Let’s talk about all things therapy, shall we? I have to admit that working in a mental health clinic has completely changed my own perspective when it comes to therapy (professional resources/services in general).
For a little context: I’ve spent half of my life living with chronic mental illness (like plenty of other people do), studying psychology in and out of school, and I took my wellness journey into my own hands without professional direction and guidance, which brings us to now where I work in a clinical setting for mental health and have a wellness website/blog.
To have both perspectives in the career that I’m in has really opened my mind to my own wellness and mental health approach – as well as how insane the systems we have in place actually are. I could ramble and rant on and on about the things that I would like to see changed – but I think starting with the basics might be a better approach. So let’s talk therapy, and some of the things that I think you should know when looking into starting therapy, or when continuing therapy if you’re already seeing someone.
*Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional. While I do work in a mental health clinic I am not licensed or trained to give any kind of medical advice. I am simply giving my own perspective/tips as someone that has been through their own struggles with mental health and now works in a professional/clinical setting. If you are struggling with mental health conditions or crisis concerns please seek professional resources. As always, don’t forget to do your own research and deep dives into anything/everything that has you questioning and/or curious! Now that that’s out of the way – let’s get into it!
I am asked on a pretty regular basis, questions like: What is the therapy process like? How much money should I set aside for therapy? How many sessions are required/how long until I “recover” from my mental health symptoms? More often than not I can’t give specific answers to any questions – mainly because the process is different for everyone. While a lot of things are more “blanket-statemented” than I personally think they should be, the basics are pretty similar person to person (at least in terms of being seen and set up with resources).
Before you even set up any kind of appointment
Contacting your insurance (if it applies to you) to verify coverage and providers in-network with your plan, can help to plan out things like clinic options, financial coverage/out-of-pocket expenses, and establishing an idea for various resources for your journey. Clinics/offices will not be able to tell you what your insurance will cover because everyone’s coverage and policies are unique. Contacting insurance and getting to understand your coverage for mental health services can stop a headache later down the road when you receive a bill. From my own personal experience – people are often shocked by the initial bill they receive. Honestly, I could go on an entire rant about the financial aspect of the clinical mental health space…but for now I’ll save you from that (otherwise we’d be here for a while). Don’t go into it blind, as always – do your research.
If you’re someone that doesn’t have insurance, or maybe your coverage isn’t ideal for your budget:
Do not let that stop you from seeking resources. In my experience there are plenty of clinics and offices that do payment plans; look at therapy offices in/near your area and ask them what their payment plans consist of. Being upfront about your financial situation can help give the place you’re looking into, the information to best help you. Also depending on where a provider is at in their licensing – services can sometimes come at a lower cost: if you’re seeing someone that is pre-licensed then their rates can come at a lower price – they still have the education background they’re just waiting for their licensing specifically.
When looking for a therapist or professional service
I think it’s important to know that there are different categories under the “therapy” umbrella term. Not only in terms of kinds of therapy – but also in provider backgrounds/training and licensing.
For example, when we’re talking about someone that struggles with a substance addiction, the best point of support for them could be someone that is a LADC (Licensed drug and alcohol counselor) – LADC is a specific licensing/training.
If someone is struggling with their marriage or is having family issues, the best route to start with could be seeing a LMFT (Licensed marriage and family therapist) – specific licensing/training.
Get down to the basics of what you’re looking for, what struggles you’re experiencing
Research those points against therapist/clinic services and options. There are specialty practices for drug and alcohol counseling, eating disorder programs (in-and-outpatient), and even for veteran-specific cases there are specialty practices. If you don’t know what you’re looking for or where to start – call your insurance and ask for a list of in-network mental health resources in your area. Your insurance can give you a list of different places that you’re able to go where you’ll be covered – versus making an appointment and then being told last minute that you’re not out of network.
Clinics also will typically have an intake team to match you up with a provider, but doing your own research ahead of time can help you to make sure you’re getting what you want and also need. Dig into the financial aspects, services offered, and clinician education/background experience. This can help you to actually start seeing someone you can connect with. Obviously if you’re in a situation where you’re needing to start services sooner rather than later – connecting with an intake team/scheduler to make your first appointment (known as a “diagnostic assessment”) is a good first step. Just seeing someone for the first appointment – even if it’s not the person you will end up seeing for services – is the first step towards getting the help that you need. It’s not always a fun or timely process – but it is definitely worth it.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are also free resources out there that are available for anyone. From support groups to online communities – I know that in the state that I live in, there are places that will do community group sessions for free. If you’re in a state of crisis and need immediate help, definitely reach out to crisis hotlines or text numbers; there are people that are there to help you regardless of your financial situation. It’s mainly about vetting the providers/places that you’re looking into – you want to make sure that it’s a legitimate practice/service.
