If you’ve ever had an issue, experienced intense feelings, or otherwise felt human at some point in your life, you’ve probably wondered, “Should I go talk to someone?”
For many of us, the follow up to that initial thought is something like:
“But what would talking to someone actually do?”
“How is seeing a therapist going to help anything?”
“What’s the point of paying someone to just sit there and listen to my problems?”
If one of those latter thoughts convinced you to just let it be, and then the issues, feelings, and human-ness of your situation continued to cause you trouble, you may have escalated reasons not to go talk to someone with one of the following thoughts:
“I’m just being lazy.”
“I can handle this myself.”
I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.
“All I have to do is just cut it out. Suck it up. Get focused. Then everything will be fine.”
Here are some answers to your questions about therapy. And hopefully some reasons to change your thinking, and get yourself an appointment…
What Is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is the provision of health care via talking — or, as Sigmund Freud called it, “the talking cure.” Psychotherapy is often called therapy for short.
In most basic terms, it is a conversation between two people, focused on one of those people. Therapy is also called counseling, and the two terms are interchangeable.
How Does Psychotherapy Help?
There is no magic involved. Our thoughts and feelings, the meaning that we assign to our experiences, and the judgments we make, all occur “up there” in our minds, authored by our brains.
These processes are internal, and when we do not share them with others, we leave it up to ourselves to evaluate the accuracy, rationality, and reliability of our thoughts and feelings. This is a set up for misinterpretation, over- and under-valuation, and worst of all, isolation.
For example, let’s say you have anxious thoughts. You think that you’ll “never amount to anything,” or that “people don’t like you.” If you keep those thoughts to yourself, they can (and often will) start to seem true.
Once accepted as true, you act on those thoughts and appraisals, withdrawing from others, avoiding social situations, and then feeling even more isolated and anxious. A nasty snowball of anxiety, avoidance, and negativity gets going, and the longer it continues, the bigger, more irrational and intractable it feels.
Psychotherapy is a collaborative process that allows you to openly name and express your thoughts and feelings, pinpoint what you want to be different, and explore how to create change.
Psychotherapy is confidential, non-judgmental, and growth-oriented. When you are an active participant in psychotherapy, you collaborate with an educated and objective healthcare professional to examine problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and identify goals in a supportive environment.
Psychotherapy helps because we often get “stuck” when attempting to make internal change on our own.
Which Issues Can Psychotherapy Help With?
You name it! Psychotherapy can help with any and all of the following:
- Stress management
- Career questions
- Negative thinking
- Negative feelings
- Sport or exercise performance
- High achievement
- And countless other aspects of life
There are mental health specialists for all kinds of issues. For example, there are counselors who specialize in working with people who have been diagnosed with genital herpes, or in working with people from a specific religious faith, or who are facing problems with infertility. Aside from seeking financial counseling or nutrition counseling, therapy can help you with just about any other “issue” you are facing.
Is Therapy Right for You?
Probably. If you’re verbal, intelligent, and growth-oriented, definitely. If you’re not any of those things (or at least you don’t think you are), it can still be right for you. It’s just a matter of finding the right person: the right “fit” for your communication style, comfort level with challenge, and willingness to step outside of that comfort zone.
For example, if you are an organized, in-your-head, Type A, list-writing, check-marking type of person, you might gravitate toward Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). On the other hand, if you’re a contemplative, artistic, philosophical deep-thinker, you may love existential psychotherapy. But, even more important than the style of therapy is the therapist themselves.
How Do I Find the “Right” Therapist for Me?
Think of finding the right therapist the same way you might think about finding the right romantic partner, or even the right tennis partner. You need chemistry, ease, open communication, and a general tendency to like that other person.
Remember that going on one date doesn’t mean you’ve met the right person for you, and that calling one therapist doesn’t mean you have to work with that person.
Shop around online, and then talk to that therapist on the phone before meeting them in person.
Remember that your first session is an opportunity for the two of you to say hello, and to see if a productive working relationship is possible. Even though it can feel uncomfortable to talk to a stranger about your innermost thoughts and feelings, you want to find a therapist with whom you can be able to feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.
If it feels like you can talk about whatever you need to, and you feel free from judgment, it’s a match. But if not, keep it moving! There are plenty of therapist-fish in the counseling sea, so to speak.
