By Anastasiya Andreeva, MSW, Qualified Mental Health Professional
Preconceived notions abound when it comes to mental health treatment. Words like “therapy” or “counseling” conjure up images of people in TV shows lying on couches, spilling the details of their childhoods, or receiving a series of tasks for self-improvement. Some assume mental health treatment is only for those with diagnosable mental illnesses or only for the wealthy. In this article, we aim to clear up misconceptions and answer the most common questions we hear about outpatient mental health treatment (which we will refer to here as “therapy”).
At Pillars Community Health, we treat mental health as part of your whole health, equal in importance to your physical health and your social well-being. Regardless of your current status—whether you feel in good mental health, could use some strategies to ease the stress of daily life, or are struggling with mental illness—we want to give everyone access to services that will help you build resilience, stability, and independence in your life.
Q. I don’t feel like myself, but I don’t know if therapy is right for me. What are the reasons someone seeks out therapy?
A. People come to therapy for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons someone may seek support is due to a change in their life. A change may be the end of an important relationship, a transition from work to retirement, or undergoing a medical procedure. If something significant has happened in your life that it is challenging to adjust to, it could be helpful to talk to someone that specializes in emotional wellness.
Q. What might my first therapy session look like?
A. A typical first session will include introductions and a conversation about your expectations for therapy. Your therapist will ask about what brings you in and establish what you are hoping to accomplish. It is a good idea to ask your therapist questions you have about the process and share any concerns you have about starting therapy.
Q. Do I have to come by myself, or can I have someone join me?
A. You can come to your initial assessment alone or have someone accompany you. Going somewhere for the first time can feel unnerving; bringing a caregiver, family member, or friend may help. Before your therapist can discuss your health information with anyone other than you, a release of confidential information form must be completed.
Q. Will I be prescribed medication if I seek out mental health treatment?
A. Seeking out mental health services does not mean you will be prescribed medication. Therapists often provide education on why someone may choose to take medication and the potential risks and benefits of making that decision. Most therapists are not qualified to prescribe medication. If you decide medication is warranted, a therapist can help connect you to a psychiatrist who is able to prescribe medication for symptom management.
Q. Isn’t therapy expensive?
A. The cost of therapy can vary depending on the service provider and your specific health insurance. Many therapists offer a sliding fee scale, which means the amount you pay depends on your income. At Pillars Community Health, a nonprofit, we work with clients to ensure fees are not a barrier to treatment.
Q. How long will I be in therapy? I’ve heard different numbers and they can really vary.
A. The length of time you engage in services depends on a variety of factors. Talk to your provider about what you think is an appropriate number of sessions and ask them for their professional opinion after you have had a chance to discuss what brought you in. It is not uncommon to request an increase or decrease in session frequency depending on your life circumstances.
Q. What will I learn from my therapist?
A. Some common skills a therapist can support you in developing include effective communication skills, boundary setting, and healthy coping skills. Your therapist will collaborate with you to figure out what treatment is the best fit. A good therapist is open to feedback and will change treatment if it is not working. Many therapists have areas they specialize in or know a colleague who have expertise regarding specific issues.
Q. What can I try if I don’t think therapy is right for me?
A. Talking to your primary care doctor about your symptoms can be helpful. It is possible that the origin of your symptoms may be physiological or related to something else. Asking your health care provider about available treatments for what you are going through helps reach a conclusion that is best for you.
Q. I want to be able to talk to someone that really understands what I am going through, is that possible with a therapist?
A. Individual therapy is not the only option when it comes to getting support. Many therapists also facilitate group therapy or can refer you to a therapist that runs a support or skill building group. Building relationships with people that are going through similar challenges can be rewarding and healing.
Q. Things were OK before the coronavirus outbreak, but now I am feeling worried and lonely. What can I do to help myself?
A. We recommend reaching out to our COVID Coping Line (708-995-3898) to touch base with a member of our Behavioral Health team, for general support amid the coronavirus outbreak. It’s free to call and is available Monday-Friday, 9 am-7 pm. Typical discussions might be: I can’t sleep because of the uncertainty; I’m feeling anxious; I just need to talk to someone; I don’t know how to support my child through shelter in place; etc.
People are built for connection. Staying in touch with friends, colleagues, family, community members, and health care providers can make a big difference in your emotional wellness. Regularly reaching out to people via phone, video, email, or through snail mail can help alleviate feelings of loneliness during stressful times. Consider checking in on loved ones—they may be going through something similar.
If you or someone you love could benefit from Mental Health Services, please call 708-PILLARS (708-745-5277) or click here for more information. We continue to offer therapeutic services (via virtual visits) during the coronavirus outbreak.