First, congratulations are in order. Pursuing mental health therapy can be scary for many reasons. There may be a cultural taboo you’ve grown up with, you may feel uncomfortable seeking help, or you may be anxious about sharing the most intimate parts of your life. Regardless, you’ve shown interest in or sought out mental health therapy and now you’re getting ready to begin. Cheers to you on conquering that first step.

What can I expect from mental health therapy?

While the specifics of your mental health therapy will differ, depending on where you attend, the basics remain the same. Some types of therapy are more conversation-based, commonly called “talk therapy” or “psychotherapy.” Other therapy types are more active, like exposure therapy, art therapy or animal therapy. Psychotherapy is the most popular, and with most mental health counseling occuring online, it is currently the most accessible. Although therapy may differ by type, all follow a comparable process. 

Most likely, your first interaction with your mental health provider was over the phone or online, when you scheduled your first session and exchanged insurance or payment information, as well as basic contact information. Depending on the provider, you may participate in an “intake” or “assessment” prior to beginning your sessions. This intake could include anything from medical history to relevant diagnoses, to previous participation in mental health services and your current functioning. Some providers may have a specific form for you to complete as part of the intake, and it may be done verbally which gives you a chance to establish a relationship with your mental health therapist. Some therapists simply cover this information in the first session.

Once you have scheduled and potentially completed an intake assessment, the next time (or first time) you meet with your therapist will likely be an official session. This is where you find yourself preparing for mental health therapy, and likely where you find yourself answering many questions. Whether you are nervous, excited or both, your head may be swimming with thoughts, and that’s completely normal. Most people start therapy with a little bit of trepidation in their hearts. However, these tips are meant to ease those controllable fears so you can fully dive into the mental health therapy journey ahead.

Tips on preparing for therapy

Currently, nearly all providers are limited to online therapy, and this looks a little different from in-person therapy. You may find the medium of online therapy difficult, or you may find it a relief. Nevertheless, here are a few strategies to make your online therapy as effective as possible.

Get your technology in order

Your provider will let you know what platform to use for your session. This may require some preparation, such as downloading an app and trying it out beforehand to get comfortable. You may want to fiddle with the camera to see if you’re more comfortable seeing yourself on camera next to the therapist on screen, or if you’d rather just see the therapist. You’ll want to double check that you have a solid internet connection, set up good lighting and remove any distractions from your background.

Non-verbal communication

It is imperative that your therapist can see you. If you have anxiety about appearing on screen, this will be important to bring up with your therapist in the first session. In the same way that you get cues to keep talking when someone nods their head, your therapist is picking up on cues about your story as you talk back and forth. There are many non-verbal cues (such as body posture, eye gaze and facial expressions) that help your therapist to understand the context of your conversation, and it is important that he or she can see you.

Personal space

Your conversations are private. With online mental health services, you may be concerned about other people in your living space hearing your conversation. One tip is to use either noise-cancelling headphones or a noise-maker. Good headphones can make certain that you are not distracted by your surroundings, and no one nearby can hear what your therapist says. Additionally, having a noise-maker (an app on your phone or a sound machine you buy online) can both eliminate background noise and ensure you’re not overheard.

Think about what you want to share

Your symptoms and current functioning may have been addressed at your intake, but you will likely discuss them again in the first session. This is your time to express to your therapist what you feel is affecting you most and other concerns that aren’t covered by checking boxes on a form. If you don’t know where to begin or even what is appropriate to share, no need to worry. Your therapist is an expert in conversation and will guide you by asking questions and discussing your areas of concern.

Eliminating the fear from your mental health therapy experience

Preparing for mental health therapy should not be a burden. Your therapist’s goal is to make you feel comfortable and welcome as you work to face challenges in your life. Having a good setup for your online sessions can help to quell fears and lessen anxiety. Allow yourself some grace as you navigate technical difficulties and frustrating internet fluctuations. Here’s the good news: your provider can help with preparation and is just an old-fashioned phone call away.

Taking the right steps toward mental health therapy is difficult, but always rewarding. If you’re ready to pursue freedom through healing treatment, Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare can help. Call (678) 274-4936 or reach us online to pursue recovery through our mental and behavioral health outpatient programming.