a good chance you can expect your therapist to ask you about your health history. And not just your mental health history. I was surprised when my therapist asked me for details about my physical and spiritual health, too, in addition to what I considered more “standard” therapy questions about my relationships, past trauma, and day-to-day behaviors.
It will take awhile before your therapist really gets to know you, and before you really start to trust them with details about your life. Be patient. If you don’t cover your mental or physical health history in full during your first therapy session, you’ll probably continue talking about it into the second session, and as long as necessary after that. If you’re anything like me, your conversations may start more buttoned up and gradually become more casual. When I first started therapy, I sat upright on the couch, didn’t swear, and left out small details here and there. Now, I kick off my shoes, cross my legs, and blab about my life in full detail—curse words and all. The way I see it, my therapist needs to know the real me.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN TO GO TO THERAPY?
You guessed it — it depends. I think everyone is ready for therapy right now. I truly believe everyone can benefit from talking to a therapist and gaining an additional (ahem, professional) opinion about their thoughts, actions, and beliefs. But, the decision is deeply personal. I was probably ready years ago. I probably should have started going to therapy in middle school, and I definitely should have gone during college.
That said, if my therapist was reading this, she’d tell me to stop “should-ing” all over myself. Even though it took me awhile to go, I’m grateful I eventually went, and I’m grateful that therapy is now a regular part of my week. I made it, and that’s all that matters.
If you’re considering trying therapy for yourself, go for it! If you have more, unanswered questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to share my experience or refer you to resources to make your journey a little easier.