Breaking Down the Basics: Your Ultimate Guide to Starting Therapy
We realize your reasons for starting therapy are personal and unique. At the same time, we want to reassure you that your questions or hesitations are common. For that reason, we created this guide to help answer the most common questions when it comes to starting therapy.
What’s inside this guide?
When you set out on a road trip, it’s nice to have a map, right? Having a sense of direction helps us to feel safe, prepared and comfortable. Setting out on a therapy journey is no different. This guide puts all the knowledge you need in one place, as accessible as a map. With this info, you’ll learn what therapy is and what it’s not, how to tell if it’s right for you, and how to set out on the right path to maximize its benefits. The path you take is up to you, but with this guide, you can be sure you’ll know where you’re going.
1. How do I know if therapy is right for me?
Therapy is for people from all walks of life, in all kinds of situations.
Some come by recommendation, and some stumble upon therapy via Google search.
Some know what they’re looking for, but many aren’t sure what to do with their situations.
Some folks come because they feel unhappy, stuck, angry, confused, stressed, or not themselves.
Some turn to therapy at a hard time in their lives or after going through a major life transition. These can include relationships, career, health, or family changes.
Some come feeling like they’re doing pretty well in life, but there’s something they want to improve.
Additionally, many people start therapy to gain greater awareness or change their perspective, such as being a better partner, overcoming a phobia or addiction, or assessing their goals. Each reason is a valid one. It’s important not to compare yourself to others or minimize your concerns.
Like our team often says, “What matters to you matters to us because you matter to us.” Every person is worthy of support. One of the most important factors determining whether your therapy experience is positive is your wanting to be there. To learn more about additional benefits of therapy, check out Shift Collab Therapist Alana Warner's blog that shares her top five benefits of therapy.
Often people mull over whether they should go to therapy for a while before they reach out. This window of time can be positive. It can help you consider whether it’s right for you and whether you’re ready for it. We recommend taking time to inform yourself and weigh your options beforehand.
In many cases, it’s harmful to hold off for too long before getting help. As with any health concern, ignoring a problem will not make it go away! If you’ve been contemplating therapy for a while and haven’t taken the leap, ask yourself what’s holding you back.
All too often, the stigma around mental health stops people from accessing the support they need and deserve. Stigma is rooted in ignorance and old judgments about mental health. Its effects can be subtle and dangerous.
While you’ve been considering going to therapy, have you had thoughts like:
What if people find out I see a therapist and think I’m “crazy”?
What if the therapist thinks I’m “crazy”?
What if I get emotional and embarrass myself in front of my therapist?
I’m a grown-up; I should be able to handle my feelings independently.
Nobody cares that I feel like this.
Why can’t I just be happy with my life?
How selfish am I that I need to go and talk about my tiny problems when there is real suffering in the world?
Have you been told (or said) words like:
You’ll be fine; just get over it
Other people have it much worse than you
People like us don’t need therapy
You need to relax and stop worrying
You don’t need therapy; you need to [go shopping, start exercising, have a drink, stop procrastinating], etc
If you’ve experienced any of the above, you’ve experienced the effects of stigma. If it’s primarily thoughts like these holding you back from seeking support, we encourage you to learn more, reach out to someone you trust, or reach out to someone anonymously.
Consider that almost everyone who sees a therapist or works in the mental health field has faced stigma to some degree. It held many of us back for a time. The world is shifting, and as big as these worries may feel now, they are manageable and will become more so.
We respect that the journey to starting therapy can be long and arduous, and when you first walk into the clinic, it’s a big step. We do our best to honour that.
2. Do my benefits cover therapy?
We wish we could give you the short answer, but the truth is — it’s complicated.
You should do a little research to find out if your benefits cover therapy. We suggest you follow these 3 steps:
Find your plan details: Still trying to figure out where to look? Go to your manager or HR and ask where to look for more information about your benefits.
Check your coverage: You’ll typically find psychotherapy or counselling under “Extended Health Benefits” in your plan, and it may or may not be under the subheading “Paramedical Services.” You can often spend a fixed amount each year in these categories (how much varies plan-to-plan), and sometimes there are hoops to jump through, such as a physician referral.
