By Anna Sachse
It’s hard to believe that therapy still has a stigma these days. The uninformed often think that therapy is, at best, for people whose lives are a mess, or at worst, for total whack jobs; but the truth is, the majority of folks who take a seat on the proverbial couch are perfectly normal.
We all face a myriad of stressors every day. Never mind major (but beatable) issues like abuse, addictions, eating disorders and mental illness, there’s also work stress, financial problems, cultural clashes, marital problems, parenting concerns, chronic health problems, sexual dysfunction, grief, general communication problems, big changes (college grads, new parents, retirees), difficulty letting go of something in your past, lack of confidence and anything else that keeps you up at night. Who wouldn’t benefit from chatting about problems, worries and goals with an impartial second party in a confidential environment? Therapy doesn’t mean there is something seriously wrong with you; it just means you are smart enough to work toward preventing anything from going seriously wrong in the future.
Okay, so, you’re sold. The next step is finding the right counselor for you. Some folks want someone who just listens and gently guides them toward making their own discoveries. Others need more of a hard-ass who will call them on their shit and tell them what to do. Don’t just let Google do the choosing for you; do a little research first. The United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Mental Health outlines the following steps for selecting a good therapist:
1. Ask your doctor for two or three referrals. It’s totally OK to specify age, sex, race or religious background if it matters to you. You can also ask friends for recommendations or find a therapist in your area using the website for the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org).
2. Call to find out about appointment availability, location and fees. Ask if they accept your insurance or Medicaid/Medicare, or if there is a sliding scale based on income.
3. Make sure the therapist has experience helping people whose problems are similar to yours. You may want to ask about the therapist’s expertise, education and number of years in practice.
4. During your first visit, be as open as you can about the feelings and problems that led you to seek help. Find out what kind of therapy/treatment the therapist recommends and how much. If pertinent, discuss their willingness to coordinate your treatment with other forms of healthcare, whether it be acupuncture, Chinese herbs or prescription medication.
5. Take time to think about how you felt about the therapist. If you liked their style and felt hopeful after your first experience, schedule another appointment. Otherwise, move on. Either way, remember that therapy is work and sometimes can be painful. However, it can also change your life for the better. My boyfriend and I went to couples’ counseling for about a year. Now we are happily married, so I guess something worked.