Last week I posted about my therapy experience on Instagram, and received so many questions from you guys about my experience, so I thought I’d share a longer blog post here!
I had never been to therapy before 3 years ago, when I decided to go because I was hurting so deeply from a breakup. I learned SO MUCH during my 3 years with my therapist and am excited to share more with you today.
I hope that this post helps clear up some common questions about therapy, helps to de-stigmatize it even further by talking about it, and helps you in your own journey in some way.
Also, at the end of this post, you’ll find answers to many of your questions from my business manager, Melanie Buck. She is graduating this May from NYU with her Masters in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness. I asked her to weigh in on your common questions – what kinds of therapists are there? What forms of therapy are there? How do I find someone who is a good fit / what should I look for? Be sure to scroll down for her more knowledgeable answers to your questions!
HOW DID I KNOW I NEEDED THERAPY?
I’ve always had a great support system. I have very close family and friends who I feel really comfortable turning to, and I also always have my own coach (I’ve invested in coaches in various areas over the years… relationships / business / health).
However, when I went through a horrible breakup at the beginning of 2015, my support system didn’t feel like nearly enough for what I needed.
I was hurting on a deeper level than ever before, and every moment of every day was hard for me to get through. I felt paralyzed by fear, anxiety and was beating myself up like crazy.
I desperately wanted to feel better, and not only that, but I wanted to understand what the heck had happened in that relationship, and why I was the person I was in the relationship.
I had this sense that if I didn’t understand what happened in that relationship, that the behaviors and patterns would repeat themselves. Since having a healthy romantic relationship in my life is extremely important to me, I knew I had to get in there and do the work in order to not have the same experiences repeat themselves.
I wanted someone in my life who was there JUST to focus on me, and whose job it was to dig deeper with me to understand myself and the root cause of behaviors and situations I was experiencing.
So, although coaching is great, I needed more frequent and deeper help in addition to my coach and my friends / family. I also felt extremely motivated to understand myself and change.
MY PROCESS OF FINDING A THERAPIST:
Before my breakup, I finally put my pride aside and sought out therapists, in hopes of saving my relationship. I went through my insurance, had initial consults with a few therapists, and ultimately chose one.
From the start, I had a feeling she was not good for me, but I was so desperate at the time and didn’t feel like I had the time to search around, so I stuck with her for a month or so.
Looking back, I now see how bad she was for me. Just a couple of tidbits…She was sensitive to light, so she kept her blinds closed, and for someone who was already feeling depressed, sitting in a dark gloomy therapist’s office was not good for me. She also gave me extremely superficial solutions to my issues, such as “I think you’re bored. You should start reading the New York Times”. (seriously!?)
But I didn’t really know any better!
Once the breakup happened, I felt so desperate for support, and I threw my hands up and decided I needed the best therapist I could get my hands on.
This is when I started to ask around, which looking back, is how I would recommend finding someone. It’s vulnerable to ask people for a recommendation because you’re admitting to needing the therapy, but going through a connection already takes out 50% of the “fit” legwork. You already know that they’ve helped someone you know, which takes out some of the randomness.
My friend had used someone in the past that she loved, so I reached out to her old therapist.
That woman became my therapist for 3 years and completely changed my life.
**Scroll down to see Melanie’s answer for how to find a therapist, too. She has great ideas in there!
WHAT IT WAS LIKE IN THE BEGINNING…
I have a hard time admitting this, but I actually went to therapy 3x a week at first. Yes, THREE times per week. That is how much I needed it.
I was a total mess.
Those 45-minute sessions three times a week felt like my only moments of slight relief. They were the only moments that I felt safe.
Safe from my own head, my debilitating feelings, my sadness, guilt, my fears.
So even though it felt ridiculous to go three times per week, I did it. Even though I was running a full-time, demanding business, I made time for this.
After a month or two, we went down to two times per week, and then after another month or two, down to one time per week, which is where we stayed for the remainder of my time with her.
I remember the first few months being a bit frustrating because I wanted relief NOW. I remember crying to her all the time just wanting things to feel better. It was hard to accept the fact that things get chipped away at slowly, and that the most profound change happens in little increments.
