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A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THERAPY

I’ll never forget the first time I reached out for support from a therapist. My husband and I felt stuck – we weren’t sure how to move forward or where to turn for help. We felt completely committed to each other and wanted to be intentional about gaining the skills we needed to navigate this difficult season we were in.


It can be awkward to bring up the subject of therapy in social circles, but desperation will push the issue. I asked friends and got a referral. After spending time reviewing the therapist’s website, we scheduled our first appointment. As we waited in the waiting room my hands were trembling as I felt the excitement and fear:


Are we ok?

Will he judge us?

Will he be weird?

Will this even help?


Sorting through these concerns took a bit but it didn’t take long to relax into his comfy couch and respond to his calm and welcoming demeanor. I felt almost immediately that we were in good hands and that we could trust him. It took about 6 sessions to get our marriage and specifically our communication back on track. We still reflect back on this season over 8 years ago with immense gratitude.


Therapy can be this gift – a beautiful unraveling of hope and healing, connection and change. It takes a lot of courage to reach out, to invite someone in to be part of your journey. But the payoff can feel like this rich and meaningful relationship that helps us navigate different times in our lives where we feel lost or stuck. So if this is where you are and you’re hesitating…this is for you.


Reaching out for the support of a therapist can feel scary and vulnerable…and yet it might be exactly what you need to get unstuck. Your story is unique, as is your pain. It’s important to find someone who fits you and your goals. If you are local to the Tucson area, you have a lot of options. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach that works in therapy so here are important considerations to keep in mind.


As You Research


As you review a therapist’s online profile and website what are you learning about their passion, their expertise, and their training? Ask yourself what is important and make a priority list – location, gender, insurance, etc. An online presence can communicate a lot – be picky and notice things that stand out.


Another important consideration is approach. There are a lot of different approaches in therapy (EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Emotional Focused Therapy) and if that is important to you, find a therapist in that niche with that specific training.


Phone Call/Email/Consultation


Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to reach out. Many therapists (even in Tucson) offer a free phone or in person consultation which is a great way to test drive the experience without much commitment. Get a feel for the therapist and their office – ask pertinent questions and make sure to pay attention to how you feel – noting if you feel comfortable and welcome and absolutely pay attention to any red flags.


If you don’t feel good about moving forward, be willing to shop around. The client – therapist fit is the best predictor of success. A great therapist will be warm, empathetic and accepting even in this initial consult. Trust takes time but pick a therapist you want to do the work with.


First Session


The first session can be awkward but make sure as the session progresses you feel comfortable, valued and heard. This is the time to clarify goals and expectations. To manage any logistics and to address the time/financial commitment. A great therapist will be open to questions and feedback as well as input on how to make the process work for you.


After a Few Weeks


By now you should feel supported, valued, and hopeful while feeling like you are gaining control and making important and meaningful changes in your life. How long therapy will last will depend on your specific goals – but by now the therapist should be able to give you a good idea of what they recommend. As Kristin Wong shares so beautifully: “Ultimately, therapy is complete when you feel confident that you’ve developed the skills and tools to cope with the emotional challenges that brought you to therapy to begin with.”


There are lots of great therapists in Tucson – these are just a few tips to make sure that your first experience in therapy helps move you toward the life you want!


Rebecca Hamlin, LCSW


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