If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy but have had no idea how to actually take the first step, you’re not alone. Finding a therapist is a multistep process that can seem extremely daunting at first, but if you set aside a little time to get started, you can break it down into manageable steps, each of which you can check off your list (if that’s what you’re into).
We’ve pulled together our ultimate guide to starting therapy, breaking down the process and giving you the resources you need to get the mental health support you deserve.
How can therapy help me?
If you’re nervous about starting therapy, you’re not alone. Starting therapy for the first time or even switching therapists can be a scary experience. Trust us: your therapist knows that starting therapy can be scary and stressful. One of the best ways to move past your fear of starting therapy (and get started!) is to figure out exactly why you’re nervous and address the topic itself—because everybody has their own reasons! Take a little time to self-reflect about why you think it might be time to start therapy, why you’re hesitant to get started, what you’re looking for, and what you want to explore with your future therapist.
Frequency and intensity of symptoms
If you’re suffering from grief or trauma
Turning to food, alcohol or drugs to cope
Life becomes lackluster
Work conflict (for strategies to manage your mental health at work, check out the Workplace Wellbeing section on our blog)
You need an objective viewpoint
Self-help books aren’t working
But these aren’t the only reasons people go to therapy. Often, the best gauge of whether therapy might be right for you is if you’re thinking about going (and you’re reading this guide, so that could be a good indicator!). Still don’t know if you would benefit from therapy? Here are a few ways to tell.
Think about what you want in a therapist
Fit is the single most important factor for success in therapy. Think about what you want in a therapist and a therapeutic relationship because, like any relationship, you won’t be a perfect fit with everyone, and that’s okay. Your goals, or what you want the therapist to help you achieve; your tasks, or what the therapist will do and what you will need to do as an active and engaged client; and the bond between you are all part of your therapeutic relationship.
When you are looking for an apartment or a job, you often have concrete ideas as to what you want, like location, cost, commute time, salary range, etc. It’s just as important to think about your ideal “must-haves” with a therapist. That could be the gender of the therapist, location, age, or specialties—whatever is most important to you.
If you’re looking at a therapist’s profile, say attention to which therapists you gravitate toward. But, just like apartment hunting or dating, while things might look good on paper, the real test is when you make direct contact via phone or in person (more on that below!).
If your therapist’s identity is important to you, that’s fine too
Some people prefer a therapist of a certain gender while that is not important for other therapy-seekers. If you’re a member of the LGBTQIA community, finding a therapist who is part of the community might be important, or you might be comfortable with anyone who is LGBTQIA-affirming. Similarly, if you are Black, Indigenous, and/or a person of color, you might want to find a therapist who shares a similar background or cultural identity, or be comfortable working with someone of a different background who is culturally competent.
While a therapist whose identity is different than yours can provide you with the care you deserve, what matters most is what’s important to you. And keep in mind that identity is not the only thing that sets therapists apart. Education, areas of training, specialties, strengths, personalities, and therapeutic methods all go into making each therapist unique.
And if you’re not sure about whether a therapist or a coach would be right for you, find out the differences between coaching and therapy and take our quiz to find out which would be better for you.
How am I going to pay for therapy?
Therapy is an investment in yourself. Like any investment, therapy calls for a financial and emotional commitment. Practitioners who work with MyWellbeing offer therapy at rates between $80 to $300 per session and the average cost of a therapy session in NYC is $150 to $200 per session.
If you’ve tried to find a therapist who is in-network with your insurance, you may have hit some barriers. There are a number of reasons it’s hard to find an in-network therapist:
It can be tough for therapists to get on an insurance panel
It is hard to earn a living wage as an in-network therapist
Going in-network gives the insurance company a voice in your care
Seeing an in-network provider may not save you money (and may actually cost more)
But that doesn’t mean therapy is out of reach due to cost! Out-of-network benefits can be a tremendous cost-saver if you have them. Through out-of-network benefits, you may be able to receive money back from your insurance company even if you are seeing a therapist who is not in-network.
And if you’re uninsured or your insurance doesn’t offer out-of-network benefits, some therapists offer a sliding scale, a flexible fee structure tailored to you and your particular needs, meaning that one therapy-goer may pay more or less than another depending on their unique personal circumstances and what they are able to afford.
By understanding how much therapy costs, where there is room in your budget to pay for it, and how to make a plan to get started, you’ll be on your way to getting the mental health care you deserve. Remember that over time, therapy can actually save you money by helping you be more productive at work (and in life!), reducing health costs, and breaking bad (and expensive!) habits.
How often will I have to go to therapy and how long am I going to be in therapy?
A common question when people start considering therapy is how long is this all going to take?
Consistency is key in developing a healing relationship in therapy. Most therapists will encourage you to come to therapy once per week. Some therapists, namely therapists with psychoanalytic training, may encourage you to come more than once per week.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some general guidelines. At a minimum, we suggest that you plan to be in therapy for three to six months, or for at least 12 sessions. Developing new habits and creating lasting change can take many weeks, and sometimes even months. Then it will take more consecutive months of maintaining that habit before it is fully integrated into your lifestyle and way of being.
In addition, just going to therapy will be one new practice to integrate into your life! You’ll be developing new skills, behaviors, and ways of thinking and processing information that will take time to integrate into your day-to-day. Plus, building a relationship with your therapist takes time. You’ll want to give yourself and your therapist time to create a strong therapeutic bond built on trust.
While three to six months can be a sufficient amount of time for some people to meet their goals in therapy and start to experience real and noticeable change in their lives, many people may want to consider committing six months to one year, and plenty of people continue to stay in therapy for over a year—some for many years. Other people go to therapy, leave therapy, and return to therapy at different points all throughout their life. Whatever your process is, that’s okay.