I also remember being frustrated that she would ask me questions that seemed unrelated, or that took me in a different direction than what I wanted EXACT HELP on. I wanted to know how to deal with a specific situation with my ex, and instead of giving me answers, she would start asking me about something in my family, or my past. And I remember being annoyed with her because I just wanted a damn answer to my current issue. However, she clearly knew what she was doing and was insightful enough to see that my current issue was just the issue of the day, but that we needed to go deeper to find the real “answers”.
HOW I KNEW MY THERAPIST WAS A GOOD FIT FOR ME:
I felt like my therapist was a good fit for me because:
- I felt like she calmed me down
- I felt safe with her and in her office
- I could tell that she was extremely devoted to me by the way she looked at me and hung on to every word I said with 100% undivided attention
- She was extremely professional
- She took me to places within myself and made connections that I would not have been able to get to myself
- I never doubted how much she truly cared about me and my wellbeing
We were not “buds” the way I know some other people feel like they are with their therapists. I didn’t reach out to her in between sessions. She was extremely “by the book”.
Some moments were somewhat awkward because of her level of professionalism. For instance, we shook hands after 3 years of working together before I left for SF. No hug or anything. I wasn’t sure if I should hug her… it was that kind of relationship. I am not sure if this is normal, but that was my experience and I actually really liked how professional she was. It made me feel safe.
I knew my previous therapist was not a fit because of the advice she gave me that didn’t sit well with me, her office environment, and I just honestly doubted her ability to go to the level with me that I needed.
My advice on fit is to trust your gut. It is not supposed to feel “comfortable” because you’re sitting across from someone sharing your deepest feelings, but I think you should feel safe. You should feel like you trust the person. You should feel like they genuinely care about you. You should feel like they’re able to guide you in the way you need.
**Melanie weighs in on “fit” at the end of this post so scroll down for more.
MY BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM 3 YEARS OF WORKING WITH MY THERAPIST:
There were some sessions and moments when I questioned if I was learning anything and I think it’s normal to feel that in therapy. Sometimes it just feels like you go in, talk, maybe cry, and leave.
And then there are those sessions that shift something in you. You may not even notice it’s happening, but suddenly, you feel different about yourself, a situation in your life, or the way you are.
Over the course of three years, I feel like I changed in very profound ways.
If I had to sum up what I learned in a few takeaways, I would say…
I learned an incredible amount of self-awareness, which goes a very very long way in life. For the most part, we are who we are. We each have our flaws and our strengths, our wounds, and our insecurities. We can work on these and over time we can definitely heal, but we also need to know and accept ourselves, in our current form, today.
As self-aware as I was prior to therapy, I was still missing a whole lot. For instance, I would often lash out and “react” in my past relationship, and although I hated that I did that, I didn’t really understand why I did that.
My therapist did an amazing job at showing me various things about me that I couldn’t name or clearly see myself.
“You have a very hard time with loss”, I remember she said one day. It was such a simple statement that she made, yet it helped me understand so much of my pain and parts of myself so much better. Yes, I did have a very hard time with loss, even little losses like a friend moving away.
Now that I knew that about myself, I felt empowered. I knew that it was simply a part of who I am, and I could manage it throughout my life moving forward.
“You are prone to anxiety in certain situations”, she said one time. Boom, she just freakin’ named it. My anxiety… this thing I was ashamed of and tried skirting around in every which way. But when she named that for me, it felt so true, and I just learned to accept it.
Now, in my relationships, I don’t try to pretend like I am not anxious anymore. I speak about my anxiety and how I am prone to it. I take care of my anxious self, now that I am aware of it and when it comes out.
“X emotions are really hard for you…” was another one. She helped me see why I was so triggered in my past relationship, and this knowledge is extremely empowering as I move forward in new relationships.
The examples are endless that point to how self-aware I became through our conversations.
My therapist made it feel okay to have these parts of me and empowered me to live with these parts of me and manage them. She also pointed out so many positives about me, that I couldn’t see for myself either.
As a result, I learned a ton of self-acceptance. When we are aware of ourselves and openly talk about all parts of ourselves, we can then learn how to accept them.
We all know we are our own biggest critic. So when you sit across from someone and tell them all the things you’re ashamed of and they make you feel normal, you start to be able to open to the possibility of accepting these parts of yourself, too.
