• Have you been thinking about starting therapy, but you're not sure it's right for you? 

  • Therapist Sophie Thompson offers six questions you can ask yourself to help you make the best decision

  • At welldoing.org we emphasise the importance of finding the right match – you can use our matching tools here 

If you are thinking about going to therapy for the first time it can be hard to know where to start. Here are a few things to consider first:

1. Who are you doing this for?

Sometimes people come to therapy because they have been ‘sent’ either by a spouse, family member, friend, or healthcare professional. There’s nothing wrong with giving therapy a try because someone else has suggested it might benefit you, but if your main reason for attending sessions is to please someone else this might be counterproductive. Sometimes we need a push from someone who cares for us to give us permission to take care of ourselves, however if you feel bullied or pressured into therapy it can be difficult to make the most of sessions. You will likely find it hard to engage with the process if it’s not what you want or need at the time. Coming to therapy is an incredibly personal decision and works best when the client is ready.

2. Are you ready?

Clients decide to come to therapy for all sorts of reasons; the impact of trauma, depression, anxiety, life transitions, relationship issues, or a general sense of unhappiness to name a few, but whatever issues you're bringing it's important to consider how ready you feel to engage with them. It can be challenging to confront your difficulties, and whilst gaining self-understanding in therapy can have positive effects in itself, it can also be frustrating when you start to become aware of what is going on but aren’t sure how to make changes. Everyone is different but it can take time to get to a point where you feel able to make a shift, whether that’s in how you are relating to yourself or others, or in the way you live your life. There might be moments that feel truly amazing in therapy, but some realisations can knock you and you might find you feel worse after sessions sometimes. Therapy often isn’t a short-term fix; you may feel benefits from the first session and some people only need short-term therapy, but others find it’s a longer process and it’s important to take this into consideration.

3. What are your expectations?

Do you know what you are hoping to get from therapy? If the answer is no then that’s ok; some clients know that something feels wrong but aren’t sure what they need, and figuring this out can be part of the process of therapy. If you do have a specific goal in mind or have expectations for therapy then it’s important to be open about these, and consider how realistic they are or how quickly you are expecting things to change. If your goal is to make a specific decision e.g., about your career or a relationship, this might be easier to get a handle on than something like ‘I just want to feel better’ or ‘I want to stop being anxious’ which might take more time to unpack.

There are some things which are outside of our control, and therapy can’t erase the hurt of past traumas, but it can help you gain self-understanding, find different ways of relating to events and people in your life, as well as changing how you feel about and treat yourself.

4. Have you thought about the practicalities?

You need to consider how therapy will fit into your life on a practical level. Can you commit to the time and money needed? How many sessions are you willing to commit to and what will you do if you need more? Do you need anything else in place to attend sessions? E.g., speaking to your employer, organising childcare, support from family or friends, time to reflect before or after sessions. It’s important to think about what you need to be able to show up regularly and get the most out of sessions.

5. Is it the support you need right now?

Is therapy the right kind of support for you at the moment? If you are experiencing acute distress, for example to the point where you are not able to function or might harm yourself, it’s important to remember that therapy is usually for one hour per week and your therapist isn’t an emergency response service. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t engage with therapy but if you’re feeling like this you might want to seek support from medical professionals, mental health crisis services and 24 hour telephone support such as Samaritans alongside therapy, or before starting sessions to allow you to feel more stable.

It’s also important to remember that there are lots of other options that you might want to try along with or even instead of therapy. Whether it’s a support group focused on a particular issue, healthcare services, developing a practice like mindfulness, coaching sessions, being part of a community group or connecting with people in your life, it’s worth exploring different ways of prioritising your wellbeing to see what works for you at this point in your life.

6. How do you know when you've found the right therapist?

One of the most important things when considering therapy is finding someone who is a good fit for you. I've worked with many clients who have been to therapy before but not found it useful, and often report that they didn't feel their previous therapist understood them, or what they needed. It's worth taking the time to contact a few different therapists and seeing it as an interview process. Prepare any questions you have and take time to reflect on how you feel after speaking to them. You might know what type of therapy you want but finding the right person is also key. Therapists from different modalities work differently, and we’re all imperfect people with our own quirks! It’s normal to feel a bit uncomfortable at the start of therapy, but if therapy isn’t working with the first person you see it’s OK to tell them so and try someone else. A good therapist will be open to discussing how therapy is going and understand that you may need a different approach; they might even be able to recommend another colleague or service so don’t be put off if it doesn’t work out the first time.

I would encourage you to give therapy a try if you feel it might benefit you. Be honest with yourself about how ready you feel and be honest with potential therapists about any concerns you have and what you are hoping to get out of sessions. If it doesn’t work out with the first therapist you try then don’t be disheartened, it may be that you haven’t found a good fit, or if therapy isn’t right for you at the moment, then don’t see this as a failure, seek out alternative forms of support that work for you.

Sophie Thompson is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Nottingham and online

Further reading

Is cognitive therapy too limited?

Trying different types of therapy

Does psychotherapy really help?

Counselling offered me the compassion I desperately needed

9 ways counselling can change your life for the better