Going into therapy with some ideas about what you’d like to accomplish while you’re there can be a huge help. So start to think about what you’d like to talk about and achieve in therapy.
What do you want to talk about in therapy?
One of the things you will learn in therapy is that there often isn’t a “normal” or “right” way to do it, and the muscle you will be flexing is learning more about what is right for you at any given time, and how to express that need. Therapy is a time and space for you, and you can use it however you wish!
Do you want to talk about work, relationships, family, your future, and/or your past? Do you want to learn how to cope with anxiety or are you wondering if there may be a diagnosis in your future? Start to put language to your thoughts and feelings. If you struggle with this, you are not alone! Journaling can help, or try talking out loud to yourself (even pretending you’re talking to your future therapist) to get comfortable hearing yourself speak about your thoughts and feelings.
Think about how you’d like the therapeutic relationship to work. Do you want to primarily have a safe space where you lead and unpack what’s on your mind, or do you want the therapist to take a lead? Don’t worry if you’re not sure before you get started. Many therapists can be flexible to meet you where you are, and you can work together to put language to your needs over time.
And if something ever feels off in therapy, you can always talk to your therapist about it. People are often hesitant to tell their therapists that there is something missing or that there is something about the therapy that they do not like. We may be afraid or embarrassed to give our therapists feedback. Or maybe we’re simply giving them the benefit of the doubt. However, being candid with your therapist can yield much gain for you, both in and out of the therapy room.
Where are you going to find a therapist?
There are plenty of ways to find a therapist, from word of mouth to directories in your geographic area or ones put together by cultural or nonprofit organizations. Your insurance might also have a list or your primary care physician might be able to refer you.
Scrolling through hundreds of therapists in a directory can be overwhelming and exhausting. We’ve been there, and we’re here to help. You can take our quick questionnaire and we’ll send you personalized therapist or coach matches for free.
Once you’ve found a few therapists who might be a good fit for you, it’s time for your first phone call
Gaining a sense of your chemistry with your therapist is an important step in choosing which therapist you’d like to move forward with and a complimentary phone consultation is a great way to begin to sense fit.
You will want to gain a sense of how you are feeling when you are communicating with the therapist. When the therapist describes their approach to therapy, does that sound like something you are open to trying and something that might be helpful for you? When the therapist describes the type(s) of people they’ve worked with before, do those sound like things you can relate to? Do you see yourself in those narratives? When you describe some of the things you’d like to work on, does it feel like the therapist is listening to you?
Toward the end of your call, learning more about the logistics of the work is generally anxiety-relieving for many people. You can ask questions like:
What is your fee?
Do you offer a sliding scale?
What is your cancellation policy?
Do you partner with any other professionals like psychiatrists or nutritionists?
How do you accept payments and when? Do you take Venmo, bank payments, cash, or check?
What do our interactions look like between sessions? Can I text you, or email you?
You can also discuss any of the above with your therapist at any time, particularly during your first in-person appointment.
Can I do remote therapy?
One of the good things to come out of 2020 was the rise in telemedicine. Now, it’s completely normal to start teletherapy remotely—and stay that way! Some therapists are even 100% remote.
While communicating remotely comes with its own challenges, when it comes to therapy, there are certainly some big bonuses. You can stay in the comfort of your own home, you can wear what you want, you don’t have to commute, and it might be easier to practice self-care before and after your appointment when you have what you need around you.
Wear headphones if you can
Try to soundproof a space that is comfortable for you
Communicate your privacy needs to the people you live with
While we hope you can find the privacy you deserve inside your home, we realize that not every living situation will afford you the safe space you need for teletherapy. If it is available and safe for you to do so, you could take a teletherapy appointment over the phone while you’re outside or even in the car. And if you ever find the teletherapy isn’t for you, be sure to communicate that to your therapist so you can find a solution together.
How do I get ready for my first therapy appointment?
You’ve thought about what you want from therapy and a therapist, you’ve figured out your budget, you’ve narrowed down your list of therapists, you’ve had your phone consultations, and you’ve made your first appointment. Congratulations! Now, it’s time to prepare for that first appointment.
Have you attended therapy in the past?
What are your symptoms?
Do you have a family history of mental health struggles?
How is your home life and work life?
Do you have a history of self-harm or suicidal ideation?
What do you hope to get from therapy?
What do you want to accomplish in your sessions?
How have you been coping with the problem(s) that brought you to therapy?
How are your relationships or how connected do you feel to the people in your life?
Remember, the first appointment is not going to solve all of your problems! It’s the start of a great working relationship between you and your therapist and a first step in. your therapy journey.
I’m afraid my therapist will be annoyed by me or judge me
Here’s the thing: it’s totally true that your therapist might be annoyed by you sometimes—and that’s okay! And guess what? Your therapist might annoy you sometimes, too. You can talk about both things with your therapist. And your therapist may judge you—but not in the way that you think. Judging is simply gaining or perceiving information in order to draw hypotheses or conclusions, which is exactly what your therapist is doing. They’ll use that information to share things with you that you may not have even realized you needed to hear.
There are plenty of reasons people are hesitant to start therapy, from mental health impostor syndrome to social stigma to finances and more
If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy but you’re still worried about getting motivated, check out these tips from our Instagram community—and remember that you’re never alone. Everyone deserves to find the mental health support they need, and with a little preparation and planning, you’ll be well on your way to matching with a great therapist and getting started on your therapy journey.
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about the author:
Caitlin is MyWellbeing’s Content Lead, a coach, a writer, a communication and organizational culture consultant, and the founder of Commcoterie (a communication consultancy with a free peer coaching community) who is passionate about all things communication, whole-self development, and storytelling. Her mission is to help people communicate and collaborate effectively so they can strengthen their communities and reach their goals.