Starting therapy can be confusing and overwhelming. Typically, when we’re seeking help from a professional it’s because we’re not feeling well and this can make it even harder. There may be mental, emotional, logistical, or financial barriers that prevent many from connecting with a therapist.

This is a quick look at the process. It can look differently based on your specific situation, but it’s a glimpse into what happens the moment you decide to embark on your healing journey.

  • Look for a therapist

There are many therapist directories to choose from nowadays that highlight therapists credentials and specializations. This can be a good way of narrowing down the kind of therapist you’re looking for. If you have health insurance, many providers also have profiles on the insurance panels for a quick view about what services they offer. Think about what you’re looking for before you start your search, make a list of qualities that are important for you in a therapist. 

  • 15 Minute Consultation

Most therapist like to have a conversation before setting up your first appointment. This call to is to get to know a little about why you’re looking for therapy. It’s also to measure goodness-of-fit for both you and the therapist. This is your opportunity to ask the therapist if they specialize in what you need, their background, fees, and anything you’re particularly looking for. From here, they will schedule the first appointment or provide you with referrals if needed.

  • Intake Session

This get-to-know you session typically lasts 50-60 minutes. Here, the therapist will ask about biopsychosocial history and background to get a good sense of your situation. By the end of the session, the therapist will recommend treatment frequency (weekly, twice a week, bi-weekly, etc.) based on your symptoms. They may also recommend further treatment from another specialist such as a psychiatrist or medical doctor.

  • Build Therapeutic Alliance

The therapeutic alliance is the relationship you’re able to build with your therapist and it is by far the most important step in therapy. It is a huge factor in predicting treatment outcomes. Meaning, the stronger relationship you’re able to build, the more likely you are to feel better. Can you trust your therapist? Do you like them? Are you opening up to them? Is therapy helping you? Do you believe they can help you? Are they challenging you to promote change? These are all some important questions to ask yourself. This step is more of a process that evolves over time, of course. You may be reserved at first and then you get more comfortable (that’s completely normal!)

  • Develop plan and set goals

Your therapist will guide you through some form of treatment plan. It may be structured or not so structured but it’s basically an idea of “what are we working on here.” Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-framed) goals is important. During the therapy process, this treatment plan, goals, and objective you set will serve as a road map to wellness. It’s ever changing and you can always go back and tweak your plan to fit your current needs.

  • Practice skills discussed in therapy

Throughout sessions, there will be skills your therapist may teach you. For example, they may teach you deep breathing, communication skills, assertiveness techniques, boundary setting, and even how to catch and reframe negative thoughts. Most of the healing and change happens outside the “therapy room” and in the real world. This is why it’s important to practice those skills and then report back what’s working and what isn’t during sessions.

  • Become aware of thoughts to make changes

Another important part of the process is gaining awareness and implementing change. Now that you have a therapist, you’ve built a solid relationship with them, you have a plan, and have learned helpful skills, it’s time to make some long-lasting changes. Unfortunately, these changes cannot happen without paying attention to your thoughts. You must reflect on your thoughts, how you talk to yourself or your inside voice, how you analyze situations you’re confronted with, and how you choose to respond. Let’s say you blew up on a loved one because you were stressed out from work. You will process different alternatives to this situation in therapy and as you become more aware of your thoughts, you will able to control them and respond differently.

Other parts of the process may include trauma processing, grief therapy, supplementing therapy by seeking possible medication management from a psychiatrist, or implementing other steps. As mentioned, this is just a quick overview about the general process of therapy. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for healing and every person is unique in needs. It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself and understand change cannot happen overnight.