Let’s talk about self-diagnosis! I know there’s been a lot of talk about this on social media and I wanted to put in my two cents. There are lots of pros and cons with self-diagnosis.
Meet the newest member of our staff, Coriann Papazian, LMFT!
Coriann brings with her a wealth of experience working with adults and couples from diverse backgrounds. A few of her many strengths are working with anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief. She particularly loves working with individuals and couples within the LGBT+ community. "It's close to my heart," she says. Issues that might come up with individuals include navigating the coming out process, finding community, and navigating diverse relationships. When working with couples, she uses the Gottman approach to enhance communication skills, resolve conflict, and build shared meaning.
When I first switched to video therapy in the early days of the pandemic, I wanted to make sure my clients’ privacy was as secure as possible as I started working from home. I’m lucky that I didn’t need to do much in the way of soundproofing, but I wanted to make sure the walls of my house were enough. So after a session I asked someone who had been in another room, “Were you able to hear me at all?”
“Nope, all I could hear was you laughing.”
So you’ve found a great therapist you feel good about working with and scheduled an appointment. Now what? Starting therapy can feel like both a relief and an overwhelming task. When you’re at a point where you seek professional help, there’s probably a lot going on you want to talk about, and it can feel vulnerable or awkward to dive right in with your biggest issue with someone you just met. So where do you start?
Many people want to know how long therapy will take, and it’s a fair question. When embarking on any endeavor, particularly one that will be emotional as well as an allocation of resources, we want to know what we’re getting into.
The answer to this question depends entirely on your reasons for seeking therapy. I often ask new clients, “How will we know when we’re done?” as a way to understand exactly what someone wants from therapy. While some people do seek therapy in an ongoing way to structure in reflection and support over the course of decades, most therapy-seekers do not want to be in therapy forever and have specific goals in mind when they start: reduce anxiety, improve relationships, recover from trauma, or get through a difficult time. These things can feel insurmountable when we’re in the thick of it, but a good therapist knows recovery is possible, as well as how to help you get there.
Generally, your therapist should refrain from talking about themselves. That's not why you're there or what you're paying for. But here are three things I wish every therapy consumer knew:
1) It’s not just one hour a week. Out of the hundreds I’ve talked with over the course of my career, I have never met a therapist who didn’t think about their clients between sessions. We think about how to work with your worries and issues, we confidentially consult with colleagues to give you better care, we work on treatment plans, and sometimes just send good wishes out to our clients between visits. We have genuine love for our long-term clients. It’s a different kind of love than many people might be familiar with, but “therapist love” is real and extends beyond the hours, months, and years we work with you. I still fondly remember people I saw in my very first few months of seeing clients in graduate school and hope they’re doing well.
2) We have bad days too. Some days we feel off our game, tired, headachy, or troubled by things in our personal lives. But we’ve learned over the course of our training and career how to work through – or better yet, work with – those things and keep our focus on you. After years and years of practice, we get pretty good at it. And on days we can’t, we do our best or take time for ourselves so we can replenish our reserves and come back to session refreshed.
3) We do this work because we love it. That’s the truth. We don’t do it for money or power or because we can’t do anything else. It's a calling, and we're prepared to take on what you bring in. If you’re someone who worries that you’re burdening us, or you’re too much, or that you’re stressing your therapist out, let me put your mind at ease: you’re not. We became therapists because we desire to understand the human heart and mind and experience. Sharing your light and your darkness with us is an act of profound trust and emotional intimacy that therapists have utmost respect for.
Finding a therapist who is a good fit is so important, and it eludes a lot of therapy-seekers when they are in a moment of need. Laurel Roberts-Meese, MFT, and Cindy Shu, MFT, break down some of the key things that can help you find a good fit.
Once you’ve decided to pursue therapy, it can feel daunting to find the right fit. If you don’t know the landscape or the lingo, all the information out there can blur together and feel downright discouraging. Here’s a guide to help give you some direction.