When setting up an appointment: take into consideration your own expectations for the resource:
What is affecting your overall quality of life that you’re choosing to seek out a resource? What are you open to looking into and what are you staying away from (therapy, medication, mental health testing, holistic approaches, etc.)? What are the things that you’re looking to gain from the experience and process? What are the things that you’re looking to work through? Acknowledging the parts of our lives that are impacting our overall well being can be hard. It can be hard to know how to help ourselves and what the right direction to go in actually is. The reality is – it doesn’t matter where you decide to start as long as you decide to start.
Finding a therapist that you connect with and that you can be vulnerable with is not always the easiest thing. Do not get discouraged if the first therapist you see doesn’t feel like the right fit for you.
In the same breath: if every single therapist you are seeing is not the “right fit” – check your own expectations and your own work that you’re putting in. Therapists are not there to tell you the things that you’re wanting to hear – nor are they a friend that’s going to “be on your side”. Therapists are there to help you; the work is yours to do. You absolutely want to find someone that you connect and feel comfortable with, but it’s important to make sure that you’re seeing someone that is actually there to help you (not just tell you what you want to hear).
It’s absolutely crucial (in my opinion) to take a step back and acknowledge where you’re starting from. Where you’re actually at; being honest/vulnerable with yourself fully. Acknowledgement was definitely my personal “first step” – I couldn’t seek and accept help until I could acknowledge that I needed and deserved it. If you’re throwing yourself into a therapist’s office with no intention of putting in the work to help yourself – you’re wasting your own time. You have to actually want the help and have the willingness to change for there to be any kind of difference made in your life.
Sidenote: This also goes for people in the support network of someone else: you can support and be there for someone, but you cannot force them to want/accept help and support. You can only get out of the resource/support what you put into it. It’s all about the intention, effort, and patience. It’s not an overnight process – honestly, it’s not always going to feel great and there’s not always going to be this amazing sense of progress and growth. You have to be honest with yourself in order to fully show up for yourself (which includes acknowledging when you can’t process/go through something alone).
Realistically a therapist is not going to tell you what’s wrong with you
A therapist is not going to tell you what your life’s purpose is. A therapist is not going to tell you why someone did what they did to you. One session of therapy will not suddenly change your entire life. The goal is to learn how to unpack the “aftermath” – if that makes sense. The way that I think about it is – you don’t seek out counseling to have someone tell you why something happened to you or to tell you what’s wrong with you. You seek out counseling to help yourself navigate, and to separate, then from now (at least if working through the past is your goal). To learn how to approach both the good and the bad; not to avoid and suppress all of the bad. If you’re working to unpack the past, you’re also learning how to live in the present. You’re building a self-help “toolbox” (that’s the term I hear used most often by people) – not seeking resources for someone to solve your problems.
Again, if you’re in a place where you need immediate services and you are feeling like you’re in crisis mode – seek out professional resources. If you do not feel safe in your body or in your living situation, there are resources out there that are available to you. Sometimes the hardest part can really be taking that first step to seeking help. But it is out there for you, I promise.
If you’re looking for a diagnosis: don’t
Let me explain – I completely understand that a diagnosis can bring relief to a person; having a name to the things you’ve been suffering with can be a healing feeling for some people. I do not deny or dispute that in any way. However- I feel like we’re in a time when everyone is looking to put some type of label on themselves; suddenly everyone has ADHD, depression, DID, etc. A diagnosis is not what’s wrong with you – it literally gives a label to the generalized symptoms that you’re having. If you’re going to a therapy office for one appointment to get a diagnosis: You’re wasting your time.
If you’re genuinely confused by the symptoms you’re experiencing and they’re impacting your overall quality of life, or maybe you’ve received treatment for something, but nothing seems to be working – there are professional mental health testing specialists out there. Research into mental health testing facilities near you if that’s something that you are struggling with and you’re looking to find some type of answer. I want to be clear that nothing is 100%. People do get misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed – the point itself is not the diagnosis but the symptoms that you’re experiencing and the way that you’re able/not able to function in daily life with them. Don’t focus on the label itself but the way that you’re able to work with/through the symptoms that you’re experiencing.
A self-diagnosis does not in any way replace a professional diagnosis. Stay off of WebMD trying to figure out what’s wrong with you – seek out professional resources or vetted self-help resources that can genuinely help you and make a difference in your life.
In finding and utilizing a professional resource – don’t forget that you also need to establish a support network (support system). Meaning that your therapist should not be the only point of support in your life. I think that there is this idea that you should shut people out and work on yourself alone, “come back when you’re better”; but the reality is that we are just naturally social creatures. This is where finding clubs, support groups, activities, etc. – is so important. Establishing connections and a sense of being is a huge part of wellness. Understand that your therapist alone is not going to change your life. Only you can change your life, but no one said that you have to do it alone.
Overall everyone’s process and journey is going to look different – from the amount of sessions in a month to the period of time overall someone is in therapy.
