Are you sick of old issues and patterns arising unannounced and disrupting your life? Have you finally decided that you need guidance to unroot your problems and solve them once and for all? Then, congratulations! As a society, we are finally losing the stigmas around psychotherapy and emphasizing the importance of emotional hygiene. I believe that EVERYONE should have a mental health professional in their life. Not having a counselor, therapist or coach because “things aren’t so bad” is like not having a doctor because you don’t plan on getting sick. I started my journey in therapy as the anthesis of what I recommend below, and I write so that you may avoid the unnecessary challenges I encountered.
You may have envisioned someone as an ideal candidate to be your anxiety professional. Perhaps you said to yourself, “I think I need woman with at least 20 years of experience and a PhD in psychology because of all the rich experience,” or maybe you said, “I would like a younger male counselor who understands my generation better.” While these aren’t bad places to start your search, they aren’t extremely important in the bigger picture. Which brings me to my first point:
- Shop around
Don’t pigeonhole yourself as a difficult patient who could only benefit from one type of therapist. When you are first looking for a professional, try everyone out whose specialties resonate with you. Most therapists offer a 20-minute, free “get to know each other” session, and you should absolutely take advantage of it. A great therapist doesn’t take everyone they can get; they also look for the candidates for whom they can be of service. If they believe they cannot help, they will refer you to someone else who can. My personal experience and research show that age, degree, years of experience and gender aren’t major factors in determining the quality of service you’ll receive. The most important factor, in my opinion, is the ability to trust and feel safe with your therapist. All of the experience and education someone has won’t do you any good if you are working with someone that you can’t open up to or someone who doesn’t relate to/understand your problem. Which leads to my next point:
- What works for someone else may not work for you
Many professionals have many tools in their kit to help tackle and solve your problems. All of them will have varying degrees of success, so I recommend trying anything you feel comfortable with. Therapy isn’t a perfect science; far too many factors contribute to whether it will help you or not, so don’t dismiss something right away. Try to be as open as possible with your therapist on how you feel about them, their recommendations, any concerns and overall experience. The only way your counselor will be able to provide the best service is if you provide feedback. There are many great modalities that professionals recommend. Some of the popular ones are:
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Lifespan Integration
- Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy
- It won’t be easy
Most people envision starting therapy much like visiting a doctor for a cold, where you tell her your problems, and she gives the perfect regimen where day after day, you increasingly feel better. However, that is rarely the case. I compare it much more to visiting a physical therapist after an injury, where solutions will be found through hard work. I think the best advice I could give that I wish I had received is not to wait to start therapy as a last resort when you are finally at your lowest. The fact is that you may feel worse before you feel better, but that is a part of the healing process. Of course, if you are at your lowest point, don’t wait to get help – just know that the work will be more about getting you back to a good baseline rather than digging through old issues. Don’t expect a complex problem that you have carried for years to go away permanently overnight. It’s a journey with many ups and downs. Lose any expectation you have for how long it may take to heal because it will take exactly the right amount of time. For many people, it takes just a few short sessions, but for others, it takes years of work. It is all about making small yet sustainable changes as you work toward your goal of being free from suffering from anxiety. The progress and outcomes of your efforts highly depend on your commitment toward changing your relationship with anxiety.
Lastly, don’t get hung up on a diagnosis. Especially if you have what I like to call “elusive anxiety,” where the specific triggers and symptoms evolve into new fears over time. Many therapists nowadays don’t even like to diagnose clients with a disorder but will for insurance purposes. If the diagnosis helps you, then great! But focus on solving your problems and not just curing your diagnosis. If you feel as though your problems are getting worse after starting therapy, ask yourself: Are the problems getting worse, or are they just more visible? Shining a spotlight on the issue can bring about more memories and awareness of problems and should not be mistaken as regression.