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  • Susan J. Leviton

Getting Started with Therapy

If you have never been to therapy before, you may have some anxiety about getting started. Here are some FAQs that might help.

1. How do I find a therapist?

Call your insurance company or go to their website.

Get a referral from someone you know.

Do an internet search. (Some individuals will have ads, but mostly you will see sites that provide a list, such as Psychology Today, Good Therapy, etc.)

Go to a professional association website. They will list their members.

California Association of Marriage and Family therapists (CAMFT)

Los Angeles County Psychological Association (LACPA)

Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapist’s Association (LAGPA)

World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)

There are also associations for clinical social workers, psychiatrists, etc.

Many therapists have websites so you can get a better feel for who they are and what their style is. You should contact a few, as some may not be taking new patients, or don’t provide the type of service you need, etc.

2. How do I contact the therapist?

Call and leave a voicemail. Some list an email address on their website or advertising site. Some have a contact form on their website.

3. What happens next?

When you are contacted by a therapist, they will want to know the general reason you are seeking therapy. You don’t have to go into detail, just “I’ve always had a lot of anxiety,” or “Many things have happened lately that are making me depressed,” or “My girlfriend and I are having issues.” You should also share if you have a special requirement, such as you want a therapist familiar with working with gay people, or you are looking for some specific type of therapy. You will talk about the fee, whether you want telehealth or in-person treatment, what your schedule is like, and so on.

4. And then what?

After you schedule your first appointment, you will fill out intake forms. These are similar to what you get at a first doctor’s appointment. The therapist might send them electronically, snail mail them to you, have you print them from their website, or have you do them in the waiting room. Many therapists like to do the questionnaire parts with them during the first session.

5. What happens when I get there?

If you are seeing a therapist at a clinic, the waiting area will be similar to a doctor’s office, with a receptionist you can check in with. Private-practice therapists that are part of a large group may have a receptionist as well, but usually there is just a small, homey-looking room with chairs, magazines, etc. In that case there will be some sort of system to let them know you are there: the names of all the therapists who use the suite on the wall, and you press the button next to your therapist’s name. At the appointed time, they will come out to get you and show you into their private office.

6. How do I start?

Your therapist may ask you intake questions, as I mentioned above. Or they may invite you to start sharing what is going on in your life and what is troubling you. Many people think it will be awkward telling personal information to a stranger. This is understandable. But remember that you have already started getting to know them when you spoke on the phone. Also, you get to choose what you say and when you say it. If you are comfortable with the therapist, you will start to relax. And it will get easier as you get to know each other better.

If you find after the first few sessions that you are not feeling any more comfortable, perhaps this therapist is not the right one for you. Therapists know that no one therapist is perfect for everyone. You will not hurt their feelings if you leave a message cancelling your next appointment, saying that you don’t feel it’s a good fit and you are going to try someone else. This is far preferable to leaving the therapist in limbo by cancelling several appointments in a row, then disappearing.

If you have other questions about therapy, feel free to ask. You can call, or use my contact form.

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