BUT ABOVE ALL ELSE, THERE IS ONE MAIN TAKEAWAY FROM THERAPY THAT COMPLETELY CHANGED MY LIFE…
By far, the biggest thing I gained from therapy was…
I really, finally, started to really “get” what self-compassion meant.
My therapist WAS that voice of self-compassion that I needed and didn’t have within myself.
I walked in there 3 years ago EXTREMELY self-critical, constantly beating myself up, and so hard on myself.
I didn’t know how to mother myself. Or be “self-compassionate”. It just wasn’t in my repertoire.
Although my therapist never used the term self-compassion, she modeled it for me through every single action and thing she said.
No matter what I brought to the table on any given day – no matter how horrible I was, or how big of a mistake I had made – my therapist always had my back.
She found the positive intention behind a screwed up behavior.
She found understanding for how I was feeling that caused me to do something I wasn’t proud of.
She showed me that it was okay to make mistakes.
She provided that “mothering” voice that I didn’t have inside of me.
Over time, her voice started to pop into my head outside of our sessions. I would notice myself thinking about a situation or myself a bit differently, through her eyes or the way she may respond.
Slowly, my own internal dialogue started to change. I started responding to myself and treating myself more similarly to how she would have. This happened naturally, just over time, from sitting in those sessions week after week.
As we wrapped up our sessions in NYC a few months ago, she said one of the biggest changes she has seen in me is how I talk to myself.
Of course, I still beat myself up sometimes, but it’s drastically less than before. Now, I am more likely to shift to a place of forgiveness, understanding, and kindness toward myself.
I learned how to have my own back no matter what, because she had my back no matter what.
I know I am going to stumble, screw up, do things I feel terrible about, and feel a lot of hard emotions.
But when I picture my therapist in her chair, I know that no matter what, she would have found a way to have been compassionate toward me, which means that I can be that way toward myself, too.
ADVICE I HAVE FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING THERAPY:
I can only speak for myself, but I really loved my time in therapy for the past 3 years. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am in my life right now if I hadn’t put in that time to explore myself.
I think that some people go to therapy just to have consistent support and someone to talk to, and I think that is a great reason to go. We all have ups and downs in our lives every single day, and we all need more support than most of us seek. Other people go to therapy because they feel extremely motivated to change or feel better in some area of their lives. That’s where I was at, and I am so happy I went. If you feel like you could use an outlet for support or that you want to let go of old behaviors / patterns and open yourself up to a shift in your life, I would highly recommend therapy.
Don’t forget to keep reading below to see Melanie’s answers to your questions. She is graduating from NYU this year with a Masters in Counseling for Mental Health + Wellness and has amazing insight for you, too.
I would love to hear any questions you have below – Melanie and I are going to be answering all of your questions!
Q&A with Melanie!
Q: Can you go over different types of therapists? What are the different qualifications? What are the differences?
A: I would say there are basically three well-known categories of therapists/mental health clinicians that people typically have in mind when they’re thinking of therapists, and I think a lot of people frequently confuse them or don’t really know how to differentiate them.
- LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor): They’re each somewhat different professions and educations, but they are all licensed clinicians who complete a 2-year (60 credit) master’s degree in social work or psychology/counseling and have to do internships, practice under a supervisor, take assessments for licensure, and take continuing education credits to maintain licenses.
- Ph.D. or Psy.D.: Psychologist with a doctorate in a psychology-based subject. They will have a Dr. in front of their name, but they can’t prescribe medications in most states. There is more school, training, internships, supervision, and assessment required than there is for a master’s degree (doctorate usually takes at least 4 years full-time to complete) and usually requires defending a dissertation and publishing research.
- Psychiatrist: This is a medical doctor that has gone to medical school and done a residency (in psychiatry), the same way a surgeon or cardiologist goes to medical school and completes a residency specific to their field of medicine. Psychiatrists can prescribe psychotropic drugs and they are usually who you want to go to if you’re looking for a psychiatric diagnosis (or looking to rule things out). For example, if you have specific mental health/psychiatric symptoms and you want to see a doctor and/or you think you need medication, this is likely who you want to see.
