I’ve been interested in mental health advocacy for a few years now, but had been too nervous to actually talk about it with friends, or even just bring it up as a topic of discussion. I sat by and grit my teeth when others would use insensitive terms or made offensive jokes, feeling like my opinion or my own values didn’t matter to the larger community around me.
To be honest, I still kind of feel this way! But, at the very least, I want to throw my opinions out there in hopes that people know where I stand – in a non-confrontational way! Win-win! Right!
My life has brought me back to mental health many times over the past few years. I worked briefly at my college’s mental health counseling program and currently work for a mental-health adjacent software company. While I know that behavioral health in general still faces a general stigma, I never really held those opinions personally.
That said, I thought about going to therapy for a long time but never actually went for it. One of the reasons is that I didn’t actually know why I should get help or what the process actually looked like. Because of this, to start this series, I want to talk about my own experiences – read about them below!
Finding a Therapist
I used Zencare to find my therapist! (Not sponsored, but wow, what a great tool!)
My biggest priority when finding a therapist was making sure that they take my health insurance. Thankfully, or perhaps terribly, this narrowed down my search a lot. After filtering for providers that take my insurance, the listing of available therapists went from hundreds to less than ten, and I focused my attention on one whose office was conveniently a two minute walk down the street.
(I thought I’d be spending more time researching individual providers, comparing their treatment styles, etc… nope!)
After filling out the consultation form, I had a quick phone chat with them to talk through my concerns and make sure they were issues that we could work on together. We then scheduled our first in-person session from there!
(I also thought that I’d be doing multiple consultations with different providers to assess fit… nope! I truly just got lucky!)
For me, the most important thing to keep in mind while going to therapy was that I needed to be completely honest, both with myself and with my therapist.
Part of the appeal of therapy was simply having someone removed from the rest of my life to unload on. I’m often not comfortable sharing little details with the people in my life, for various reasons, but I’ve found that getting things off my chest is so! satisfying! It often makes me feel better to just say things out loud to another person rather than keeping them in.
The flip side to this is, of course, that I had to be open and trust my therapist enough to be completely vulnerable with them. In turn, I expected them to listen and respond without any judgement. Even when doing our initial assessment, and talking about my past and issues that I didn’t necessarily believe were related to my current problems, it was nice to, again, say things out loud and acknowledge them in a way that I wouldn’t have done normally.
I got very lucky that the first therapist that I reached out to happened to be a great fit! Much like a job interview, I treated the process as a two-way compatibility test, and was ready to keep searching if the partnership didn’t work on my end.
One unexpected, but happy, aspect to my therapy sessions is that my provider specialized in art therapy. I did not purposely seek this out, but it turned out to be a great fit. In our sessions, I made collages, journaled, doodled, painted, and crocheted. Some methods worked very well for me (like returning to journaling), and I continue to do them now! Others didn’t stick as well, but I did appreciate the opportunity to try out different art forms.
Paying for It
As much as I fancy myself an ~advocate for mental health~, I actually avoided going to therapy for a long time simply because I knew it would be expensive. Now, after going to therapy for several months, I have a much better idea of how much it actually costs, and hope it will be useful to others to share my experience!
After one of my early sessions, I learned that my high-deductible health insurance plan would only cover therapy sessions after reaching my deductible. I would have to pay full price out of pocket until then, and a co-pay out of pocket once my deductible was reached. I could pay for the sessions with my company-sponsored health savings account (HSA), but decided to use my credit card instead (because points! which mean next to nothing now, but whatever!).
Each session was a little over $100, and because I started off with weekly sessions, my monthly bill was just under $500. While I am thankfully no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck, this was definitely a noticeable strain on my normal budget. I did dip into my emergency fund to pay for some sessions, which of course never feels good! But therapy did seem like a worthwhile reason to dip in, and I didn’t give it a second thought.
After a few months, I honestly did feel like my moods were improving and I had learned a lot of actually useful coping mechanisms, and decided to move my sessions to monthly. I conceded to my therapist that this was mostly for monetary reasons, and that I was open to returning to more frequent sessions if I needed them.
I was very nervous about asking to move to monthly sessions, especially because the reason was mostly financial and talking money is very rarely comfortable. However, part of why therapy worked for me was because I absolute trusted my therapist, so I knew that they would be open to hearing me out, so I went for it anyway. (See! My therapist was teaching me even more lessons, even unknowingly!)
I know that my specific therapist offered a sliding scale for services, as do many others, but decided against that. This was mostly because the techniques that I was learning were proving to be very helpful between sessions, and I honestly thought that weekly sessions were feeling too frequent, and I often came in without much to say for that week.
(This goes without saying, but this was my own experience with literally just one provider – so I do not mean it to be a reflection of the mental health counseling industry as a whole.)
Ending Therapy (for now!)
I originally started therapy to learn how to cope with and manage different relationships in my life. In early quarantine, I had a few telehealth sessions, but found that my problems weren’t as pressing as they used to be – social distancing was an easy, if temporary, fix for my social anxiety problems!
Because of this, I decided to pause my therapy sessions, at least while the pandemic still rages on. This was partly for economic reasons – if I’m not getting what I needed out of therapy, why pay for it? – and partly out of a desire to free up some of my therapist’s time for other clients – I heard a lot about many, many people who need mental and emotional guidance more than I did, especially in quarantine. I was also personally not a fan of doing my sessions remotely due to reasons outside of my and my therapist’s control.
I was worried about having to have the tough, possibly awkward conversation with my therapist about stopping my sessions. At this point, however, my sessions were monthly, and it made more sense for me to leave them a quick message on the phone explaining my decision in advance of our next scheduled session. They promptly returned my call saying that they understood and respected my decision and would get in touch when the pandemic is “over” – whatever that means, at this point, – to restart our sessions.
I do worry about returning to “normal life,” that is, having to go out with friends without having a global pandemic to use as an excuse (this is a joke, but not really!). I am planning to reach back out to my therapist when this happens – but it feels so far away at this point!