Some perceptions about seeking out counseling is that you have to be depressed, something must be "wrong" with you, or you need it because of your "diagnosis." While these are all reasons people do seek out a therapist, there are other reasons to include: seeking to increase insight and self-awareness about yourself or a situation, seeking new or alternative coping skills, or simply seeking out a safe professional space to address thoughts you find bothersome or disruptive. Although more and more people are opening up to discussing their concerns in safe therapeutic spaces-- therapy, psychotherapy or counseling can still be perceived as spaces for people labeled "crazy." This perception is in my opinion a misconception, as plenty of high functioning, steady job holding and sound minded individuals are working these days to deepen their understanding about their bothersome concerns or patterns.
If you have long pondered or recently thought about seeking out therapy, and the process seems overwhelming or you are uncertain of where to start, here are a few suggestions:
Do not judge yourself: if you realized there was something medically or physically concerning to you, is your first instinct to try to get to the root of this problem and/or seek out medical advice? There is still some stigma surrounding the desire to approach mental or emotional concerns in the same way physical or medical ones are handled. There is still this idea that "only crazy people" or "only psych cases" seek out professional assistance to address mental or emotional concerns. This stigma can open a can of judgmental worms that only keep you away from taking care of yourself the way you may need to. As alluded to above-- anyone with any bothersome concern can be a candidate for therapy.
Expectations: try to let go of what you have seen or heard about therapy. Not all experiences are the same, as providers have different or varied therapy styles. If you cannot let go of what you have seen or heard, bring these expectations or ideas to your counseling session and openly address them to help decrease any anxiety you may have about the process. Lots of first time people to therapy report feeling nervous at their first appointment-- this is normal.
Ask Questions: before making an appointment ask the therapist about the approach that he or she uses, or research the therapist's style of counseling via their website or professional directory. Find out if the therapist addresses the concerns you will be presenting with by briefly stating your reason for seeking out therapy. Some providers offer a brief free over the phone consultation and you may be able to get a feel sooner than later if the provider will be a fit for you (please keep in mind that you can start with an on or off connection over the phone but then experience something opposite once you meet in person). You may also need to ask questions from your health insurance carrier if you have mental health benefits-- will there be any out of pocket costs such as a deductible or copay, is the provider you plan on seeing in network or out of network with your health benefit plan, do you need any pre-authorizations to see the provider. If you are not using insurance ask the provider about their cost. Also, ask if there are any forms that you can review and complete before the appointment as there can be a lot of paperwork at your first visit-- doing them ahead of time allows you to have more time to address your presenting concern(s). Most importantly, ask yourself, "Am I ready?"
Support: if you think you need support, ask a close friend or family member to accompany you. This person can be in the appointment with you if you choose or they can go with you and wait for you while you are in your appointment.
Commitment: therapy can be painful at first as difficult emotions may be evoked by the process. Stick with the process. Remember you are doing this for your own health and self-care. You are there to deepen your understanding and mastery of yourself. It does yield pleasurable results if you are committed to facing yourself and growing.
A quote that I have as my email signature states, "Compassionate action involves working with ourselves as much as working with others” Pema Chodron. This is a reminder for me that if I want to help others, I need to not only help myself, but extend the same grace to myself I would to helping someone else. If you have been considering therapy go ahead and give it a shot. You just might like it.