I hate asking for help, and I’ll wear an “I can just do it myself” attitude like a stubbornly-adhered badge of honor any chance I get. So it comes as no surprise that, while I considered seeing a therapist for years, I never actively pursued therapy, on the grounds that I believed nothing was actually “wrong.”
Then, the pandemic hit, and the most significant facets of my life as I knew it went seemingly out the window all at once, and I was, well, unwell. I made it 2.5 weeks into quarantine before I started researching therapists. At the time, I told myself that it would at the very least make the extra time stuck inside feel forward-moving, not to mention give me someone to talk to once a week who wasn’t my immediate family (or cat).
In theory, quarantine made therapy easier than ever to start. The lockdown meant that all sessions were virtual, so I could literally video chat with my therapist from the comfort of my childhood bedroom, still in my pajamas. But, in practice, the first couple of months were tough. I moved back home right when COVID started and was living under the same roof as my parents and younger brothers for the first time in years, so privacy was almost impossible to come by. I still associated going to therapy with having something that needed “fixing,” and I didn’t want my family to think that something was “wrong” with me or have another thing to worry about as the whole world was falling apart. So, my sessions began as spottily-serviced phone calls taken while pacing around my backyard, or whispered video chats in whatever unoccupied room I could find.
Even once I was in it, it took a while for me to understand the “point” of talking to a therapist. Society’s continued stigmatization and my limited understanding of therapy as a practice had me feeling like I needed to come prepared each week with a crisis that needed solving, and my deflective nature had me fighting an impulse to show up to therapy and perform what felt, at times, like a workshopped stand-up routine. It took time for me to recognize that I didn’t need something to be wrong with me or “bad” in my life in order to be deserving of that weekly hour of self-exploration.
It’s been a little over a year since I started therapy, and while I’ve learned much about the life I’ve led so far, the woman I am now, and what I’m dreaming about for my future, I’ll keep those revelations to myself for now. What I will share, however, is what I learned about finding a therapist and sticking with therapy as a self-care practice, relieved of the guilt or pressure to qualify it:
Find your most affordable option.
Therapy can get expensive, and financial stressors can cause additional strain on your mental health. Luckily, there are a number of options to keep costs down and still get the support you’re looking for. If you have health insurance, I highly recommend finding a therapist who is in-network so that at least some of your therapy is covered. If you don’t have health insurance to offset some of the cost, many therapists work on a sliding scale, offering some flexibility in their hourly rates in order to stay within your budget. Websites like Alma do a great job simplifying the search process so that you are only shown providers who meet your criteria.
When I was first thinking about starting therapy, a friend of mine (who is currently getting her Ph.D. in clinical psychology) recommended I look into working with a Ph.D. student from a local university, whose education requires clinical hours practicing psychology. These students are working under the close supervision of a licensed psychotherapist, but because they are “in training,” the cost per session is much less.
Yet another option, if you’re comfortable sharing the space with other people, is group therapy. Zencare is a great online database to find group therapy options near you.
“Interview” multiple therapists until you find your best fit.
Finding a therapist who is right for you takes work, and you owe it to yourself to meet with several before deciding who you want to actually begin therapy sessions with. Not only are you hiring them to provide you with a service, but you’re trusting them to hear and help you through your deepest (and perhaps most secretive) thoughts and experiences – take the time you need to find a fit that feels good to you. Many therapists offer free consultations, where you can ask them questions and express your needs.
When you start looking for a therapist, understand that the process might take a while because many therapists are overextended at this time and may be unable to take on new clients. Don’t let this discourage you, and do your best to recognize that therapists are people with mental, emotional, and physical needs too, and deserve to set boundaries when it comes to their number of clients and hours spent working each week.
Another thing that is vital to remember: if you are unhappy with your therapist or feel your sessions with them are no longer serving you the way you want them to, leave and find someone else! You listened to your gut when it told you therapy would be a good idea – listen to it even more closely if it’s telling you that what your therapist has to offer is unhelpful or perhaps even harmful.
Don’t feel the need to come to therapy ‘prepared.’
Quarantine catalyzed a lot of major changes in my life – the start of therapy included. So, when my sessions with my therapist began, I had plenty of specific events and examples to share with her and work through each week. Over time, as I moved past those “problems,” I started to feel pressured to know what I was going to talk about before each session began. But I’ve found that it is the sessions where I feel like I have nothing to say that I actually learn the most, because I’m coming in as my most unscripted and open minded self.
With this realization, I have also recently come to the conclusion that I had started using weekly therapy as a bit of a crutch – avoiding any problems as they were happening in real-time because I figured I could just save them for therapy. By switching to a therapy schedule of every 3 weeks, I’m finding myself actually putting into practice the things that I’ve told my therapist I want to work on and making real progress toward celebrating my strengths and (gracefully) improving upon the things I’ve identified as my weaknesses.
Treat sessions as unplugged, uninterrupted time with yourself.
I cannot stress this one enough: when therapy is in session, put the device distractions away. With teletherapy zoom sessions ongoing, I know it isn’t possible to go completely screen-free, but you must (and I really do mean must) put your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” force quit your email inbox, close any social media-related tabs, etc before therapy begins. Our energy and moods are so often dictated by our phones making us “accessible” 24/7, and I have learned the hard way that checking a text or reading an email can totally derail my focus and frame of mind. And, by committing to shutting off the outside world for at least that one hour, I’ve gotten better at setting additional boundaries when it comes to choosing when and how people are able to reach me.
And if you’re finding it hard for you to unplug for that hour or you’re finding yourself totally encumbered by an unwelcomed text message or a stressful work email, consider talking to your therapist about that, too.
Oh, one more thing… no matter your reason for seeing a therapist, you do not need to justify that decision with friends, family, coworkers, significant others, etc. That time is yours, and you never have to explain to anyone why you’re unavailable for that hour if it doesn’t feel right to.