1) Define your goals for therapy.
What specifically do you want to change? For example, instead of beginning with I want to be happier or more satisfied, think about do you have a desire to improve mood, improve self-esteem, and/or improve relationships? Do you want to develop new habits or make specific lifestyle changes, such as more exercise or eating healthier? Think about what you have tried already and what has worked well and what has not in the past. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and your level of motivation to make a change at this point in your life. Are you ready to take the plunge or are you just getting your feet wet and beginning the exploration process?
2) Choose the type of provider who is best suited to your needs
Psychiatrists prescribe medication and help clients manage regimens and dosages. They typically do not spend a lot of time providing talk therapy. They are more like mental health doctors than therapists. Choose a psychiatrist if you are seeking medication management or in conjunction with another therapist.
Psychologist-Doctoral degree in clinical psychology
Psy.D is a professional degree focused on clinical practice. Programs require multiple practicums as well as internship, resulting in graduates having ample clinical experience upon graduation.
Ph.D is a research degree, but graduates will also have completed at least one practicum as well as an internship. Ph.D psychologists are more likely to pursue careers in academia, but may also choose to practice clinically.
Choose a psychologist if you believe you are dealing with a more serious mental illness that will require specialized assessment and treatment.
Fully licensed psychotherapists have completed 2 years of supervised work post internship and graduation. Licensure type varies based on educational focus:
LCPC-Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
LCSW-Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LMFT-Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
*LPC, LSW, or MFT psychotherapists are still completing supervision requirements.
Choose a psychotherapist for general mental health counseling. Pay attention to specific licenses to determine experience level and population focus.
3) Ask questions about how therapist practices to determine fit.
Do you collaborate with clients or are your more directive in treatment planning? Think about how active you want your role to be in therapy and find a therapist that matches this. Do you offer specific feedback/advice? While therapists should never directly tell you what to do, some offer more pointed feedback than others. Do you give homework assignments in between sessions? You may find this extremely helpful or perhaps initially it feels like too much pressure on yourself. How and when do you assess for progress? How comfortable are you at challenging me if progress has not been made? Do you have success treating the particular issue I am coming in for?
4) Develop an authentic connection with your therapist.
It is important that your therapist makes you feel safe and comfortable in order for growth to occur. However, a good therapeutic relationship does take some level of effort on your part. Be direct with your therapist on how your are feeling. What is working and what is not working? Do you find your therapist is pushing too much or not challenging enough? Do you worry that you cannot share what you are really thinking or feeling? Talk about this, so you can problem solve together on how to feel more at ease. If you ultimately cannot connect with a therapist, move on after a few sessions versus wasting time not getting what you need.
5) Bring all of your emotions and sides of your personality into session.
Notice what you would like to leave at the door or not talk about and start there. Often we only show emotions we are comfortable expressing. For example, it may be easier to discuss anger we are feeling towards a loved one, but expressing the underlying hurt or rejection we are feeling may be more difficult to acknowledge. It can be habit to hide the aspects of our personality that do not make us feel confident, but these are the aspects that should be the focus of attention in therapy. Ask yourself what parts you try and hide and what are you afraid of?
6) Focus on yourself and challenge yourself to go deeper.
It can feel great to vent and get something off of your chest, especially when you have an empathetic listener giving you his or her undivided attention for an hour. However, getting lost in the detail of who did or said what is not always helpful, especially if this is a pattern for you. It is also equally as easy to fill a session with mundane details or life updates, but challenging yourself to look at how you are really feeling deep down can be a better use of your time if you want to make a difference.
7) Talk about taboo topics you sometimes avoid with others.
Money, sex, religion, race, politics. Your therapist should be open to discussing taboo topics and be trained for the most part to put his or her own beliefs aside. It is helpful to not have to censor your thoughts in therapy and therefore can be more of an honest exploration to get to know yourself better.
8) Prepare for your sessions.
Choose a time of day where you will not feel rushed and can devote your full attention. Perhaps this is before or after work or maybe even on a weekend so you have more time to reflect before or after your session. It can be helpful to jot down notes in a journal during the week as it can be hard to remember what you wanted to talk about when you are on the spot. Even if you do remember the content, the specific thoughts and feelings may be lost and this is what is usually more helpful to focus on.
9) Ask your therapist for mini goals in between sessions.
Once you get comfortable with your therapist and the process, challenge yourself to meet mini goals each week that are relevant to meeting your long-term goals. For example, if you want to feel less anxious overall, ask your therapist to give you a specific task to try in an effort to work towards this larger goal. Perhaps a deep breathing exercise once a day is a great place to start or maybe making notes of each time you feel heightened anxiety to further discuss in session would be helpful.
10) Be open to re-evaluating or re-prioritizing goals.
This is the best part about therapy and the overall process of self growth….we can give ourselves permission to change our minds or re-prioritize goals along the way. Perhaps you came to therapy wanting to work on your marriage, but together you and your therapist have realized it makes sense to first address self-esteem and identity as this affects the problems in your marriage.
We would be happy at Pure Health Center to assist in answering any questions you may have about finding the best therapist to fit your needs. Please feel free to give us a call or if you are ready to begin please feel free to check out our availability and make an online appointment today.
Content provided by Women Belong member Emily Woods, LCPC