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Therapist can be an effective treatment for a host of mental and emotional problems. Simply talking about your thoughts and feelings with a supportive person can often make you feel better. It can be very healing, in and of itself, to voice your worries or talk about something that’s weighing on your mind. And it feels good to be listened to—to know that someone else cares about you and wants to help.

Therapist

While it can be very helpful to talk about your problems to close friends and family members, sometimes you need help that the people around you aren’t able to provide. When you need extra support, an outside perspective, or some expert guidance, talking to a therapist or counselor can help. While the support of friends and family is important, therapy is different. Therapists are professionally-trained listeners who can help you get to the root of your problems, overcome emotional challenges, and make positive changes in your life.

You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health problem to benefit from therapy. Many people in therapy seek help for everyday concerns: relationship problems, job stress, or self-doubt, for example. Others turn to therapy during difficult times, such as a divorce. But in order to reap its benefits, it’s important to choose the right therapist—someone you trust who makes you feel cared for and has the experience to help you make changes for the better in your life. A good therapist helps you become stronger and more self-aware.

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Why therapy and not medication?

The thought of being able to solve your problems by taking a pill each day can sound appealing. If only it was that easy! Mental and emotional problems have multiple causes, and medication is not a one-stop cure.

Medication may help ease certain symptoms, but it comes with side effects. Furthermore, it cannot solve the “big picture” problems. Medication won’t fix your relationships, help you figure out what to do with your life, or give you insight into why you continue to make unhealthy choices.

Therapy can be time consuming and challenging, as uncomfortable emotions and thoughts often arise as part of the treatment process. However, therapy provides long-lasting benefits beyond symptom relief. Therapy gives you the tools for transforming your life—for relating better to others, building the life you want for yourself, and coping with whatever curveballs are thrown your way.

Finding the right therapist for you

Finding the right therapist will probably take some time and work, but it’s worth the effort. The connection you have with your therapist is essential. You need someone who you can trust—someone you feel comfortable talking to about difficult subjects and intimate secrets, someone who will be a partner in your recovery. Therapy won’t be effective unless you have this bond, so take some time at the beginning to find the right person. It’s okay to shop around and ask questions when interviewing potential therapists.

Experience matters. One of the main reasons for seeing a therapist, rather than simply talking to a friend, is experience. Look for a therapist who is experienced in treating the problems that you have. Often, therapists have special areas of focus, such as depression or eating disorders. Experienced therapists have seen the problems you’re facing again and again, which broadens their view and gives them more insight. And for some problems, such as trauma or PTSD, seeing a specialist is absolutely essential.

Learn about different treatment orientations. Many therapists practice a blend of orientations. However, it’s a good idea to learn about the different treatment types, because that can affect your therapist’s way of relating and the suggested length of treatment.

Check licensing. Credentials aren’t everything, but if you’re paying for a licensed professional, make sure the therapist holds a current license and is in good standing with the state regulatory board. Regulatory boards vary by state and profession. Also check for complaints against the therapist.

Trust your gut. Even if your therapist looks great on paper, if the connection doesn’t feel right—if you don’t trust the person or feel like they truly care—go with another choice. A good therapist will respect this choice and should never pressure you or make you feel guilty.

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What to expect in therapy or counseling

Every therapist is different, but there are usually some similarities in how therapy is structured. Normally, sessions will last about an hour, and take place around once a week. Although for more intensive therapy, they may be scheduled more often. Therapy is normally conducted in the therapist’s office, but therapists also work in hospitals and nursing homes, and in some cases will conduct home visits.

Expect a good fit between you and your therapist. Don’t settle for bad fit. You may need to see one or more therapists until you feel understood and accepted.

Therapy is a partnership. Both you and your therapist contribute to the healing process. You’re not expected to do the work of recovery all by yourself, but your therapist can’t do it for you either. Therapy should feel like a collaboration.

Therapy will not always feel pleasant. Painful memories, frustrations or feelings might surface. This is a normal part of therapy and your therapist will guide you through this process. Be sure to communicate with your therapist about how you are feeling.

Therapy should be a safe place. While at times you’ll feel challenged or face unpleasant feelings, you should always feel safe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or you’re dreading your therapy sessions, talk to your therapist.

Paying for therapy and counseling

In the U.S., for example, many insurance companies provide limited coverage for psychotherapy—often as few as 6-12 sessions. Read through your plan carefully to see what benefits you have. Some types of mental health professionals might not be covered. You may need a referral through your primary care physician.

Also keep in mind that some therapists do not accept insurance, only payment directly from the patient. Sometimes these therapists will accept sliding scale payments, where you pay what you can afford for each session. Don’t be afraid to ask what arrangements can be made if you feel that the therapist could be a good fit for you.

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