Life comes with challenges, and sometimes, those challenges can weigh us down. But do you know when, and more importantly, that it’s OKAY to ask for help when you need it? Getting help is the ultimate act of self-care.
If the stress in your life is so overwhelming that you find it hard to function well or feel happy, you probably should see a therapist.
A therapist can help if…
- You often feel anxious and unable to connect with others.
- You’re in a toxic relationship, especially if there is physical or emotional abuse.
- You have old wounds that cause problems in your relationships such as difficulty connecting, trusting others, or communicating your feelings in a way that is appropriate to the situation.
- You’re anxious about the future or a situation you’re struggling with, such as a pending divorce, job loss, or the overwhelm of caring for a sick parent.
- You experience racism in the workplace, from friends, or you feel the impacts of living in a society where there is structural racism.
- You suffer from low self-esteem and it’s holding you back from life and opportunities.
Once you’ve made the decision to work with a therapist, where do you start?
Think about the kind of therapy that will be most helpful to you.
Here are a few common types:
- Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) is solution-focused and designed with the “end in mind.” A therapist who specializes in MFT can guide you through the complex interpersonal problems that come up in relationships. This includes relationships with partners, family members, work colleagues, and anyone you have a relationship with. One of the most common types of therapy these professionals handle is couples therapy.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you address emotional issues that stem from problematic ways of thinking. There is a lot of evidence to support the effectiveness of CBT for various problems including phobias and fears, generalized anxiety, eating disorders, or sleep disorders. A psychologist or psychiatrist, registered psychotherapist, or social worker can all offer CBT.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT that teaches mindfulness and acceptance and can be very effective with emotional regulation.
- Psychodynamic Therapy focuses on unconscious or subconscious processes, beliefs, and thought patterns. It can help you overcome past experiences that may be causing blocks in your present.
- Group Therapy where you work with others who are experiencing similar challenges as you can sometimes be more helpful than one-on-one therapy.
How to look for a therapist
- Talk to your primary healthcare provider or family doctor. S/He may be able to refer you to good psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers in your area. It’s especially important to talk to your family doctor if you have any underlying medical issues.
- Use your healthcare provider’s directory, which usually lists the therapists’ specialties and credentials.
- Psychology Today has a very decent therapist finder tool. It includes profiles of therapists complete with a photo of them, their contact information, types of therapy they offer, their credentials, years of practice, and other helpful information.
- At Better Help, after answering a few questions, they’ll email you a set of matches. If you don’t like anyone on the list or would like to work with someone of a specific gender or ethnic background, write back to see if they can help you find a better fit. All meetings are virtual.
- Do a Google search to find a therapist or clinic in your area.
- There are several psychotherapists and counselors on Instagram who you can reach out with a DM or learn more about them from the links to their websites.
- Ask friends and family members for referrals.
What to look for when reviewing therapists
Look for therapists with the expertise and experience in the type of therapy you’re looking for, but if you’re uncertain about your needs, start with a counselor who covers generalized anxiety. After one or two sessions, s/he should be able to pinpoint the most appropriate specialty, if they’re not the right fit. This is very common.
It’s always helpful to read reviews and consider the therapists’ ratings from other clients. If you are unable to find any background information on a therapist when you Google them, you may want to skip that therapist unless they come highly recommended by a family member, a friend, or your doctor.
What to expect on your first visit
Therapists will usually ask you to complete a questionnaire to help them understand some of the things you may be feeling and experiencing and to learn more about your medical background. These questionnaires can be lengthy and you may be asked to speak extensively about your personal history. Expect to review your family history and your childhood experiences.
Try to answer to the best of your ability and to be forthcoming with your therapist. I’m sure you know this, but what happens in therapy stays in therapy and your sessions are completely confidential. This means that no one else, including current or future employers, can access your records without your knowledge. You should know however that IF your therapist believes there are risks to your or someone else’s physical safety, they are required to notify the appropriate authorities.
Your first visit may feel unhelpful, but that’s because the first visit is primarily an intake session. You won’t come away with a “diagnosis.”
What to do if you don’t like your therapist
Don’t be discouraged! Finding a therapist is like making a new friend. To be able to understand and support you, you should feel comfortable opening up to them, although it may take a few sessions to get there. After a few sessions, if you still feel uncomfortable, if you feel judged or unsupported, you may want to look for another therapist. And it’s perfectly okay to continue your therapy sessions while looking for a new therapist.
It’s also important to note that finding a therapist you identify with, meaning one that belongs to your faith or cultural background, is in some cases, essential to you feeling supported. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying to find that fit.
Finally, I would be remiss if I don’t remind you that if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek professional help right away.
Zehra Kamani is a Toronto-based freelance writer and first-time mother of a vivacious little girl. She has a Master's in Psychology and has worked with children with disabilities and anxiety disorders. When she is not writing or at the park with her daughter, you can find her savoring a cup of chai and dreaming about traveling the world. Zehra loves to listen to others’ unique stories and learn about their experiences. Follow her on Instagram @xy.zee and read more of her work at https://linktr.ee/Zehra.K.