Four Ways to Know You’re Ready to Begin Therapy

by | Apr 30, 2021 | All

By Helen Paulsen, LMSW

Knowing your readiness for therapy is important for maximizing your experience and outcomes from therapy. In this blog article, we explore a few important subjective factors for helping inform your decision-making process.

You’ve got your own “why”.

Each person has a set of symptoms and experiences that they bring to therapy. Many clients will note that they have experienced some symptoms for months or years. Therapists often note that there are usually a couple of symptoms that jump out for the client and prompt them to seek help. These symptoms don’t have to be dramatic—they can be subtle changes in attitude, habits, or motivation to do work or school work. For some clients, dealing with symptoms for a long enough time becomes the factor that drives the client to seek help. Just as our muscles fatigue by carrying a heavy load, our emotional wellness can be worn down by repeated negative experiences.

External factors, such as recommendations from physicians, family and friends, EAP programs, and requirements for specific programs through court or other requirements can point us in the direction of therapy. While these external sources can have their own reasoning of what outcomes they are hoping you will achieve through therapy, it is important, even in these instances, to do an internal check of your own motivation. Ultimately, most data supports that personal motivation factors represent a greater commitment to therapy work than external motivators. Your own reasoning for attending therapy carries the most weight in the follow-through of the treatment.

You’ve got your own “Why now”—the timing is right for you.

Therapy requires a time commitment—at the beginning of therapy, depending on the treatment modality, recommendations of the treating therapist, and your own timing needs and preferences, you can expect to attend therapy either weekly or biweekly. Additionally, the duration of your course of treatment for therapy also varies widely depending upon the above factors. Some clients of therapy, according to both the American Psychological Association and National Institutes of Health, attend for several months, while some clients may attend for closer to a year or longer. Each client’s course of treatment varies greatly based on treatment parameters and their own engagement in the treatment process.

The other side of the time commitment associated with therapy depends on how much time outside of therapy sessions you choose to engage in tasks related to therapy. Some treatments are greatly supported by “homework”—that is either written or mental work between sessions that helps reinforce and engage the client in the treatment concepts. These can involve workbooks, thinking questions, or tracking of symptoms between sessions. The work outside of therapy that clients do, whether or not it is assigned, can be very important to support their wellness. Determining your readiness for the time commitment involved in therapy can be another great way to maximize your success and to set fair expectations for yourself.

You’re ready to do the hard work.

Therapy is not easy. I write this with the greatest concern and care for the wellness of current and future clients. Therapy often involves processing through troubling feelings and events. Family or marital therapies can involve difficult conversations and decisions between loved ones. This work is not easy to undertake, because it takes mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical energy to process these emotions and events. The process of therapy is very much like the process of digestion—your body must complete tasks to metabolize the food you have eaten to give your body energy, much in the same way that you must “digest” and process the work of therapy to nourish your mind and soul. You may also compare therapy to the process of building physical strength—it takes consistent work of engaging and challenging the muscles in order to increase their strength and endurance. Awareness of the emotional “load” of therapy can help clients utilize therapy effectively to help them find support with difficult emotions and to seek support among their loved ones as they engage in therapy.

You’re ready to start where you are.

As a clinical therapist, I would argue that this is one of the most important concepts to the clients I have seen over my experience. You must start the process of improving your emotional and mental wellness from the point at which you have arrived. Your commitment to yourself and acceptance of yourself in your current state is very important for your success. This can be related to a concept in mindfulness practice, commonly used in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, called “Radical Acceptance”. It is a nonjudgmental, non-critical acknowledgment of what is currently occurring. Most importantly in this context, radical acceptance allows you to acknowledge the difficult emotions, events, and behaviors you are experiencing and allows you to separate them from your own self. By acknowledging yourself and your own capacity separately, you will more easily be able to imagine and envision a way into healing—a way apart from these troubling things. Acceptance of both your experiences and yourself will help you to feel more confident as you engage in the process of being well.

Helen is a clinical social worker and therapist at the Troy location for adults, children, and adolescents. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors, writing, and baking.

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