As a culture we have a love/hate relationship with psychotherapy. A lot of us look to therapy as a place where we can find comfort, answers, and hope. And while some of us have had great, life-changing therapists that have given us a sincere love for the therapeutic process, there are still many of us that harbor confusion, suspicion, and fear when it comes to therapy.

TV and movies give us all sorts of ideas about the mysterious behind-closed-doors process of therapy. Most often we see therapists in movies being cold, dismissive, and condescending, which is not at all the case IRL.

Another common misconception is that therapy is just for people with really intense problems. It’s not!

Therapy is actually a great move to consider when you are in even a minor slump and need some fine-tuning or if you’re going through a period of transition (moving, getting engaged/married, going through a breakup, career change, having a baby or losing someone).

Here is a brief rundown on the therapy process I enact with my clients:

When a potential client first reaches out, usually by email or through my website, I schedule a phone call with them to discuss what they are hoping to get from therapy and to answer their questions and concerns. Over the phone, the client can get a feel for how our dynamic will be in the therapy room and whether or not I’m a good fit for them. The phone consultation is always free and will last from 15-30 minutes. In that time we also talk about scheduling availability, location, and pricing. They can then make an appointment, think about it and get back to me, or move on to a therapist they feel more comfortable with. If I’m not a good fit, I’ll always happily point them in the right direction of someone who will be. Therapy is incredibly personal and a great therapist will always want their clients to feel great about their decision.

Once my new client decides to make an appointment and come in, I’ll send over electronic forms full of questions for them to fill out. These answers will give me a snapshot into the big picture of what’s going on for them and helps me know where to start so we can hit the ground running (i.e., who the important people are in their life, what physical problems they have or medications they take, a short version of their relationship with their parents, and their goals for therapy).

The first session is about helping my new client get comfortable and asking a bunch of questions to fill in the details of the picture they already started painting for me. From then on, the course of therapy is different for everyone. There’s both laughing and crying, as some people need to process their past and some people are best served focusing on the present. Sometimes it’s just talking, and sometimes people do better with structure or an activity to guide us, like art or puppy play (sometimes I’ll even bring my therapy dogs for clients that like dogs!).

To me, therapy is an opportunity of healing through the unique vehicle of our genuine connection.

My clients can count on me for honest feedback, can tell me when I’m not understanding them, and most importantly, can share whatever scary, shameful, embarrassing, hopeful, needy, regretful thing that weighs on them — they can trust me to be their partner in finding their own answers, priorities, and strength.

So how can you get the kind of therapy you hope for — the answers, hope, and comfort that makes the effort and investment of time and money worth it? Here’s how:

Ask yourself what you want out of therapy —

Do you want someone who has a specialty in what you need? Will you feel most comfortable with a man or woman, younger or older? Do they need to be geographically close for it to be sustainable for you? Do you want someone who mostly listens or someone who is more directive and responsive? Do you desire a therapist who is buttoned down and adheres closely to traditional methodologies or someone who creatively incorporates alternative healing modalities like crystals, sound baths, and/or essential oils?

Reach out to multiple therapists —

Unfortunately, and completely befuddling to me, you won’t get a response from all therapists that you reach out to. Please accept my apologies on their behalf, as this is not acceptable. If you don’t have therapist referrals from someone you trust, the best place to look is Psychology Today. Most therapists are listed there with a photo, and you are able to filter your search results by area, gender, specialty, and insurance.

Interview them —

Talk to a few therapists before choosing so that you have a reference point of what truly resonates and what doesn’t. Are they pulling their own weight in the conversation? Do they ask good questions and seem genuinely interested in what’s going on for you? Do you feel understood in what you share? Do the logistics of schedule and price match up? Many therapists offer a lower fee for clients who need it, so feel free to ask if they offer payment based on a sliding scale.

Go consistently, share openly, and take risks —  

If your therapist makes you mad or you feel misunderstood, tell them. If you think they’re not really interested in your stories or you feel like a needy burden, tell them. Some of the best work in therapy is done by talking about your connection to your therapist itself.

I wish you the very best on your adventures in psychotherapy. When you find a good fit, it’s one of the biggest gifts you can ever give yourself. We can all benefit from some help in making our human experience a little easier and finding a more streamlined way to live our best life.

Jaimi Brooks, M.A. is a therapist in LA helping people navigate the tricky parts of being human. In addition to providing individual therapy, Jaimi runs therapy groups including a Motherhood + Identity Group, Considering Motherhood Group, and a Premarital Prep Group.

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