The very idea of therapy can feel very daunting and actually taking steps to contact a therapist can be intimidating. I created this series to take some of the mystery out of the process in the hopes that armed with knowledge of what to expect, you will feel more inclined to take the next step.
While I can’t speak for all therapists, I can describe what will happen if you reach out to me. I encourage people to contact me initially by email, so that we can pre-arrange a day and time for a brief phone call. While this may seem like an extra step, I’m very difficult to reach by phone if I’m not expecting your call as the majority of my day is spent working with my clients, during which time, my phone is off.
Once we arrange to talk by phone, I’ll ask you some brief questions to get an idea of what you are struggling with and explore what you are hoping for from therapy. Sometimes people know the answer to this latter question, many times they do not, and that’s fine, it may be something we figure out as we go along. The phone consultation also gives us a chance to interact and notice what that’s like, and many clients tell me it makes the first appointment ‘easier’ because we’ve had some communication and connection already. Unless the discussion reveals that you are struggling with something that I don’t think I can be helpful with, I think you would benefit from an approach that I don’t provide, or the ‘fit’ just doesn’t feel right between us, we would go ahead and schedule a first session.
Therapists vary a great deal in their training, experience, education, and abilities, and as such, I encourage you to ask questions of any potential therapist. In addition to any questions you already have, here are a few suggested questions
1. What would your approach be for someone with my struggles?
Ideally, you want a therapist who can be flexible and consider your struggles from a broad perspective, taking into account your unique circumstances and needs. Therapy should not be a ‘cookie cutter’ approach, but something that is tailored to each individual. While a full understanding of your struggles and the best approach may not be realistic at the end of a brief phone consult, they should be able to offer you some thoughts.
2. What continuing education do you take part in?
Becoming a therapist does not stop once school is over and credentials are earned. One of the wonderful things about this profession is the opportunity for ongoing learning and self-development, both of which benefits clients. It’s important as the consumer, to work with someone who participates in ongoing education, supervision / consultation, attention to research and building their own self-awareness.
If things go well and we arrange to meet, the first session is often the next moment of hesitation for many people, so let me take the mystery out of that! I will review a consent form with you and ask you to sign it after you’ve read it and we’ve discussed the contents. This is an important document and conversation, as it includes what I can and cannot keep private between us, and when I would have to break your privacy and involve others in your care.
Once the paper work is out of the way, we’ll begin with an assessment so I can understand who you are and your concerns. I have a lot of questions to ask to get us started so you don’t need to prepare anything in advance. I’ll ask about who is in your family, developmental milestones like learning to walk and talk, your temperament, school, employment, friendships, and family relationships. We’ll spend some time talking about who and what matters to you, as well as your current struggles and what is getting in your way of living the life you want. This may, or may not, include contextual factors such as extended family, culture, spirituality, sexuality, gender, and social / political influences, to name a few.
After the assessment, we’ll talk together about how we understand your concerns and how to move ahead together, coming up with a plan collaboratively. Bottom line, therapy is not something mysterious that is done ‘to’ someone, it is a collaborative relationship between therapist and client that over time, provides a safe space to feel unsafe, to experience and share what is difficult and find new ways of managing.
If you are contacting me on behalf of your teen, the process is the same, starting with a phone call with a parent, and then an assessment with the teen and at least one parent. It is important to have at least one parent at the first session to review the consent / privacy issues so everyone knows the boundaries of privacy and how that is balanced with safety concerns.