2019,  Health,  Mental Health,  Therapy

Musings: Let’s Talk About Therapy

I’m just a girl who needed a therapist and decided to talk openly about it.

I’m honored that people have reached out to me in regards to my experience with therapy and finding a therapist. I am not an expert and am still in the fresh stages of therapy, less than one year. But I would love to share my experience if it help others.

Since I chose to be very open about my mental health post-breakup, a handful of friends and acquaintances have reached out about the details of my experience with therapy. While I believe sharing my truth is also being authentic with those around me, it has also shown me it can help someone(s) too. And for that I am grateful. Almost a year ago, I shared Musings: Hundreds in Therapy, Later. I detailed a lot of my initial experiences there. But I’d love to share it all again.

First, let me congratulate you on starting your journey to develop your mental health. This decision, whether it is spurred out of need or desire, is a big step in the process. So, kudos for taking the time to give your mental health the attention it deserves.

I also think it is really important to lean into your close friends and family if they are emotionally available to be there for you too. Using a blend of close family and friends, plus your therapist is a great way to work through tough emotional times. However, I do know that this isn’t always an option for everyone. If it is, I hope you lean into this and try it. It didn’t come easy for me, but I felt so incredibly sad that I let my guard down with a few people and I found it cathartic. They didn’t pacify me, nor did they give advice. They listened to me, they let me be and process any emotion that came up.

I read something really important that has resonated with me. Please ask your friends and family if they are emotionally available to listen to what you have to say. Sometimes we emotionally unload on loved ones and they aren’t ready or capable at that moment. We have to be understanding of this and ask another close person or wait for your therapist if your friend or loved one cannot help at that moment. I think this is something really important to be cognizant of when sharing with loved ones.

Mental health is just as important as physical health.

The big barrier that most people have is money. Therapy is not cheap. It won’t be cheap. There are budget-friendly options, but most can’t get around this. I hate it. Mental health should not be limited because of one’s financial situation. Neither should higher education (re college), but these are the facts of life.

One option is to use your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These are usually supplemental benefits your employer will offer you. My experience was they offered three free visits to a therapist from a list that they generated. However, I had to request the list multiple times. When I did receive this list, I started trying to cross reference the therapists on the list to their online reviews and their websites.

It is very important that you take your time when finding your therapist.

Finding a therapist is very similar to dating. I was desperate to start my therapy, but not desperate enough to pick some random person off a list. I’ve heard this advice before and I stick by it. I will reiterate it over and over, again. There is no point in arbitrarily picking a therapist and then not feeling at ease in their presence. Therapy won’t be easy, but finding a good fit will help the process, rather than hinder it. Therapy is for the long haul, not a quick fix. And if you are looking for a quick fix, I hope you sit with yourself and evaluate what your motives are.

Okay, back to finding a therapist. After I cross referenced and picked a few I thought would work, I started calling their offices to inquire about meet and greets and appointment availability. If they did call me back or answer my call, most of them no longer took my EAP program. Apparently, the EAP program had not removed them from their list, even though some said they haven’t taken this insurance for years. Then there were a handful of therapists who just never responded to me. Again, I was not giving them weeks to respond, I had days if that. After I realized my (my experience only) insurance + EAP was not going to work out, I started relying on recommendations from friends and family.

I’d done this previously, so I knew which friends and family to ask again. For me, this was ultimately how I found my therapist. I also had to make the hard decision to pay out of pocket for therapy. I didn’t really have the disposable income to do so, but I made it work. I charged some session on credit. I also adjusted my Health Savings Account (HSA) to accommodate my therapy needs. I put my mental health first, before most things at that time in my life. I didn’t see any other way.

