Deciding to Go to Therapy

Deciding to Go To Therapy

This article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Bridge Newsletter. 

Why Therapy?

In most cases, the decision to talk with a therapist is the result of a painful problem that has not gone away. You may have tried many things to fix the problem. You may have even taken steps to try to do some things differently, but the problem persists. The problem can range from a crisis that keeps you awake at night to a nagging feeling that something is wrong that just won’t go away. You may be at the point where you are wondering whether anything can help.

Perhaps you are thinking about therapy as a way to help you with problems in your relationships. You may be looking for ways to repair a troubled relationship, for guidance on how to be successful in your current or future relationships, or for support in ending a relationship that is no longer viable. You might be considering getting help for yourself alone or together with your partner.

You might also be wondering about  therapy as a path for exploration and personal development. You may have a strong desire to understand yourself at a deeper level. Perhaps you are curious about what motivates you,  how you relate to others, or how your past history impacts your current life. Therapy can help people look at places where they may feel blocked or stuck, and to open up to new possibilities.

The word “therapy” is often interpreted to mean that something is broken and needs to be repaired: for example, someone needs to go to physical therapy to help them walk after knee surgery. But therapy is not necessarily about fixing something that is broken. When we feel better about ourselves and have a greater understanding of who we are, we tend to be able to ride out the bumps and have increased energy to engage more fully in our own lives and in our relationships.

Often, people are reluctant to seek psychotherapy because they feel shame or embarrassment about talking to someone about their problems. Perhaps they come from a family or cultural background that frowns on sharing “things that belong in the family.” This can make it feel awkward or even impossible to consider psychotherapy. While it may feel like a contradiction to go to therapy to talk about this, looking at your hesitations with a competent therapist can be the best way to move forward. Taking some time to explore the negative messages you may have heard about therapy can  give you the tools to decide your next step.

For many people, talking about themselves can feel awkward. They may fear that they will be rejected or judged in some of the same ways they have been rejected or judged in the past. A trained therapist is interested in providing help, not in judging you. She or he will work with you to find ways to help you to feel safe when uncomfortable topics or feelings come up. It can help to keep in mind that it is often the wish to avoid discomfort that keeps us stuck. Your therapist should be with you every step of the way to make sure that therapy unfolds at a pace that works for you.

Often, people are reluctant to consider therapy because of a previous experience that did not go well. Maybe you once saw someone for help, but you didn’t feel any better. Or perhaps you were sent to see a therapist against your will because of a family situation such as a divorce, and you thought it was a waste of time or you were left feeling that there was something wrong with you. Whatever the reason, giving therapy another try may lead to getting the help that you deserve.

Finding a Therapist

Even people who are ready to begin therapy can find the process of locating a therapist to be daunting. How do you even start? Some ideas may include asking a healthcare provider, such as your doctor, OB/GYN, or chiropractor. You might ask trusted friends and family members, although it may not be a good idea to see the same therapist as the people closest to you.

The Internet has opened up new possibilities for finding a therapist. Many therapists have websites that offer very useful information about their practices. In the past, getting a referral to a therapist usually meant receiving just a name, address, and phone number. Today, therapists are writing about topics such as their theoretical interests and their approach to therapy. Some therapists’ websites include blogs and lists of suggested books. All of this information can help you to begin to get a sense of the person and how he or she may be able to help.

Once you have decided on a potential therapist, the initial phone call will give you further information about her or him. Most therapists are willing to spend a few minutes on the phone in advance of the first meeting. This is a great time to ask questions regarding the therapist’s experience with the issues you want to talk about, and to find out the fee. It is also an opportunity to listen to the therapist and to start to get a sense of whether this person is someone you will feel comfortable talking to.

The First Appointment

Your first appointment is another opportunity to make your decision about therapy and the therapist. In most cases, you will quickly have a sense as to whether the person you are meeting with is a good fit. Does the therapist seem to understand you? Does he or she respond in ways that make you want to share more of your story? A therapist who makes you feel like you want to stop talking or makes you feel like you are being judged is probably not a good fit and you may want to explore other possibilities. Before deciding that a therapist is not a good fit, you may want to think about why you feel that way. As we discussed earlier, talking about ourselves with someone we have just met can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Try to be sure that the issue is genuine lack of connection with the therapist and not discomfort with the idea of therapy. You may even want to talk about your hesitations with the therapist to help you get some insight about how you are feeling about starting therapy. Sometimes, it may also help to have several sessions with a therapist before deciding whether she or he is a good fit for you. Often, the first session can go by quickly as you begin to talk to your therapist. If you are undecided about a therapist after the first meeting, you may want to take an extra session or two to make your decision.

A Good Fit

Just like with people we meet in other parts of our lives, there are therapists with whom we will resonate and therapists with whom we will not resonate. The best therapist in the world, or even the person who was the best therapist for your friend or for your boss, may not be the best therapist for you. Unfortunately, the nature of therapy is such that people are often trying to find help during a time when they are in pain and feeling overwhelmed. Finding a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and who you feel can be helpful to you is worth the effort. Give yourself permission to meet with several therapists, if necessary, to be sure you will be working with someone you trust. Often, people either stay with the first person they meet with, despite misgivings, or they decide that therapy is not for them after a session or two with someone who makes them feel uncomfortable. There are many excellent therapists who can offer you the help and support you are seeking. Please take the time to make the best decision you can.

Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please contact me at 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at