"I should probably go to therapy," I told my friends for about a year and a half before I actually took the leap. It's a hard thing to do, starting therapy, when hardly anyone you know has done it: none of my family and only one of my close friends. I second-guessed myself constantly at the start. Did I really need this? Wouldn't it be awkward? Would it actually be worth the money? And, of course, finding a therapist isn't easy, so I had plenty of opportunities to procrastinate, and I took full advantage of them.
At some point, though, my coping mechanisms ran out, and I felt like I had nothing to lose. It's scary to start something new, but it's not fun to be anxious and unhappy all the time, either. If you're trying to psych yourself up to start this process, or if you're just wondering what's it like, here's what starting therapy was like for me.
Should I Go to Therapy? Here's How I Knew
You don't need to have a mental illness to go to therapy. Even if you know this already, it bears repeating, because this stigma makes a lot of people think therapy isn't meant for them. In truth, therapy can be beneficial for everyone. But still, I heard these things for years before I even thought about going to therapy. Making this decision is a personal journey, and the factors are different for everyone. Here's why I started therapy:
I didn't know how to handle my emotions. The best way to describe what I was feeling was pent up, like I had all this stress, fear, and anxiety building pressure inside. My old tricks (journaling, exercise) felt like only temporary fixes; the feeling kept coming back.
I felt overwhelmed by everyday life. Small decisions felt impossible to make, I catastrophized like a pro, I got anxiety about every little thing - on top of the whole "the world is ending" feeling I've had for the last two years. I was so overwhelmed, I started getting emotional and upset over even the smallest inconveniences. I felt like I wasn't equipped to handle anything.
I just wanted someone to talk to. I could open up to my friends and family about some of these issues, but couldn't get past the idea that I was burdening them or that they might judge me. It was comforting to think that a therapist wouldn't judge me (they've presumably seen just about everything in their profession) and that it was their job to listen to me and give me advice, so I wouldn't have to feel guilty about overloading them with my problems.
What Is Therapy Like as a Beginner?
I'm not here to sugarcoat things, so in all honesty, starting therapy was hard, nerve-wracking, and uncomfortable. First you have to find a therapist (difficult, scary), and then you have to actually talk to them about your problems (terrifying) - but sometimes you have to go through the scary stuff because you know there's something better waiting for you on the other side. I kept telling myself it would be worth the stress and uncertainty, and it has been. Here's what my experience starting therapy was like:
Finding a therapist is stressful, but there are tools to help. It's notoriously difficult to find a therapist that you like, but it helps if you're not starting from scratch (aka googling "therapists in my area"). I recommend trying an app or website that matches you with a therapist based on your needs; I used one to find my therapist, and it took some stress out of the process.
You might be scared at first. It's natural to be nervous or anxious when you start therapy, especially if it's your first time or you're not used to opening up to other people, let alone a stranger you just met. You can mention that to your therapist in your first session, if you want (I did) - they won't be shocked, and you can talk about why this process is scary for you.
You'll start learning right away. This depends a bit on your therapist, but my therapist started giving me tips and tricks for dealing with my anxiety in the very first session, which was exactly what I wanted from therapy: to be able to rant about my life and then get advice on how to deal with it. I left my first session feeling a little shaken and nervous but also proud of myself and excited to try out her suggestions. It was rewarding to get this kind of confirmation that starting therapy was the right choice.
Therapy is whatever you want it to be. Most therapists will let you dictate the style of your therapy, whether you're looking for concrete strategies and specific goals, or just want someone to talk to (or a combination). Communicating those preferences to your therapist can help you personalize your sessions to your needs and ultimately make them more effective. For example, I wanted an active therapist who'd ask lots of questions and give me strategies I could directly implement into my life, and by the end of the first session, I could tell that's what I'd gotten.
It took me a long time to convince myself that, yes, I should go to therapy, and, yes, it will be worth the stress and anxiety at the beginning. Several sessions in, it's already been incredibly rewarding to see the process pay off, which is why I'm here writing this. If you think you could benefit from therapy, let this be the sign to go for it, even if you're scared, even if you don't think anything is "wrong" with you. It's worth it to take care of yourself and put your mental health first.