Behavioral and Mental Health
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You worry about what you can’t control. You feel mentally lethargic and unmotivated. Or you just can’t seem to work past your sadness.
These are a few of the many reasons to see a therapist.
But starting something new can be scary. Maybe the shame from familial or cultural stigma weighs on you. Or you’re worried your problems aren’t “bad enough” to warrant a professional’s time.
Jared Mueller, a licensed independent social worker, shares a more productive way to think about therapy—and why it’s worth it.
Knowing when you need help
It may not be obvious, but there are some indicators for when it’s time to call a therapist.
“We talk about disruption of relational or physical health, school or work, or even in some ways, things like sleep and diet,” Jared says. “Anything considered a disruption to you. We want to make sure someone is seeking assistance when they’re not living the life they want to live.”
A disruption could be turning to food or substances to make yourself happy or feeling unable to accomplish everyday responsibilities, like cleaning or childcare.
“If you’re grieving, it’s OK to be sad. If it’s a six-month process and gets a little better, you’re probably OK,” Jared says. “But if you’re unable to perform job duties, parental duties, or mow the lawn because of your grief, maybe it’s time to see someone.”
But Jared stresses it’s impossible to list every reason to seek therapy. Though he says it’s an oversimplification, Jared’s philosophy on considering therapy starts with “any situation where you don’t feel like you can keep your thoughts and emotions appropriate for the situation.”
It’s not about what you’ve been through as much as how you’re coping. So don’t discredit your experiences by thinking they’re not “bad enough” to see a therapist.
“Preventative care—whether its medical or mental health—is really vital,” Jared says. “I don’t want to wait until you have a heart attack to address your cholesterol issues. It’s the same thing with mental health—you could possibly prevent major behavioral or traumatic issues.”
Getting started with therapy
You’ve decided to try therapy. But now what? “The process really does start with the practicals,” Jared says.
First, know what you can afford. Find out what your health insurance will cover and understand what your co-pays are. Decide if you want to seek a therapist that takes your insurance or if you can do self-pay.
From there, use resources like Psychology Today to narrow down your options with information like gender, primary language, issues they commonly address, and even their spiritual beliefs. These resources generally report which, if any, kind of insurance the therapist accepts, but it’s a good idea to verify when you inquire about an appointment.
After you’ve scheduled with a therapist, it’s time to prepare for your first meeting. The first appointment often lasts around 90 minutes. Your therapist will get an idea of what your goals are and where you are with them.
“Have some idea of the things you’re going to want—and be willing—to talk about and even the things you don’t want to talk about,” Jared says.
Personal topics will come up—perhaps about your childhood or any past trauma—but it’s all to help your therapist get a picture of who you are. And though you should be prepared to discuss tough topics, know that this is only the first session. You won’t have time to go over every detail.
“It’s the starting point,” Jared says, “not the finish line.”
Embracing your role
Your therapist will develop a treatment plan based on the goals you’ve both decided on. What happens next—how often you see your therapist; what you do and don’t talk about; and how you proceed—is largely up to you.
“The best way to describe therapy is like a personal trainer at a gym,” Jared says. “Our job is to let you know how to do it and to challenge you. But you’re doing the work, lifting the weights, and making changes.”
You and your therapist are a team. With their guidance, you work on your goals. But it is work. It won’t always be comfortable.
“Being willing and open to being uncomfortable is going to be important,” Jared says. “If it was easy, you never would have to come to therapy because you could take care of it yourself.”
Focusing on what you have the power to change can help you stay motivated to tackle the challenges ahead of you.
“Change is really, really hard,” Jared says. “It is hard work, it is uncomfortable, but you get to decide if it’s worth it.”
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