Therapist can be an effective treatment for a host of mental and emotional problems. Simply talking about your thoughts and feelings with a supportive person can often make you feel better. It can be very healing, in and of itself, to voice your worries or talk about something that’s weighing on your mind. And it feels good to be listened to—to know that someone else cares about you and wants to help.
While it can be very helpful to talk about your problems to close friends and family members, sometimes you need help that the people around you aren’t able to provide. When you need extra support, an outside perspective, or some expert guidance, talking to a therapist or counselor can help. While the support of friends and family is important, therapy is different. Therapists are professionally-trained listeners who can help you get to the root of your problems, overcome emotional challenges, and make positive changes in your life.
Why therapy and not medication?
The thought of being able to solve your problems by taking a pill each day can sound appealing. If only it was that easy! Mental and emotional problems have multiple causes, and medication is not a one-stop cure.
Medication may help ease certain symptoms, but it comes with side effects. Furthermore, it cannot solve the “big picture” problems. Medication won’t fix your relationships, help you figure out what to do with your life, or give you insight into why you continue to make unhealthy choices.
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Finding the right therapist for you
Finding the right therapist will probably take some time and work, but it’s worth the effort. The connection you have with your therapist is essential. You need someone who you can trust—someone you feel comfortable talking to about difficult subjects and intimate secrets, someone who will be a partner in your recovery. Therapy won’t be effective unless you have this bond, so take some time at the beginning to find the right person. It’s okay to shop around and ask questions when interviewing potential therapists.
Experience matters. One of the main reasons for seeing a therapist, rather than simply talking to a friend, is experience. Look for a therapist who is experienced in treating the problems that you have. Often, therapists have special areas of focus, such as depression or eating disorders. Experienced therapists have seen the problems you’re facing again and again, which broadens their view and gives them more insight. And for some problems, such as trauma or PTSD, seeing a specialist is absolutely essential.
Learn about different treatment orientations. Many therapists practice a blend of orientations. However, it’s a good idea to learn about the different treatment types, because that can affect your therapist’s way of relating and the suggested length of treatment.
Check licensing. Credentials aren’t everything, but if you’re paying for a licensed professional, make sure the therapist holds a current license and is in good standing with the state regulatory board. Regulatory boards vary by state and profession. Also check for complaints against the therapist.
Trust your gut. Even if your therapist looks great on paper, if the connection doesn’t feel right—if you don’t trust the person or feel like they truly care—go with another choice. A good therapist will respect this choice and should never pressure you or make you feel guilty.
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What to expect in therapy or counseling
Every therapist is different, but there are usually some similarities in how therapy is structured. Normally, sessions will last about an hour, and take place around once a week. Although for more intensive therapy, they may be scheduled more often. Therapy is normally conducted in the therapist’s office, but therapists also work in hospitals and nursing homes, and in some cases will conduct home visits.
Expect a good fit between you and your therapist. Don’t settle for bad fit. You may need to see one or more therapists until you feel understood and accepted.
Therapy is a partnership. Both you and your therapist contribute to the healing process. You’re not expected to do the work of recovery all by yourself, but your therapist can’t do it for you either. Therapy should feel like a collaboration.
Therapy will not always feel pleasant. Painful memories, frustrations or feelings might surface. This is a normal part of therapy and your therapist will guide you through this process. Be sure to communicate with your therapist about how you are feeling.
Therapy should be a safe place. While at times you’ll feel challenged or face unpleasant feelings, you should always feel safe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or you’re dreading your therapy sessions, talk to your therapist.