If you’ve decided to go to therapy for healing and self-development, congratulations! Many people have found a new, more fulfilled version of themselves through the therapy process. Certain types of therapy are also proven by scientific research to help people with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
But booking your first therapy appointment can be scary and nerve-wracking. What if it doesn’t work? How can you tell if your therapist will really be able to help you? And do all the letters behind different therapists’ names make a difference?
We’ve got your back. Here’s your guide to everything you should know when booking your first therapy appointment, from talking about payments to figuring out how to measure progress.
Know the different types of therapists and licenses.
First of all, it’s important to make sure that the therapist you’re thinking about seeing is licensed to practice, and that their license allows them to do what you need them to. There are many different types of licenses that allow people to practice psychotherapy. The most common ones are:
- M.D.: If you see M.D. behind a therapist’s name, that means they have a medical license and are probably a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists can provide therapy as well as prescribe you with medication. This is the only license that allows therapists to prescribe medication, so medication is primarily what you’re looking for, make sure you’re booking an appointment with someone with an M.D.
- PhD. or PsyD.: These are doctorate degrees in psychology. People with PhDs or PsyDs can provide psychological testing on top of therapy.
- LCSW: Licensed clinical social workers are people with Masters degrees in social work who are licensed to provide psychotherapy.
- M.A., including LPC and LMFT: People with Masters degrees in psychology or counseling can complete clinical hours to get a license to practice psychotherapy.
Anyone with these licenses can legally provide you with therapy, but if you’re looking for something specific (like medication or testing), make sure you book an appointment with the appropriate professional.
Related Podcast: Q+As from Ask a Therapist Thursday
Find a therapist who specializes in your condition.
Not all therapists are created equal. Sometimes, therapists consider themselves generalists, and can help you with a wide variety of concerns. Other times, therapists specialize in treating a specific condition, such as eating disorders or anxiety.
If you’re suffering from a mental health disorder, it’s best to find a therapist who specializes in your condition. Many mental illnesses are misunderstood, even by therapists, and what might work for one disorder may be detrimental for another. You’re much more likely to reach recovery if your therapist has experience and knowledge in how to help people with your specific symptoms.
It’s okay to have preferences when it comes to your therapist’s race, age, or gender.
Some people feel ashamed about not wanting to work with a therapist because of their demographic group, but this is completely okay. Especially if you identify as part of a marginalized group, it’s understandable to want to work with a therapist who is affirming of your identity and understands what it’s like to be you. Many people of color prefer to work with therapists of color, and they’re right to want that. It’s important, and it makes a difference.
Some people prefer to work with therapists around their age, and others prefer older therapists. Some women prefer to work with female therapists, and others don’t care. If you have a preference in this regard, there are resources available online to help you look for a therapist that fits into the demographic that you’re looking for.
Ask for a free phone consultation.
Many therapists provide free consultations over the phone so you can get a sense of how they work and whether or not they might be a good fit for you. Don’t be shy about asking a potential therapist whether or not they provide this service. A consultation can give you a great window into what working with this person might be like.
If they do agree to a free consultation, make sure to ask them important questions like how much experience they have working with people with your concerns.
Talk about payment upfront.
It can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s important to be clear about payment before booking your first appointment. How much does this therapist charge for an appointment, and how long does each appointment last? Do they accept your insurance, or have a sliding scale payment plan available?
Talking about payment upfront can help you to weed out therapists who aren’t within your budget and avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
Be clear about what your treatment goals are.
Often, people complain that therapy wasn’t helpful to them because they felt like they weren’t making any visible progress towards any goals. If you don’t set treatment goals, then you may feel like you’re talking in circles with your therapist. That can get frustrating, as if you’re paying an expensive friend just to listen to you vent.
Be clear when booking your first appointment (or during your first appointment) about what you want to get out of therapy. Where do you see yourself at the end of this process? What are you struggling with, and how do you expect your therapist to help you with this?
Related Blog: 6 Myths About Therapy
Everything you talk about in therapy is confidential 一 with a few exceptions.
If you’re worried that what you talk about in your therapy sessions will somehow be revealed, don’t. Everything you talk about in therapy is strictly confidential, and there are serious laws to protect you in this regard. Therapists take confidentiality extremely seriously, and no one in your life even has to know you’re going to therapy if you don’t want them to.
With that being said, there are a few exceptions. If your therapist thinks that there’s a real danger that you’ll harm yourself or someone else, they may report you to the appropriate authorities (like the hospital) for your own safety. Therapists are also required to make a report if a child or older adult is being abused. Other than that, though, your secrets are safe.
Therapy can be difficult sometimes.
Lastly, don’t expect to leave your first therapy session feeling amazing. Therapy can be really difficult, and even painful, at times. We’re all used to pushing difficult emotions down most of the time, and it can be scary to have them come up to the surface. Make sure you tell your therapist if things get too intense for you.
Although therapy is hard, it’s worth it. At the end of the day, there is no growth without some growing pains. And sometimes, the only way out is through.
What Should I Do Next?
Option I: Reach out to a therapist from the directory
Option II: Listen to our The Strong Black Woman podcast
Option III: Check out our Fill My Cup mug