Welcome to another new year. Did you make any resolutions? If so, how did they go? Yeah, I thought so. Me too. Resolutions are a nice thought, but they rarely translate into real life changes until we identify and eliminate the obstacles in our way. That’s where therapy comes in.
As a psychotherapist for more than twenty years’ now, I am hardly unbiased. However, as a person who has tried – and often failed – to make big changes in my own life, I know it’s hard to do so without insight and support.
Most of us have good friends who are very supportive…and they may even be pretty insightful. This is great: but how objective are they? Most of my friends will give me advice based on what they would do, which may work well for them, but not for me.
If you want objective insight, it’s best to get it from someone who doesn’t have a personal history with you. If you want expert insight, you’d be wise to get it from someone trained and experienced in helping people. That’s why I became a therapist: in my younger years, I had so much good help from therapists that I decided I wanted to pass it on.
However, if the mere thought of trying to find a good therapist seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. Plenty of people don’t get help because mental health is easier to put off than a toothache or sprained muscle. As a result, most of us wait until we’re in crisis before we look for a good therapist.
When to Start
Some people think that if they start therapy, that means something’s wrong with them and their friends and family will think that they’re really screwed up. The reality is that people close to us often notice when we’re having a hard time. In fact, we usually take things out on our nearest and dearest. Our therapy is for them too!
Don’t think of therapy as “I’m such a mess, I’m so screwed up”. That won’t help anybody. Instead, think of it like hiring a personal trainer for your mind. You simply want to feel better, and that’s a good thing.
Therapy is confidential: licensed mental health professionals like me are bound by the law to protect your privacy. Unless someone is a threat to themselves or others, what goes on in therapy never leaves the room.
Find the right therapist for you
How do you find a good therapist? Ask around. Most of us have friends who are or have been in therapy. A personal recommendation may be the best way to find the right therapist for you. Put together a list of two or three potential therapists, then interview them over the phone. Ask them questions like: “What experience do you have working with (name your problem)?” “How does a typical session with you work?” “What hours are you available?” and “How much do you charge?”
Asking questions will help you find someone who has potential, but you can’t really know if it’s the right fit until you’ve begun working with that person. Usually, after a couple of sessions, you’ll know if this person is the right therapist for you. Or not.
It’s OK to change therapists
If your therapist isn’t a good fit, it’s fine to “break up” with them. You deserve somebody you’re comfortable with. And the therapist won’t be mad at you; it’s a part of our training to handle this kind of stuff. As mental health professionals, we want you to get better, even if it’s not with us.
“My friends need therapy too”
If you’re comfortable with it, you can talk about your therapy with the people in your life. However, don’t push people into something they’re not ready for: instead, show them by example. When you’re happier and doing better, people notice. Telling someone “You need therapy” is rarely well-received. However, by talking openly about your therapy and living out its benefits, you just may inspire someone else to try it out.
As the new year begins, move beyond those tired old New Year’s Resolutions: Happy New Therapy!