But, I Have a Very Valid Reason Not to Go!
Let’s unpack those reasons into two main categories: feelings, and facts.
This is typically stigma about mental health and mental health treatment. For example, feeling like going to counseling is a weakness, or means defeat, or will be embarrassing if others find out about it. Stigma can also manifest itself as believing that your symptoms “aren’t real,” or that you are just “being lazy” or “feeling sorry for yourself.”
These are concrete barriers, including:
- No health or mental health insurance coverage
- Inability to pay for the cost of mental health care out of pocket
- Lack of licensed mental health professionals in the area where you live or work
- Lack of time outside of work and family obligations to see a therapist
- Lack of therapist availability on nights, weekends, or times when you could actually go to therapy
If your reasons for not going to therapy fall under feelings, please click here for more reinforcement and education about the realness and consequences of mental health issues, and information about specific mental health concerns.
If your reasons fall under facts, there are workarounds for most of those barriers.
No Health or Mental Health Insurance Coverage
Research online to find community clinics, graduate schools of psychotherapy, and spiritual counseling clinics in your area. There may be practitioners in these settings that offer a “sliding scale,” which means they will adjust their fee based on what you are able to afford.
This will require some digging on your part, but there are practitioners out there who will adjust their rate to work with you. Also, some psychotherapy training programs offer free or extremely inexpensive sessions for working with students (under the supervision of at least one licensed mental health professional).
Inability to Pay for the Cost of Mental Health Care
As mentioned above, there are practitioners who will adjust their fee so that you can afford their services. In addition, if your insurance doesn’t cover behavioral health care, but includes a flexible spending account (FSA), you may be able to draw from this account to pay for sessions.
If you have mental or behavioral health benefits, but cannot find a therapist who accepts your insurance, call your insurance company to find out if you have “out-of-network benefits.” If you do, your insurance company may reimburse you some or most of the cost of seeing a therapist.
Lack of Available Therapists
If you’re struggling to find a therapist in your area, or one with availability when you can be seen, look into remote services. Tele-mental health is a new and growing field within mental health care. If the therapist is licensed in the state where you live and provides tele-mental health services, they would be able to work with you.
Although many therapists feel that seeing each other in person is best, tele-mental health treatment is far more effective than no treatment. Clients of tele-mental health like the convenience of not having to make time to travel to an office location.
Lack of Time
If you’re busy during the day, or all week, you may have trouble finding a psychotherapist who has weekend or evening hours. But they exist! Keep searching for “off-hours availability.” There is a demand for providing psychotherapy services outside of normal business hours, and if you keep looking, you will find a practitioner who can work with you during a time you can be available.
If necessary, talk to your loved ones to identify a good day and time for you to have a weekly appointment. When you have a specific day of the week and time of day in mind, it can help both you and prospective therapists identify possible times to meet.
I’m Convinced — How Do I get Started?
Yes! This is the first step: leaning into the idea of talking to someone, and then taking action steps.
You can get started by doing a little research to find a therapist in your area. If you have a trusted primary care doctor, they may have a referral they highly recommend and can put you in touch with. Sometimes doctors who work within a healthcare system or hospital can make this referral for you directly.
An added benefit of this kind of referral is that the therapist will most likely accept your healthcare insurance, if you plan to use it, because your primary care is most likely someone who already accepts your insurance.
If you’d like to search on your own and you’re located in Canada or the U.S., PsychologyToday.com has an extensive database, which is free to use. You can enter in your location, as well as your health insurance type, gender preference (if you’d prefer to work with a male or female therapist), and issues you want to address in therapy. Your search will provide profiles with photos and information regarding fees and location.
Mental health care practitioners come from a variety of educational backgrounds, and therapists listed on this site may include social workers, psychologists, licensed mental health therapists, and marriage and family therapists. In the U.S., the American Psychological Association also offers a directory for psychologists in your area. You can find this on their Psychologist Locator page at APA.org.
Good luck! Remember that behavior change is hard, and so if your motivation wanes a day or two from now, read this article again. If, once again, you start questioning whether or not you should go to therapy, re-read this article, or talk to a friend who you know goes to therapy.
If you’ve read this, or that more than once, the answer to your question is:
Definitely. You should definitely go to therapy.