1) Decide if you want to go through your insurance. There are pros and cons to using your insurance. Pros include lower cost and a built in list of people who you could work with from your insurance provider. Cons include issues with privacy, your policy limiting the number of sessions your insurance will pay for, a diagnosis going on your medical record, and difficulty finding a provider who has current openings.
2) Figure out if you need to see someone with a specialty. If the primary issue bringing you to therapy is a breakup or another relational issue, mild to moderate anxiety or depression, or trouble adjusting to changes in your life, chances are most therapists are capable of working with you. But if you’ve got a specific issue like bipolar, a phobia, food anxiety, or trauma, you should see someone who has specialized training and experience with that issue. Or maybe you don’t need someone with a specific specialty, but want to see someone from your same racial or ethnic group or sexual orientation. That’s important to be clear on too, and depending on where you live, can help narrow your search.
3) Ask a trusted friend or colleague for a recommendation. Not everyone feels comfortable telling people they’re looking for a therapist, and that’s okay. You’re absolutely entitled to your privacy. But if you are comfortable asking for recommendation, it takes a lot of legwork out of your search, and there’s no better endorsement than the stamp of approval from someone you trust. You can also try asking your doctor, nutritionist, yoga instructor, or hairstylist.
4) Look online. There are many online directories for therapists. The most popular one is Psychology Today, but there are so many therapists listed there it can feel overwhelming. For a smaller pool and more customizable search options, check out TherapyDen.
5) Don’t get too caught up in therapy lingo. You may have seen words or acronyms like psychodynamic, CBT, somatic therapy, and solution-focused around. There are so many different types of therapy and acronyms for various protocols, it literally requires a Master’s degree to understand them all. Don’t worry too much about how a therapist describes their theoretical orientation; the truth is that many therapists have an eclectic style that draws from several different modalities. For some issues, it may be best practice to go with a specific kind of treatment, but any therapist worth their salt will know what direction to point you in if that’s what you need.
6) Try out a few therapists. Yes, this is okay. The relationship you have with your therapist is too important to settle for the first person you feel just-okay with. However, be honest and upfront about it with the therapists you’re trying out, and don’t drag it out for more than two or three sessions. Therapists aren’t supposed to treat people who are simultaneously seeing another individual therapist, and it can put them in an awkward position if you haven’t been upfront about it.
7) Go with your gut. A therapist may have all the degrees and certifications and come highly recommended, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best therapist for you. If you feel like you click with someone who doesn’t have as many letters after their name, or whose office is a little funky, go with what you feel. Remember, the relationship and trust you have in your therapist is paramount. The rest is details.
8) Ask questions. Therapy can feel awkward for people who aren’t used to having a directional relationship. Generally, therapists don’t talk about themselves much (and if yours does, rethink seeing them). Not knowing much about your therapist can make people feel like they’re not allowed to ask anything. You are allowed to ask questions that will help you be more clear about what therapy is and how it works, and about your therapist’s experience and training. If therapy feels confusing or secretive, speak up. In therapy, there’s truly no such thing as a dumb question. You're paying for someone's expertise.
9) Remember you can stop whenever you want. Committing to therapy isn’t a lifelong contract. You can leave when you want or need to. If you feel like therapy isn’t working, or the relationship isn’t quite a match, or you just need a break from introspection for a bit, that’s fine. Most therapists will ask you to come to one or two more sessions to wrap things up, but they shouldn’t try to change your mind unless they have concerns for your safety.
Got a questions about finding a therapist? Comment below!
There are so many different types of therapy out there. When you’re looking for help, it’s easy to feel lost or confused on top of whatever is bringing you to therapy. There are certain types of therapy that are proven to work well for certain issues – EMDR for trauma, for example – but otherwise, it’s likely the mode of therapy matters less than how good you feel about your relationship with your therapist. After all, research indicates that 80% of the effectiveness of therapy is created through your connection to, and trust in your therapist.
And what matters more than a therapist who gets you? Feminist therapists work foremost to make sure that happens.
Here’s why you should see a feminist therapist:
Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.