Top tips for getting started with therapy

By Jess Hayes - 04/09/2020


Starting therapy can be really daunting. It might have taken you a while to get to this point where you; know you need some help, have the motivation to find this, and feel in a place where you can commit to engaging with it.

No matter how long it has taken you to get here, well done as this can be really tough.

Now what? How do you know where to look or what type of therapy to try? What can you expect from therapy? Hopefully these tips can narrow things down for you:

  1. Do some research. There is quite a lot of choice out there when it comes to therapy. Different approaches can appeal for a number of reasons and so it can be helpful to have a look into what types of therapy are available near you and what they involve. If you have an idea of your goals for the sessions or what you would like help with specifically, this can help to narrow things down. You might want to look at the NHS guidelines for the most effective therapy for your specific difficulty and look on blogs to see what other people have found the most helpful for it too.
  2. Check who the therapist is accountable to. As part of your research into therapy, have a look at who the governing body of that therapy type is. For example, if you decide to look into a cognitive behavioural therapist, the governing body is the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). If a therapist is accredited by them, it means that there is evidence that they have had at least the minimum level of training and experience, and have ongoing training and supervision, to use this type of therapy effectively. You can also report concerns to the governing body of a therapist and so it is helpful to have this information for that too. Most therapists will mention any accreditation on their website and you can also find or check accredited therapists on the governing body’s website. For a cognitive behavioural therapist, you can either search by therapist name or by your location here to see if they are accredited: www.cbtregisteruk.com A governing body for counsellors is also the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and their register to check therapists is here: www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/how-to-find-a-therapist
  3. Shop around. The single most important part of therapy is the relationship you build with your therapist. If you don’t like or trust your therapist, the therapy won’t be as effective. You need to be able to talk to them, feel safe and heard, and you also need to have some confidence that they can help you. It is therefore encouraged that you look into a few therapists before deciding who to go with; the therapists understand and should encourage this too. Most will offer a free phone call to talk things through first so use this to get to know them and their approach and to ask any questions you have about this. It can be helpful to set up a few phone calls and then make your decision about who to try. Sometimes, you might think a therapist is the right fit for you and then get a few sessions in and change your mind. It is really helpful to talk to them about this if you feel able to, and either find ways to make you feel more comfortable with them, or agree that you will find someone else.
  4. Find time. Therapy is a commitment to change something. Things can’t change overnight and it takes time and energy on your behalf to make a difference. So many people start therapy and then aren’t able to make full use of it as they find it hard to fit in the sessions or to do things between the sessions to help themselves. This can set you up to fail, and add more stress when you aren’t fully able to take advantage of the things you are learning and putting into place in therapy. This is why it is helpful to make sure that you feel able to make some regular time in your life to dedicate to therapy and helping yourself.
  5. Check your finances. Therapy can be expensive if you choose to go down the private route. This is because it costs a lot for therapists to train and gain experience to begin with, and then all of the running costs and continuous training they need to do to ensure they can help you also becomes expensive. Different types of therapists have different price ranges too. For example, a counsellor might charge less than a cognitive behavioural therapist. Different approaches require varying amounts of sessions to achieve your goals too, and so some you may need to commit to the regular payments for longer. This is something to consider when you choose the type of therapy for you. In general, person-centred counselling will require more sessions than cognitive behavioural therapy, and so the cost per session vs how many sessions you might need might need to be considered. When you are ‘shopping’ for therapists, ask questions about how long they feel the difficulty you are bringing might take to help so you can consider this (they may need to have an initial assessment with you to give you an accurate idea). You also might want to talk to them about the frequency of sessions and ensure that the therapist you choose knows that your finances might not allow for weekly sessions and might need to be fortnightly, for example. This is something they can keep in mind when planning how to help you, and they should be used to adapting things to reflect the financial limitations of private clients. If the cost of private therapy is not something you can commit to, you can also look into the NHS or local charities to see which can offer help for your difficulties, or some therapists might offer subsidised prices for certain incomes or for students or NHS professionals, for example.
  6. Note things down. A lot of nerves in and before therapy revolve around not knowing what to say or forgetting to talk about something you wanted to discuss. To help you to organise your thoughts, it can be helpful to note down anything that you were hoping to discuss ready for that first session. This might include; examples of the difficulties you are wanting help with, questions about the therapist or how the therapy works, worries about the sessions, and goals for what you hope to get out of therapy. Not only can this ease anxiety about the session for you a little, but it can be really helpful for your therapist and can show them what is important to you and what you want them to help you with. It is also really hard to think back to how you were feeling or what you were thinking even a few days before, so writing things down as they happen ensures that you have an accurate picture of what was going on at the time to share with your therapist.
  7. Be as honest as you can. This is one of the main reasons why choosing the right therapist is so important. Therapy can only help if you are honest about things, or your therapist won’t have all of the information to know how to support you. This does not mean that you need to feel comfortable sharing absolutely everything right away, as that is really tough and it takes time to do. This just means that you can share whatever you are comfortable with at first and then can tell your therapist if there is more information you aren’t ready to share yet. Being honest also includes telling your therapist if something they say doesn’t make sense or doesn’t fit with what you experience, and if they say something that you aren’t comfortable with. They also need to know if you don’t feel able to try something they suggest or don’t want to talk about something they bring up. Your therapist is there to work with you to figure out what is going on and how to help. They will use their knowledge of therapy and mental health, then rely on the information you share to know how this applies to you. So sometimes they will get things a little wrong and you might need to tell them that. That’s okay though, this is expected and encouraged and shouldn’t offend the therapist, they know that you are the expert in yourself.
  8. Remember that therapy is a joint effort. Therapy should always be collaborative. This means that you and your therapist should both put the work in; they will help you to pick things apart and support you to understand what is going on and how to help, and you will work on your understanding and commit to making positive changes too. The therapist is not there to ‘cure’ you or to make you ‘better’, they are there to support you and to help you to help yourself.

A final thing to note about therapy is that it is in your control. Although the therapist is there to offer support and tell you options of what might help you, what you talk about and how much you get from therapy is down to you. If you ever worry about not wanting to talk about certain things or try something that they suggested, remember that these things only happen if you decide they should. If you are wary about starting therapy and don’t know what to expect or what will happen, this is always something you can ask the therapist about beforehand. In the meantime, I will also be sharing some information about what to expect in your first cognitive behavioural therapy session soon to help with this.

For more information about ReImagine Therapy and to find out about accessing private cognitive behavioural therapy and other services, please have a look at the main website: www.reimaginetherapy.co.uk