Should I See a Therapist? A Beginners Guide to Getting Help
Mental health is health — and just as you would go to a physician to check on something concerning, talking to someone about your thoughts and feelings can help make you better too. The stigma around mental health has never been fair and shouldn't hinder those struggling with anxiety or depression to actually seek the help they need.
Seeing a therapist for the first time can be both terrifying and liberating. You can freely express your feelings, be vulnerable, and challenge yourself with a qualified mental health professional, in a completely different way than family and friends would be.
Sounds promising, right? But you still need to find the nerve and get up and go. And you need to be ready and open, otherwise you're not going to get what you need out of it. We spoke with psychologist Michelle Lucci of Cambridge Psychology Centre and she carefully explains everything you need to know about seeing a therapist, whether or not it's right for you and how it all works.
"There are different types of mental health services, from social workers and family counsellors, psychologists or psychological associates, to occupational therapists and psychotherapists. And while "most people equate therapy with a psychologist," Lucci explains, "each type of profession offers different work." It just depends on what your needs require, access to services and what a person hopes to achieve.
How do I find the right therapist for me?While most people Google to find someone, or get a suggestion from a family member or friend, some also ask their physician to put them in touch with someone — though a doctor's referral isn't required.
Once an initial consult appointment is set up, "the client can get a sense of the clinician and see if they're comfortable with them," details Lucci. "They would generally discuss limits of confidentiality followed by going through the client's history and then the current complaints."
By the end of that first session, the client will have a general idea if this is someone they click with. "That's a very important piece of therapy. The client will generally know what to expect in the next few sessions and what type of therapy is going to happen."
Lucci adds, "Therapeutic rapport is a really strong indicator of positive treatment outcome. For this reason, potential clients can sometimes meet with different clinicians for an initial meeting to determine who they would work with best. Of course, this requires a bit of money but if you're into therapy for the long-haul, to find a good fit would be money well spent."
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How much does therapy cost?Sadly, while mental health is just as important as physical health, it is yet to be recognized as "medically necessary," so for now, therapy isn't covered. But if you have extended health care benefits through your employer, you most likely quality for some type of coverage.
"We advise people to check coverage before beginning their process as therapy can become quite expensive," suggests Lucci. "In Ontario, services can range from a small monetary amount (for example, if a clinician is a student in training) to more than $300 an hour in places like Toronto. In Hamilton and the Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge area, most psychological clinics charge $180-$200 an hour."
How long is a therapy session?"Sessions are generally an hour long," says Lucci, but adds that the first session could be 90 minutes "because there can be quite a bit of info to cover."
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How do I prepare for a session?"Bring yourself and perhaps a list of any medication that you might be taking, though that's not necessary," suggests Lucci. "Take a deep breath! Remember, this hour is about you!"
Oh, and in case you're wondering, even when there is a couch, Lucci reveals no one ever lies on it. "People almost always sit, on the couch or the chair, opposite the clinician."
What are the different types of therapy?"Since each person is different, each person requires a different type of intervention," says Lucci. "Psychologists are not able to prescribe medications so the work we do is 'talk therapy.' Psychologists can treat a range of issues from serious mental health disorders to stress management."
She adds that psychoeducation is "almost always woven into treatment" as it's always "a good thing when people understand themselves and their function. Essentially, a proper diagnosis informs treatment planning." Which is obviously the ultimate goal.
What questions should I ask my therapist?"If something comes up for you during or after your first session, ask it," advises Lucci. "Most curiosities are sated by the end of the first session. Just remember, the sessions are about you and not the therapist. I am sometimes asked about my experience but mainly people just want to know that their troubles are not that unusual."
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What are open-ended questions in counselling?There are two types of questions: open-ended and closed-ended. And most therapists are trained to ask open-ended questions to allow the patient/client to provide details, rather than simply answering "yes" or "no" or another one-word response.
"For example, 'Who was boss while you were growing up?' versus 'Was your dad the boss while growing up?'"
What is a psychological question?"Psychologists are specially clinically trained to assess, diagnosis and treat and have advanced training in assessment, counselling, psychotherapy, psychological testing, and the science of behaviour change," says Lucci. "Psychologists are the only professionals that are qualified to use certain kinds of psychological tests to assess intelligence, emotional and behavioural problems, and neuropsychological dysfunction. We ask and answer all types of questions. It really depends on what we are working on."
She adds, "If you ever wonder why a psychologist is asking a specific question, ask them! There generally is not some sinister reason."
Can therapy be harmful?Like with everything else, Lucci admits that along with benefits to treatment, there are also uncertainties, but those concerns are typically discussed during the first session or the treatment planning phase.
"There can be a risk that some symptoms can increase in intensity and frequency before they improve while doing trauma treatment," explains Lucci. "Generally the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. When you choose a well-trained and registered psychologist, any treatment issue can generally be resolved within the treatment session."
What are the benefits of therapy?There are so many but Lucci asserts that the main goal and benefit is symptom reduction. "People come to therapy looking to reduce anxiety symptoms, improve mood or deal with trauma-related symptoms. Others come for stress management strategies, sleep-related issues or help with problem-solving when things seem overwhelming and complicated. And many are also interested in understanding why these symptoms or disorders have come about. Depending on the nature of the issues, psychological therapy can help people better understand the factors at play."
She concludes: "Having a neutral person to use as a sounding board and offer expertise in itself can be quite helpful."
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