116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There is an old saying from Lao Tzu that wisely explains that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The meaning behind this saying distinctly applies to the journey of mental health.
Perhaps the most difficult step in one’s mental health journey, as it is in many aspects of life, is the first. Whether a mental illness exists, or someone is looking to simply maintain or improve their mental health, there are professionals that can provide support. However, no matter how much the stigma or any other generalized ideas around mental health are addressed, taking the first step into a professional’s office is a highly individualized, deeply personal decision and experience.
There are many things that might prevent someone from taking that first step. Maybe it is the general stigma around mental health. Perhaps people think they can or should be able to manage their own thoughts and what goes on in their own minds. Maybe it is the vulnerability that comes with sharing deeply personal emotions and experiences with another person, particularly a stranger. There is comfort in familiarity, and while most people have visited doctor’s offices since childhood, many have not had the same exposure to mental health professionals. Whatever the reason for hesitancy, gaining at least a base level of comfort might help in feeling more confident taking the first step.
With that said, before you can begin therapy, you must first choose the therapist. After all, research has routinely shown that the therapeutic alliance, or the relationship between therapist and client, is an important determining factor in the success of therapy. Choosing the right therapist is a highly subjective process. What makes a therapist a good fit for one person may make the same therapist a poor fit for another.
So how do you select the right therapist for you? First, there are numerous places to find mental health professionals. It may be beneficial to ask trusted friends for recommendations. Your family doctor or local non-profit organizations may be able to offer recommendations. You also can find prospective therapists in various directories online.
As you do your research, you will likely find a great deal of background information about each potential therapist. It is important to consider factors that are most important to you personally. You may be more comfortable speaking with a therapist of a particular age or gender, with a specific type of licensure or with certain areas of expertise. Other considerations might include practical factors like the therapist’s business hours or types of insurance accepted. Once you meet the therapist, you may consider things like their communication style or even potential religious beliefs.
Often times people approach this process with the pressure of permanent decision. However, even after selecting and visiting a therapist, you may decide it isn’t a good fit and make the choice to seek other options. The therapist may even be willing to recommend someone in your best interest. Ultimately, only you can make the determination if the therapist sitting across from you is someone with whom you are comfortable.
Once you’ve selected a therapist, knowing what to expect during a first visit can help calm nerves and make the process more comfortable. Next time we’ll talk more about the early process of engaging in therapy and what you can do to prepare yourself. Until then, remember this idea by Martin Luther King Jr., “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.