The first time my mom took me to see a therapist, I made her promise she would never take me back. I was 15.
Then, at 21, I tried again — this time at my college’s counseling center. I was unimpressed, but I stuck with it, happy to ramble to someone for free.
When I moved across the country after school, I started with a new therapist. I liked her at first, but it became quickly apparent she wasn’t meeting my needs. I didn’t like how she made assumptions about my family life, and felt like she invalidated a few of the experiences I confided with her. It took a while, but I finally listened to my gut and left.
Now, I’m with someone who’s sweet, who listens to me and who makes me feel like what I’m going through matters. It’s made an incredible difference, and I’m happy I persisted and found someone who works for me.
I share my experience because while we all know what to expect when we visit the dentist or go in for a routine exam, therapy is this often this scary, unknown experience we don’t hear a lot about. Because of this, many don’t know what to expect.
To find out what people wish they knew about seeing a therapist, we asked people in our mental health community to share a piece of advice no one tells you about going to therapy.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “Therapy leaves you feeling drained, raw and/or vulnerable. You have to give yourself time after a session to process what was talked [about] and rejuvenate. That could be taking a nap, taking a warm bath, exercising. I find I have to practice the best self-care after my therapy sessions.” –Chaia G.
2. “You [may] have to repeat your story over and over. It starts to not feel real in your own head and you will feel guilty about being there. But remind yourself it’s OK to be asking for help.” –Sasha H.
3. “It’s all about connecting with your therapist. Therapy is not ‘one size fits all.’ It’s important to allow yourself [the] opportunity to make sure you have the best person working with you. Having a trusting and open relationship with your therapist is vital! Don’t be afraid to speak up if you find your therapist isn’t the best for you.” — Lauren L.
4. “You have to be 100 percent honest and if you don’t feel comfortable telling the first few therapists, then it’s OK to change them. Not everyone is a good fit.” –Abigail M.
5. “Therapy takes effort and work.” –Melissa G.
6. “It takes time to see improvement. You need to continue seeing your therapist so they can evaluate your mental state over time.” –Lisa C.
7. “Advocate for yourself. It’s worth it if you work it. You’re worth it.” –Amelia L.
8. “You [might] feel worse before it gets better. Learn how to ground yourself so you have a safe strong place you can go to within yourself.” — Mandy M.
9. “Therapy is not a one-visit fix.” –Marissa D.
10. “In the beginning there will probably be many times you feel like giving it up because it seems like the easier option. Stick it out though. It’s worth it in the long run.” –Angela E.
11. “It’s not about laying dramatically on a chaise lounge only talking about your feelings. The therapist is there to help you challenge yourself to be the best that you can be. But it comes with a cost. It can be extremely painful at times and you may feel really bad for a few days reflecting on what was brought to the surface, but then you’ll learn how to heal correctly. You just have to continue going.” — Allyson L.
12. “The therapist is there for you. You (or insurance) are paying for their time. However long your appointment is, that time is yours. Use it to your advantage and talk about whatever you need to. Also, be open and honest with the therapist. That’s the only way it’ll work for your benefit. If you can’t be honest with them, it’s important to know you can find another therapist you’re comfortable with. The first time or first therapist might not be the right fit, but there is one that will be.” — Michelle D.
13. “Building and establishing a rapport with a therapist takes time. It’s like a building a relationship with anybody else. The difference is, however, is that the therapist is an objective voice and perspective to the chaos going on in and outside of your head.” — Sean C.
14. “There’s no shame. ‘Therapy’ can be treated as such a scary word, and although yes, the experience of starting sessions can be daunting, I know, but really, that word should be about how you have every right to be there to help yourself feel better and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or like a failure for deciding to go. It’s your first step to getting better and the road may be long and challenging at times, but you won’t be alone for the journey.” — Eimear D.
15. “You deserve and have a right to be there. For awhile in the beginning, I was always worried my therapist would tell me my problems aren’t legitimate enough to take her time away from people with real issues that need real help. Your problems are different from everyone else’s, but they’re 100 percent valid and deserve just as much of your therapists attention as anyone else.” — Ashley M.
16. “Even if your first, or second or third therapist isn’t right for you, don’t rule it out. My CBT therapist actually cried in my sessions, while I was explaining my history. She was also very stereotypical in the fact that I mentioned one small disagreement with my mum and suddenly everything wrong with me was my mum’s fault. But my other counselor was wonderful! She did everything she could to help me. What I’m saying is, just because you may have some therapists who don’t mesh with you, don’t rule it out entirely.” — Rebecca B.
17. “You’ll have moments where you doubt why you’re even there in the first place, it leaves you emotionally exhausted and crying, or even completely drained – but it works. There has never been a day when I’ve had therapy and I haven’t felt incredibly safe and supported. It’s crucial to have that support.” — Erica A.
18. “Try to plan an agenda before your session so when you go in, you’re more prepared. Often times, I would be down to the last five minutes and I would just start to bring up something important that I needed to discuss. The therapy 45-minute window goes by quickly and if you have a plan, you’ll feel more satisfied afterwards.” — Alyssa P.
19. “As a therapist, one thing I always hear is, ‘You won’t believe it’s true but…’ or, ‘I feel so ashamed of…’ There is no judgment going into therapy. Each person has their story and no story is alike.” — Jessica C.
20. “Sometimes you honestly don’t know what to say and it’s hard to get across exactly what you want in the time you have. This can sometimes make you feel like you shouldn’t have gone at all because you wasted their time, but you haven’t! They are there to help you.” — Jessica S.
21. “Skip the awkward getting-to-know you crap and get down to business. Their job is to see people at their worst; you’re not going to surprise them. Don’t waste sessions (and money), just jump right in!” — Ashleigh R.
22. “Therapy is about finding your own answers for yourself. You need the time between sessions to discover the answers for yourself, and those answers can lead you in a completely different direction.” — Samantha L.
23. “It’s like a dirty wound. You have to open it up and poor on peroxide and it will hurt so badly you’ll wonder why you’re doing it, but in the long run you were just cleaning it out so it can heal better. Therapy will be difficult but worth it.” — Katie S.
What would you add?