Consult the chart below: So, let’s say your friend recommends you see a social worker at their clinic. Pull up your plan and compare it with the info below to see if you’re covered by social workers. Note: It’s typical for all “Paramedical Services” to draw from one pool of money. This means that if you use your benefits to see a naturopath, for example, less money will be available in the pot for psychotherapy, massage, etc.
3. What should I look for in a therapist?
Research consistently shows that finding a good therapeutic fit is the biggest predictor of success in therapy.
When looking for a therapist who can best support you, consider the following:
You feel understood. Even when your therapist doesn’t fully understand, they try to figure out what you mean and don’t make any assumptions.
You don’t feel judged, ashamed, or embarrassed. Even with tricky topics, your therapist can make you feel as comfortable and respected as possible.
The focus is on youand your life. If or when your therapist shares anecdotes or personal experiences, it’s relevant to your situation and ultimately helps you.
Your therapist offers new ways of thinking and helps you gain greater insight by seeing how things are connected in your life.
Your therapist works at your pace. Realizing change takes time, they can manage the tricky balance of challenging you without pushing you too hard or too quickly.
Therapy can be challenging. It can be uncomfortable initially, but it doesn’t need to be. Finding the right support in therapy can take time, but when it comes to getting better, it can make all the difference.
At Shift Collab, we take this very seriously. We invite you to consult with several therapists and discuss any concerns you may have with our care team before you start. We’ll ensure your first session is with someone you feel good about. And if, after a few sessions, you don’t feel it’s the right fit, reach out to our care team, and they’ll support you.
4. What’s therapy like? How does it help?
If you’re like most people considering therapy, you probably have some questions about what to expect.
Your first session is a chance to share about yourself and what brought you to therapy. Some therapists use a structured assessment that asks a series of standard questions to understand you comprehensively. Other therapists opt for a more flexible session, asking more general questions such as “What brought you in today?” This allows the therapist to assess your needs and support you in the best way possible.
Whatever it looks like, keep the following points in mind when you’re starting out:
Feel free to ask questions. This is your time, and it’s important you feel comfortable.
Share your previous experiences. What’s helped before, and what hasn’t been as helpful? This can include lessons from past therapists or personal relationships, as well as other strategies you’ve used to cope up to this point.
Give honest feedback to your therapist. Remember that this is your time. They are professionals whose duty and passion is to support you. It’s important to let the therapist know how they can best help you.
There’s no right way of doing therapy. You may show emotion during therapy, or you may not. Some people feel embarrassed if they cry. Remember, it’s all understandable. You’re intentionally focusing on topics that may be uncomfortable and painful, that make you feel vulnerable.
Don’t expect your therapist to be your parent. A major part of the role of a therapist is to help you recognize just how much you already know. Therapy is not about being given the answers to your problems but allowing you to identify and fine-tune your ability to answer them independently.
Take your time when sharing. Remember that your therapist is not there to judge you but to support you and your emotions.
Everything is voluntary. These are your sessions, and you decide where they go. Your new therapist will likely ask you many questions to get to know you better. If at any point you’re uncomfortable with answering the question, it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’d rather not talk about that topic or would like to wait until you feel more comfortable before answering that question. You don’t have to bring up trauma if you’re not ready to. You don’t have to talk about sex if you’re uncomfortable going there. Your therapist can still support you. That said, it does help to share, and you always can when you’re ready!
5. Can I do something to prepare for my first session?
You certainly don’t need to, but you can.
Here are four questions to pose to yourself before you get started:
Why now? If this situation’s been going on for a couple of weeks, months, or years, what’s happened recently that led me to seek therapy now?
What changes would I like to see in my life? Try to be specific. Are you looking for new strategies to cope with a particular challenge? To strengthen my boundaries? To change a specific behaviour or mood? To gain personal insight?
What’s helped me so far? What did I try before coming to therapy? What are some of the ways I take care of myself or keep going? How have I been managing?
Who do I have in my corner? Who are my supporters? Who cares about me and wants to see me healthy and happy? (Be creative! These can include your friends, family, therapist, doctor, colleagues, neighbours, online communities, and even your pet!)
Remember that you’ll be the same person who walked in when you leave after that first session. We hope you’ll feel a sense of relief and a little pride because you finally did it. But if it’s not for you or the right time, that’s okay, too!
6. Get started
Whenever you’re ready, we’re here! If you’re interested in starting therapy at Shift Collab, you can do a few things to get started: