Therapy is an amazing tool that can help you along your anxiety healing journey. And one of the best parts about therapy is that it’s a tool that can lead to lots of other amazing and helpful tools!
If you’re interested in trying therapy, or if you haven’t had the best experience with therapy in the past, or if you’re in therapy but feel as though you aren’t getting quite as much out of it as you would like, my hope is that the tips I share with you will help you to guide you along your therapy journey so that you can have a positive and (more) helpful experience.
I went to therapy for 10 years. I’ve seen several therapists and psychiatrists, and they all helped me through different seasons of my life. I’ve seen therapists for anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. I’ve also seen therapists for childhood and emotional trauma. I’ve seen a therapist as a teenager for body image issues. I’ve seen therapists to help me heal from my parent’s divorce. And my husband and I have gone to therapy to strengthen our communication and our relationship.
My biggest mistake when I first started going to therapy was that I used to think that by simply showing up, talking, feeling my emotions, and figuring out some of the root causes of my struggles, that was it. And sure, these things are super helpful and are a part of the healing process, but this is truly just the tip of the iceberg per say! Going to therapy is great, but you have to actually show up when you’re there and put in the work inside and (especially) outside of therapy!
Let’s dive into some things that helped me to have a positive and helpful experience with therapy!
Find a therapist that you connect with. This one can be tough, I know! I have done many personal searches for therapists and it is definitely something that takes some time and effort. Let me share some tips with you that will make your search a little less hard, long, and frustrating!
Spend a little time researching. Most therapy sites and personal therapist’s sites have a bio and a list of their specialties (e.g., the diagnoses they treat). Read it all! Pay attention to what the therapist’s bio says. Does it resonate with you? You can get a pretty good feel for somebody by their bio. Also, do they specialize in what you’re struggling with? Do their methods align with what you’re looking for?
Try reaching out! Shoot the prospective therapist an email or ask for a quick call. This is a quick and easy way to see if you’ll be a good fit to work together. Don’t be shy! Ask them questions and just see what they have to say. A quick conversation can be super insightful.
Be open! You might not feel a connection right off the bat and this is okay. Do you want the honest truth? After my first visit with one of the best therapists I’ve ever had I almost didn’t go back. Honestly, I thought she was woo-woo! And she was a little woo-woo, but in such a good way! She made me think of things in ways that I had never thought of before. She challenged me. She made me approach things differently than I ever had before. She made me try things totally outside of my comfort zone, and some of these things were the tools that helped me to overcome my biggest struggles.
Be realistic! Meeting someone for the first time can be a little awkward for both parties. If you don’t hit it off at your first session, it’s okay. I always recommend giving a therapist a second chance, unless there is a major red flag or a feeling that leaves you thinking and feeling, absolutely not! And remember, you aren’t looking for a best friend, you’re looking for someone that will help you to heal and will support you along your journey.
Here are some sites that can help to connect you with a therapist:
YOU have to hold yourself accountable on your healing journey. A big part of this means acknowledging that your therapist, no matter how good, can’t do the healing for you. This is an important thing to recognize. I used to think, I’m carving out the time, I’m showing up… Which in and of itself isn’t easy, especially when you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder while trying to balance life. And I also used to think, I’m paying you! You’re supposed to figure out and fix all of this for me! My perspective was all wrong!
I used to put so much weight on what my therapist should do for me, and when I felt stuck or frustrated, I’d place the blame on my therapist. And this just wasn’t fair or helpful. Because the truth is, a therapist can teach you tools and help you to heal, but they can’t do the healing for you. You have to show up and be accountable for your own healing journey. There is no therapist, coach tool, book, or podcast that can do the healing for you.
The next few tips I’m sharing will help you to hold yourself accountable!
Define your goals! What is it that you’re working towards? Back when I was struggling, I remember a therapist asking me this question and I thought, duh, to overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia! Which wasn’t wrong, but there were lots of other things that I wanted to be able to do in life, things that would ultimately help me to overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.
Think of some smaller goals that will help you to reach that bigger goal, and also things you’d just like to do in life. Things like… To be able to drive a half hour in the car from my house as the passenger. To be able to go for a hike. To be able to go into stores alone. To be able to take an overnight trip somewhere. To be able to drive on the highway. To be able to get on an airplane and take a trip. The more specific, the better! You can even ask your therapist to help you with creating some goals. And then you can work with your therapist to help you define small steps that will help you to reach your goals.
Think of recovery as a journey rather than an endgame! Of course you want to overcome anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia, but it'll happen much slower if you try to speed through your recovery rather than focusing on consistently taking the small steps.
Write down some things that come up during the week that you want to discuss in your next therapy session. This one was super helpful for me! I would often get into a therapy session and forget everything that I had wanted to talk to my therapist about. And instead of talking about the really important stuff, I ended up just giving her a replay of my week. So not helpful! So I started to take a small notepad with me and I would write down things as they popped up so that I didn’t forget them when it came time for my therapy session. This way, I had very specific things and barriers that I wanted to work through at my sessions. This made my sessions much more productive and helpful!
Be honest with your therapist! If you feel as though you aren’t getting quite what you need out of your therapy sessions, tell them this! A good therapist won’t be offended. And a good therapist will work with you to better understand your needs. And if you know what you’re looking for, or you have something in mind that you want to learn more about or try, tell them! Tell them how they can better support you. Ask them to explore other tools or methods with you. Your therapist should help to push you in healthy ways, to reach your goals, to heal, and to make healthy changes.
Don't wait until the last 10 minutes of your session to dive into the hard stuff. Your therapist genuinely wants to help you, but sometimes they’re lacking what they need from you in order to best support you. I used to do this thing where I’d wait until the last 10 minutes of my therapy session to discuss something incredibly heavy. I’m an introvert, and so it takes me time to open up, but I wasn’t doing myself any favors in approaching my sessions this way.
And sure, talking about whatever it was that was weighing heavy on me right off the bat was hard and uncomfortable, doing it this way led to a much better outcome! It actually allowed for me to get everything out that I wanted and needed to, and it allowed me to have a productive conversation with my therapist of how I could move forward.
Lots of therapists are great at what they do, but they need honesty, communication, and commitment from you in order to best support you. Don’t do yourself a disservice by holding things in. I started to think of it this way… Yup, this is hard, but I’m gonna get my money’s worth! I’m serious! I’m frugal, so this helped to further push me. Really make a commitment, dig in, and do the work! This leads me to my last tip…
Do the work outside of therapy! The most significant healing happens when you take the tips, tools, and knowledge outside of the therapy doors and into your actual life and use them! This means practicing the tools, practicing the healthy habits, taking healthy steps to reach your goals, doing the uncomfortable stuff, and facing your fears! You can get so much out of going to therapy, but you get the most out of therapy when you commit to you and your mental health outside of therapy. After all, you are the one that is going to overcome your struggles, not anybody else!
Remember, just like any other tool, therapy takes effort. And if you put in the effort, you will reap the rewards!
And lastly, I want you to hear me on this one. There is no shame in going to therapy! Going to therapy doesn't mean that you're weak, or broken, or incapable. We all need, and are deserving and worthy of support. If anyone tells you that they don't need support to get through this thing called life, they're likely needing it the most!