For you, it may be different. The justification may not come so easy. I would ask you to really sit and think about this decision. How much to do you spend on your physical health — gym, eating healthy, massages, hair appointments, etc. Probably a good portion of your income, right? Well, it may be time to start looking at your mental health with the same vigor. Although it won’t physically change your body like those investments will, it will change you. Actually, it can change your physical body too. It may sound weird, but when you are in tune with yourself or working toward this, you see physical changes in yourself. At least I did…

What we don’t realize is how much our mental state dictates our physical state. The emotional stress and anxiety we carry manifests in physical ways through our human body. I didn’t really understand this until I worked with my therapist. And now I see it. I would rather let you figure this out on your own but just think about it if you have a moment. Our bodies tell us stuff, are you self-aware enough to hear it? I wasn’t. Obviously there are regular health issues or stuff that happens, but honestly, I see the connection between how our mental health manifests through our physical body now. I’ve made the connection.

I met with two therapists after a bunch of phone calls. One I met with was working on getting her license and had a licensed therapist who she reported too. Sadly, she was attempting to charge a full rate even though she wasn’t credentialed. I was in shock. If I’m going to spend good money on this, I want to experience on their side. So, a word to the wise, ask as many questions about their history, the theories they practice, and anything you need clarity on before you become their patient.

The second therapist I met ended up being my therapist. I can’t really describe how I knew she would be my therapist, but I just knew. I sat on her couch and felt at home in her presence. I bet that sounds bizarre. Because saying it almost feels bizarre. The tears, hurt, sadness, and frustration I’d been carrying up until that appointment all came out in one fell swoop of ugly crying. A cry I’d been searching so hard to release, but couldn’t do it on my own. I tried. I was so frustrated with this feeling, I forced myself to cry in the middle of a soccer game and it still wouldn’t come. It sat in the spot right above my stomach and moved to my throat, but stopped. Dead in its ugly, painful track. So I knew, without really saying any words, that I felt she would help me.

I started going to her once a week and that lasted for four months, or possibly more. Once a week therapy sessions are an intense schedule for therapy. At one point, right after I started, I asked her if I could come twice a week because it all felt so overwhelming. I was partly kidding, but part serious too. She has been great at checking in with me about the cadence of our sessions. Eventually, it transitioned to every other week and now we are on an every-three-week cadence.

Therapy is still hard. Just because I don’t go every week doesn’t mean I don’t still have a lot of things to work on. I’m am now more equipped to work on things on my own. I have the tools and the wherewithal to do the day-to-day hard work. A lot of times I dread going, but end up leaving feeling so much better.

I will always be a work in progress.

I could go on and on about all the different thing I’ve learned, but most of it probably would not resonate because everyone’s stories, lives, and experiences are so vastly different. It is my only hope that everyone can experience therapy the way I did. Please remember, you have to be open minded and open to change, and also own a lot of different things that have led up to this. I know I’m not perfect and I had faults in the relationship too. The sooner you begin to accept yourself fully, it becomes easier to make healthy changes and connect to the truest form of yourself.

There are a few other therapy thoughts I wanted to share, to arm you with as much knowledge as I have:

  • Group therapy – this is easier on your budget, but are you comfortable sharing in a group setting?
  • Sliding scale – some therapists will offer a sliding scale for payment, which is based on your income. It does NOT hurt to ask about this.
  • Check-in with your PCP – there are specific codes that a therapist will code your bills too and this can help with reimbursements through your insurance. Everyone’s insurance is different, so don’t quote me on this. I called my doctor the day I started this process so it was documented in their files, just for future reference and billing.
  • Friends and family – are any of them already therapists or LCSWs? ask for referrals.
  • Interview questions – have a basic set of questions ready when you are interviewing therapists. These will depend on what you hope to get out of therapy, but make sure to be prepared.
  • Learn the acronyms – understand what an LCSW or MFT is, or what a Clinical Psychologist is. Look into this before you start your research, it will be helpful to understand their profiles and websites online.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out. I’m no expert, but I am completely open to chat about my experience and share the tips I’ve gathered along the way. I hope someone finds something in this post helpful.

Talking about therapy is just as important as going to therapy.

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