By Jill Bajorek, LCSW
Beginning therapy can be a difficult process, whether it’s someone’s first time or they are starting up again. There’s often a stigma about going to therapy that a lot of people have to overcome. We often hear, “When starting therapy, it feels like I’m admitting something is ‘wrong with me.’” While therapy can be important when there is a crisis, it can also be a place to better learn about yourself and how your mind works. Along with deciding to start, there can be a lot of fear in finding the right therapist for you. We often get questions from others about “Where do I start?” Even though there may be many therapists out there, most people want to find someone who is a good fit, and that usually means someone who feels like they will understand them enough to help them. I will share some thoughts here to help that process.
There are many websites that show therapists’ profiles. For example, therapists at our practice can be found using Google, Inclusive Therapists, Psychology Today, insurance provider databases, and our own website. A lot of those sites have options to search for specific criteria and in order to choose what criteria is right for you, it’s important to think about what you are looking for and why.
When it comes to wanting someone who understands them, people can describe that differently. Sometimes clients want someone who is similar to them and their identity. This could mean finding someone of the same/similar gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. It could also be someone who has had similar life experiences as them, such as culturally, geographically, or through socioeconomic status. The reasoning is that someone will understand their needs more than someone who has not experienced what they have. That’s great when that happens, but many times people aren’t going to find perfect matches. The good news is—that’s ok! It’s actually a great opportunity for a client to engage in discussion with a therapist and advocate for their needs, which can have a lot of therapeutic value. It’s our jobs to create a safe space and be on board with accepting what a client brings to session, and most importantly respecting that advocacy. We work to align with clients’ needs so it’s a productive and healthy environment. This must even happen when a client finds a therapist pretty similar to them, because no two sets of experiences are exactly alike.
It’s our goal to create a space that allows you to feel welcome and safe right away, but sometimes it takes time because therapy itself IS uncomfortable. It can feel strange to talk about yourself for a while, not knowing much about the person listening. It’s unlike any other relationship, really! On top of that, we nudge you to explore concepts that might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar. That’s the benefit of therapy, but it doesn’t always feel good. In fact, sometimes people leave sessions feeling exhausted or like they just did some hard work, and even though it’s towards progress in the long run, it can feel heavy. Because therapy can be difficult, it’s hard to tell at first if any discomfort is because you need a different therapist, or the process itself is uncomfortable. Some important things to look out for are—is my therapist allowing enough space for my thoughts? Are they accepting of what I tell them about myself, and do they seem willing to join me for this journey? Do I feel respected and emboldened as a patient, even if that means they challenge me sometimes? Do I have a good rapport, and a good balance of talking and listening with them? Do they seem to be generally unbiased and able to meet my needs, even if I can tell they differ from me in terms of life experience? You can come up with your own needs, too! These are some of the major concepts we keep in mind when meeting with someone, and we make it our goal to uphold that during our time together.
We offer complimentary 20-minute consultations in our practice to alleviate some of the initial fears of starting. That way, there’s no big commitment except some time. We do, however, encourage clients to try a few sessions to best make this decision. Think of any time you meet someone, it usually takes some time to get to know them and feel like you can vibe with them! This also gives some time for you to advocate for your needs and learn if the therapist is able to accommodate what you bring in. It’s incredibly important to utilize therapeutic sessions to discuss what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a place to approach conversations with each other about each other and engage in some conflict resolution when necessary. Since therapy is its own relationship, it makes sense that sometimes you might have to address what’s “in the room”. We encourage this not only to make the sessions more meaningful, but also because it’s an important life skill to stand up for yourself and believe your needs are important.
Once you’ve seen a therapist, it’s also ok to stop seeing them if you decide they’re not a good fit. Sometimes it just happens and it might not be anyone’s fault. We are prepared for this conversation and actually prefer to know how a client really feels. We encourage everyone to address any concerns, even if it feels awkward, to see if they can be worked through. However, telling a therapist you want to move on and try someone else is totally appropriate. It’s another way of advocating for your needs!
We hope you feel more prepared to begin your therapy journey. We also hope you take some time to think of your needs and understand they are important, and we are glad to do that with you. We at Encircle Wellness are always available to help with some guidance, so please reach out when you’re ready to start the process.