You wouldn’t typically go to a psychiatrist just for therapy; usually, you’ll have a psychiatrist and a separate therapist if you have both. If you give both permission, they can communicate about your case, which is typically recommended in order to get the best care possible. Many therapists will refer clients to psychiatrists if they think something requires more assessment, there could be a potential new diagnosis, a client is requesting medication or they think medication could be a good idea, etc. If you’re seeing a psychiatrist just for medication I usually recommend therapy too; I think therapy in conjunction with psychotropic medication can very helpful and effective for many people struggling with many issues/disorders (on a case by case basis).
Q: Which type of therapist should someone seek out?
A: I think you just want to be comfortable with your therapists’ credentials and it’s definitely okay to ask. As long as they are credentialed/licensed, they should be legitimate, but if you’re questioning it for any reason they’re probably not the right person for you anyway.
I feel like finding a therapist is kind of like dating – it’s okay to shop around and find the right fit for you…you don’t just have to go with the first therapist you have a consult with. I think even if you have a couple of sessions with someone and then decide they’re not the right person that’s okay too, you should just honestly communicate it and try again with someone else.
I think it’s important to feel like you can trust your therapist, but I also think it’s important to remember that it isn’t necessarily natural to share your deepest darkest secrets with a stranger (essentially what therapy is), so it’s okay if it’s uncomfortable at first too. I think it’s most important to just pay attention to WHY – if you just feel like you’re warming up to therapy in general, that’s totally normal.
Q: What are the basic forms of therapy? Does each therapist tend to work from a different theory (like CBT…etc.)?
A: There are a ton of different counseling theories. I think it’s becoming more and more common for therapists to work from an eclectic or integrative position, utilizing a couple of different modalities and bringing in different techniques based in different theories depending on the client. Personally, I like this in a therapist for myself and it’s how I like to work with clients, because I don’t really think that any one theory or modality covers everything and fits everyone. A lot of recent research talks about the therapeutic relationship as the most important factor in therapy (regardless of modality) and many types of therapists use some similar techniques, so I think it’s most important to feel like your therapist “gets you”, challenges you in the right ways, and sees you as a full person (not just as a diagnosis or whatever you’re working through). That said, there are definitely evidence-based treatments for many specific diagnoses, symptoms, and mental illnesses, so if you are struggling with something specific and looking for help with that, I would recommend doing some research on best practices and then trying to find a therapist who is experienced in the treatment modality you’re most interested in.
Q: When trying to find the right therapist, what are the questions someone should ask? How should they feel with a therapist to know it’s a good fit?
A: I think it’s important to think about what you want and what you don’t want in a therapist in terms of who the person actually is. You might not be able to answer these questions until you sit with a therapist and see how you feel in the moment, but you’ll want to determine if you want someone who is the same gender as you (or not), someone who is similar in age or vastly different (and older or younger?), if you care about the person’s religion/spirituality and if that’s a relevant part of therapy for you, if you want them to be of the same (or different) racial/ethnic/cultural background as you, if their sexual orientation is important to you, etc. I think it’s also important to investigate and/or acknowledge WHY the characteristics that matter to you matter, and check in with yourself on that a little bit.
I think that generally when a therapist is a good fit you’ll feel safe, understood, and you won’t be afraid of his or her judgment. That said, it is normal to feel uncomfortable in therapy; therapy can be hard work! Sometimes it is challenging to differentiate discomfort in growth versus actual discomfort because your therapist isn’t the right fit for you. I think that usually if you listen to your gut and follow your intuition you’ll be able to decipher what you’re feeling and why, and you can then figure out if you’re just feeling challenged and vulnerable (meaning you’re on the right track!!), or if your therapist might not be the right fit for you.
Q: How do you find a good therapist?
A: There are a number of ways to go about finding a therapist. If insurance coverage is important to you, the first place to start is with your insurance company, especially if you’re unaware of what your mental health benefits/coverage are. Insurance companies also usually have referrals/directories of therapists that are covered. Psychology Today and ZocDoc are decent websites where you can search for therapists by city/state, credential, insurance accepted, specialties, treatment methods, etc. If you have any friends that are therapists or see a therapist themselves, they can likely give you some good recommendations. I also think that local hospitals, community agencies and/or college counseling centers are usually ‘in the know’ about local therapists and they may have public referral services and/or they might be able to just provide you with some referrals if you call and ask.
Do you have any questions for us about therapy? We are here for you!