Financial aspects will also look different place to place, and therapists themselves will have different degrees, levels of education (or licensures), and various backgrounds. I always go back to doing your research – it’s a good step in looking for resources and tools to utilize (obviously vet the sources you’re utilizing in your research). There are budget-friendly options out there, although options for professional resources may vary depending on where you’re physically located. I’m not really one to recommend online therapy, but it is something to look into if you’re interested in it.
-Outside of the therapy office –
I feel the need to reiterate how much your journey is your own to go through. I think in part because I know, personally, that there can be times when it’s easy to compare your journey, your life, to that of someone else. Part of seeking out professional resources is acknowledging that they are pieces of the puzzle and not the whole puzzle itself. Therapy is not a “fix”. Medication is not a “fix”. Isolation is not a “fix”.
It goes back to establishing a network of support. One thing alone is not going to make things suddenly better (or more manageable); take time to recognize the things in your life that can act as pillars of support.
I have to admit – I was someone that thought therapy was the only way I would “get better”. Being so overwhelmed by my present thoughts, feelings, and emotions – on top of being overwhelmed by past situations, feelings, and emotions; therapy was absolutely something I needed in my life. But I stopped paying attention to the way that I was showing up for myself (arguably because of the mental illness). I was so focused on “fixing” myself – thinking that a therapist would tell me exactly how to… I didn’t actually know what the purpose or point of going to a therapist was.
It got to the point where after a few different therapists, and feeling the same exact way as I always had – I just completely lost hope in therapy. I had convinced myself that I was beyond help or “repair”. Realistically, my expectations were completely disconnected from the reality of therapy. I was expecting someone else to “fix” me, meanwhile I was doing absolutely nothing for myself in my day to day life/process. It took a long time for me to acknowledge that I, myself, had to take accountability and responsibility for my present life. If you’re utilizing professional resources but not doing anything outside of the resource itself – nothing is going to change. Point blank. One thing alone is not going to help further your journey or growth/healing process. It is quite literally an entire network of support that will help you along the way.
Personally, I think the way that some people talk about therapy is just completely backwards from what therapy actually is. It comes down to: a therapist is a resource, not a miracle worker. Going to therapy can definitely help someone to unpack their past, to navigate their emotions and feelings – to label them and learn ways to regulate them back to a less-overwhelming place. Therapy can help a person to understand how to help themselves. But therapy is one piece of the puzzle. A therapist is there to help you learn how to help yourself – to help you unpack the past and the way that you carry it with you (if that applies to you); they can help with the day-to-day stress – and be a good sounding board when needed. (Therapy is not just for the traumatic childhood – it can also be for day-to-day stressors)
The work you do outside of the therapist’s office is equally, if not more, important than the work you do inside of the therapist’s office.
Something that really worked for me was physically writing out the parts of my support network. People, hobbies, activities, community resources, spiritual resources, physical resources, self-help resources; I could go on and on. There was something about having a physical list, one that I could go back to, that genuinely made me feel more connected and less alone in the process. It was the moment that I decided that I deserved love and support, that I started seeking it out more when I needed it (genuine love and support, not temporary fixes from temporary people). You are not alone in the things that you are going through – and you absolutely deserve love and support. You have to give yourself love and support in order to seek it out from external entities in a genuine and helpful way.
It does not have to be an overnight process – nor is it going to be something you struggle with your entire life. Don’t let a label overtake your mindset towards yourself or limit your life. The things that you are struggling with right now do not have to be the things that you always struggle with – they can become the things that you work with and through. There are people and resources out there to help you become the best version of yourself – whatever that version may look like to you. I think that sometimes the mental health space gets a bad rep because of the broken systems that are currently in place (at least if you live in America). But there are people out there doing the work that they do because they genuinely want to help people live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Financial aspects, scheduling, wait times, vulnerability – all reasons that can be used to avoid seeking professional help or resources. The only person that can truly impact your life is you; just by taking the first step (regardless of how big or small), it makes it easier to take the next and then the next. But no one can do the process for you or tell you how to do it. You have to figure out what works for you and focus on making your life one filled with happiness and fulfillment – it all starts with you, but you are not alone in the process.
No one can go through the process for you, but you are in no way, shape, or form alone in your journey. Build up your support network and reflect inwards – how can you give more to yourself and your life? Who are the people in your life that make you feel heard and seen? If it doesn’t bring you happiness, peace, growth, or understanding – let it go. You’ve got this. I believe in you. I hope you find whatever it is that you’re looking for.
(P.S – I’ll list a few hotlines/resources below)
Check Out My Last Posts for More Wellness Thoughts, Tips, Experiences
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admin National Helpline:
Veterans Crisis Line:
988, then PRESS 1
OR Text 838255
National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Suicide and Crisis Line:
988 (call or text)