How to Make the Most Out of Therapy

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some tips that might be helpful to know before your first therapy session. Therapy can oftentimes seem so intimidating but it has proved to be an effective form of treatment for some. If it is something you are considering, knowing some background knowledge about it could make the decision about whether or not to pursue it easier.

Research different types of therapy to find the best fit

There is not necessarily one form of therapy that works for everyone and it is often structured differently based on what you are seeking help for.

The most common choice is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is essentially talk therapy aimed at helping you address your habits and deal with your feelings in a healthy manner. It is extremely versatile and is appropriate for issues ranging from mental illnesses to everyday stress. It has a loose structure as it is mainly a conversation between you and the therapist and is centered around the concept of coping mechanisms. There is an emphasis on addressing your thought processes to understand the root of your emotions. 1.

Another type is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which has four main pillars: mindfulness, tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. What that essentially boils down to is how to maintain healthy relationships while also taking care of yourself. It has proved to be effective in treating personality disorders which are characteristic of inappropriate emotional reactions such as pushing people away, exhibiting abandonment issues, and making impulsive choices that are often dangerous. However, patients with depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD have also found this to be helpful. A key difference between DBT and CBT is that DBT involves group therapy in addition to individual therapy as a way to work on interpersonal skills. 2.

Humanistic therapy is committed to the idea that individuals need to be nurtured and can be helped to fulfill their true potential. It is a sector of psychology that holistically addresses rationality and human goodness. It may be well suited to patients who are more nervous about therapy as the practitioners are trained to be kind and let the patient decide which path is best for them. 3.

As a note, these are just a few different types and there are many more out there if these do not seem like what you are looking for.

Finding a therapist

Once a decision has been made, the next step is identifying who you want to start your sessions with. This is a crucial part of the process and oftentimes the most stressful because a good connection is key to having productive sessions. Luckily there are resources which do a bit of the work for you and Psychology Today is one of the best. You can filter based on your location and what you are seeking treatment for. They also include information like the cost per session, how long they have been in practice, the school they graduated from, and what kind of degree they obtained. The good part is that all of these therapists have been verified and are safe to go to. Some therapists choose to treat a certain age range or are only specialized in specific disorders and their profile will also state what those are. The one downside is that it is difficult to find reviews for them so there is an element of luck but this website at least helps you narrow down your search.

Understanding the different types of professional degrees

Another choice is what kind of degree you want your therapist to have and if degree even matters to you. A psychiatrist with a MD is allowed to prescribe medicine while someone with a Masters, PsyD, or PhD is unable to do this. Medication is not required for everyone and is something that should be considered carefully at the discretion of a trained professional. Psychiatrists are doctors so they are not trained in talk therapy and often recommend traditional therapy in conjuncture with mediation if you go down that route.

Maintain reasonable expectations

Unfortunately, therapy tends to be something that people pursue only as a last resort. Therefore, the emotional state they are in is very fragile and they are often more vulnerable than they would normally be. There is a sense of desperation that might make them want a quick fix and this is usually impossible. The mind takes a lot longer to heal than any other part of the body and, even with medication, it may take months to completely return to a stable state. But, in the case of any injury, progress is incremental and you will start to see small changes that can keep you motivated to stay on this path.

You are allowed to have a say in how the session is conducted

While therapists attempt to create an environment where their patient feels comfortable and at peace, there is typically still an age gap that can make for some awkwardness. Your therapist is here to help and you should not feel compelled to agree with the direction they are taking if it is not what you want. It might be a good idea to set a goal for each session ahead of time so that the conversation has some structure. After the first introductory meeting, try and set up a plan with your therapist so that they know what you hope to gain from therapy and can better help you achieve that. The appointments are about you and a good therapist will be responsive to your needs.

There are ways to cut down on the costs of therapy

As a college student, cost is usually a defining factor in everything especially something that can potentially have a high one. A common form of advice is to seek out your campus counseling center, but unfortunately, they are often vastly ill-equipped to deal with students in a manner that actually helps. If your parents are understanding, consider having a conversation with them and find out if their insurance will cover the cost or if it is a financially viable option. If this is not the case, many therapists do operate on sliding scales and may allow you to pay a lower cost based on your income level.

You decide who you get to tell about therapy

In this day and age, there tends to be a negative reaction to hearing that someone is in therapy. This stigma has somewhat reduced over the years but it has not gotten to a point where therapy is universally accepted. There is a sense of shame associated with therapy as people often are worried about judgment or being perceived as though there is something fundamentally wrong with them. But, you do not have to be open with everyone about your decision. If you have people that you trust will be kind and understanding, they are the ones you should tell but you are entitled to your privacy. Nobody else is allowed to make you feel less than for deciding to take care of yourself. Therapy is a personal experience and the most important thing is that you yourself do not put yourself down or see yourself as weak for making this choice.