Starting Therapy: What to Know and Consider

Where do I start?

When looking into mental health services, it can be difficult knowing what to do and how. You may often hear things like, “you should look into therapy” only to not know where to start.

The first step is figuring out why you’re seeking therapy. Is the counseling for yourself, your child, your family? What are the biggest concerns and goals? For some, these concerns and goals are specific – something like, “my son keeps picking at his hair and expressing anxiety, so we want to help him feel happier”. For others, the concerns and goals are more vague or uncertain – perhaps “something is off and I want it to stop.” Consider how long these concerns have been present and what you envision change looking like.

therapist talking to boy.

After identifying why you want to pursue therapy, it’s important to find a therapist who is a good fit. Many factors can constitute “a good fit,” including financial factors, training, personality, cultural background, location, etc. Clinicians will have a profile online which should give brief insight into their experience, often including their licensure, education and work backgrounds, and therapeutic focuses (click here to check out Afg’s clinician profiles!). Some questions to consider include:

● Do I want a therapist who is more directive, who lets me have more say and control in sessions, or who does both?

● Are factors like my religion, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, etc. aspects I want to focus on throughout therapy? Would I feel more comfortable with a therapist with the same or similar background?

● What are my boundaries? In other words, what are some topics or activities I do and do not feel comfortable with? For some, they do not want to delve into certain topics until later into the therapeutic process. You are allowed to communicate that and make sure your boundary is respected!

When meeting with a potential therapist, you can always ask questions about themselves and their experience to gauge whether you want to work with them or need a referral.

What type of therapy do I choose?

There are many therapeutic interventions and theories that counselors study and may utilize. Generally, therapy can be split up into two categories: talk and experiential.

Talk therapy is the kind most of us think of, often depicted in media as a client laying on a couch while the therapist pensively listens. There is some truth to that, but there are many variations of talk therapy. Popular ones include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Solution Focused Therapy, Person Centered Therapy (or Rogerian Therapy), Strengths-Based Therapy, and Psychoanalysis/Psychodynamic Therapy. All have in common the approach of using conversation to discuss concerns, possible outcomes, and emotions. Each type of approach has different specialized interventions, but at their core they aim to use the contents of the session dialogue to help clients.

Experiential therapy is defined by Psychology Today (2022) as the use of “expressive tools and activities…used to allow clients to re-enact and re-experience emotional situations.” Therapies that are considered experiential include Play Therapy, Animal-Assisted Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Art and Music Therapy, and Neurofeedback Therapy. When talking about something is too difficult or not a realistic option for a client, we can use experiential approaches to help process the experiences.

Oftentimes, talk and experiential therapies can be combined as needed. For instance, your child’s therapist may use Play Therapy via dolls to help a child processing a change in the family. After playing, they may talk about what happened to the dolls and connect it to what the child is experiencing. When talking to a potential therapist (or even a current one), consider asking what approaches they are trained in and plan to use, and discuss what that may look like.

We hope that this information helps you feel more comfortable and prepared in your therapeutic journey!