First of all, it is important to remember that therapy isn’t a dirty word. Going to seek help is not a personal failure and is nothing to be ashamed of. In my opinion, if you’ve thought about starting therapy and wonder if it could help, then it’s something worth trying. But, that first step in getting help is often the hardest, because it can sometimes mean you have to admit to yourself that not everything is going peachy.
Asking for help isn’t a last resort reserved just for those in crisis. You don’t have to NEED to go to therapy to benefit from it. In fact, it’s a great preventative measure to help cope with the ups and downs of life as a university student and to learn more about yourself.
In terms of accessibility, mental health services are wildly under-funded, but there are spaces available on the NHS, through the university and through charities. Although I believe that mental healthcare should be accessible to ALL and that nobody should have to pay for someone to listen to them, this article will focus more on the private therapy sector, which can be especially overwhelming to navigate as a therapy-newbie.
Where do I start?
For me, the first step was to thoroughly do my research into therapists in the local area. I looked out for the approach they take, patient testimonials, accreditations they hold (super important for your safety), and even looking at a photo and thinking ‘do they look friendly?’.
There are also lots of different types of therapy from lots of different types of therapists – including cognitive behavioural therapy, EMDR, art therapy or more ‘traditional’ counselling – and you might not find the one which works for you straight away. MIND has a great summary where you can read up on what method may best suit you.
It can be pretty overwhelming for someone starting therapy for the first time, so just remember that you’re allowed to ‘shop around’ to find a therapist whose personality and approach best suits you.
Taking the plunge
Next is the part which might make your skin crawl at first – reaching out in that first email. If you’ve never opened up to somebody about your mental wellbeing before, making this first contact can be really daunting. Some points I’d recommend covering in that initial email are:
- A general round-up of why you’re getting in touch (e.g. ‘Lately I’ve been feeling…’/ ‘Recently… happened to me and I’d like to talk about it with someone’).
- Your availability (e.g. ‘I’m usually free at X time each week’).
- As a student, it’s always worth asking if they offer a discount (private therapy can be really expensive, but lots of therapists will reduce their rates if you’re a student or have a low income).
The first consultation
Email a few therapists so you can compare their responses and then book in with an initial appointment with the therapist who you think might be best suited to you. This is a huge step forward – so there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Maybe booking that appointment will feel daunting, or maybe it’ll feel like a weight lifted. Whichever it is, just know that it’s normal to feel apprehensive or anxious at this stage.
On the day of your first appointment, taking along a water bottle and a pack of tissues might be useful in feeling a little bit more prepared. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what to say in that first appointment. Being able to articulate your thoughts, feelings and goals for therapy takes a LOT of practise – therapists are not expecting you to share everything about yourself in the first hour of knowing each other!
The first appointment is usually a ‘consultation’ which means you might spend some time speaking about what you’ve been experiencing, learning the way your therapist approaches sessions and if you think you’ll be a good fit for each other. Remember, there is no obligation to see a therapist again if you don’t feel like their style suited you – although, like anything new, it’s always bound to feel bizarre at first.
After your first session, or anytime down the line, you may want to ‘shop around’ and change therapist. It can be disheartening if you don’t find someone you ‘click’ with straight away but taking the time to try again is often worth the effort. You always need to feel safe and understood.
Going forward, it’s worth bearing in mind that therapy is not a quick fix. It is sometimes uncomfortable and exhausting, but also has the potential to be life changing. Having to open up to a stranger can come with the fear of being judged. Try to remember that there is nothing you can say that will phase your therapist – they are there to support you, not judge you.
Give yourself a pat on the back for taking that first step in prioritising your mental health and wellbeing. If you’re preparing to start your therapy journey, I honestly salute you and hope it becomes everything you want it to be.
Header image from Allure by: Stephanie DeAngelis (@steph_angelis)