Tips for Starting Counseling

For a big chunk of my high school years, I struggled with an eating disorder called EDNOS. As a part of my recovery process, I saw a therapist for most of my senior year and part of my gap year. Therapy was an incredibly healing and helpful process for me — it taught me a lot about myself, helped me address my struggles, and learn to enjoy pizza again (score). At the same time, it was also really hard, especially because of the  stigma attached to counseling and because I didn’t know what to expect.

Because I know many people consider counseling but are nervous to start, I’m sharing some tips and information here. I’m not a professional; these are just tips and information based on my own experiences. If you have any concerns or want a better opinion, please talk to a doctor or a licensed professional.

Things to know when considering counseling

It’s nothing to be ashamed of

Please know if you are considering counseling that there is no shame in it. I would not be the person I am today if it were not for the counseling I had during my recovery. It taught me so many valuable life skills, including self-care practices, how to deal with stress, and how to love myself. Those are skills to appreciate and value, not to be ashamed of. Asking for help is also absolutely nothing to feel bad about; it just means that you recognize that you could benefit from someone to listen to and help you. The courage and strength involved in that decision is something to be proud of.

Going to a counselor does not make you crazy or weak

Seeking counseling does not mean you are “crazy.” Everybody has their own struggles, many of which can be helped through counseling. The courage and strength needed to seek a counselor and talk through your problems is also something to be proud of. You should be commended for seeking out help, especially if you feel nervous or anxious about it. It is a tremendous act of bravery to ask for help from anyone. Try to recognize that and be proud of yourself, rather than feeling shame for needing help in the first place. We all have our burdens; it takes the strongest among us to address them.

It can be incredibly healing and helpful

I owe some of my most intense growth as a person to the time I spent in counseling. More than that, it has helped me overcome my eating disorder and learn to live a healthy, balanced life in every sense of the word. If you are considering it, I could not recommend it highly enough. Everybody is carrying something. While not everyone needs counseling for whatever their difficulties are, it can be helpful no matter the severity of your issues. If you are considering it, even for something you may consider small, give it a go. It could be very helpful, and if not, you can always stop going.

Do it for you

Don’t go to therapy for me, your parents, or your best friend. Do it only if you want to, and if you think it is the right step for you and your health. You may not get the most out of your experience if you don’t truly want to be there. If you’re unsure about starting counseling, try talking about it to someone you trust – a friend, a parent, or your doctor, for example. They may be able to help you, encourage you to go, or even offer to come with you. Seeking counseling is a very personal choice, so it may be hard for you to share it with anyone, but sometimes it helps to talk about it with someone you are close with. If you are still nervous or unable to see a counselor in person, there are many free call, text, and chat resources available across the world. Scroll down to the resources section below to learn more.

Things to know when starting counseling

Not all counselors are the same, and it’s okay if it’s not the right fit

Counselors are people, too, and all people are different. Just like you may not click with certain persons in the rest of your life, you may not have the same connection with every therapist. It is perfectly normal to try a few different people before finding the right fit. Don’t give up.

It may get worse before it gets better

Have you ever tackled cleaning a really messy room? As you open drawers and dump our your closet, it always seems to get messier before it gets clean again. The same is true for therapy; in the first few sessions, it may feel like things are only getting more difficult. Part of this is because you may have been “storing away” your thoughts and feelings in the past, rather than dealing with them up-front. When you start unpacking those feelings, it can be a lot to handle! That doesn’t mean it won’t get better. (On the other hand, if you consistently leave therapy feeling worse than when you walked in even after several months, you may want to consider a different therapist.)

Try to be open

One of the best ways to make the most out of your experience in therapy is to be open and honest with your counselor. This can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to sharing, but give it a try! It may help you to think about what you want to talk about beforehand.

It’s all about you

When I started counseling, I thought that the therapist would listen to me and then give me a verdict; I didn’t realize that I would be the one making most of the suggestions and connections! Often, you are the one who has the best insights into your own life, so don’t be surprised if many of the things that help you most come out of your own mouth!

Your counselor will not judge you

Your counselor is there to help, not judge. They are trained to be there for and support you, no matter what you need to get off of your chest. They’ve also heard almost everything under the sun, so don’t worry that what you say will shock or offend them. Try not to be too concerned about what they may think; their job is to help.

Say and share anything that comes to mind

This falls under the previous category. Don’t worry that something you are thinking or feeling is not relevant enough to bring up in therapy. Again, the counselor is there to help you, and anything you are thinking or feeling is fair game. Bring it up; you may be surprised at the connections you make!

Finding a counselor

For teens:

  • Where to start: A great place to start is with your doctor or school guidance counselor. If you trust your doctor, ask them for recommendations within your insurance network. Additionally, your guidance counselor may be available to talk to you and help you with your troubles.
  • Free, anonymous resources for teens: There are also many options for free counseling for teens, such as Youthline (teens helping teens over call and text), Crisis Text Line (just over text), and Teen Line (call and text).
  • If you don’t have insurance: If you don’t have insurance, try talking to your school’s guidance counselor and seeing if there are any free counseling resources in your town, or any online resources they can recommend.
  • Internationally: If you live outside of the US, please scroll down to the bottom of this post for links and resources.

In college:

  • College counseling center: Many colleges have counseling centers with therapists and trained social workers who are willing to work with you. These are often free, or at a low cost.
  • Off-campus: If you do not have a counseling center or you live off-campus, talk to your college doctor for a reference to a therapist in your insurance network.
  • Free resources: If you do not have insurance, scroll down below for online and call-counseling resources that are free of charge.

Out of college:

  • Where to start: Again, a great place to start is by talking to your doctor and seeing if they would be willing to recommend someone within your insurance network.
  • Finding someone online: If you feel uncomfortable asking your doctor, there are also many websites that facilitate finding a therapist, such as GoodTherapy. They have both an Advanced Search and an International Search option.
  • Resources through your job: Some companies offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) that allows for free or low-cost counseling. Learn more here.

Low-cost and free counseling:

  • Low-cost therapists: The Health Resources and Services Administration offers low-cost and free counseling at many federally funded counseling centers. Find one here.
  • Free resources: If you do not have insurance, scroll down below for free online and call-counseling resources.
  • Care for Your Mind has a great resource sheet on what to do if you can’t afford therapy. Read it here.

Free international resources:

  • For a list of specific free hotlines and chat services by condition or issue, such as eating disorders, sexual assault, or veteran’s issues, click here.
  • For a list of UK hotlines and resources, click here.
  • For international help hotlines by country, click here.

These are my best resources and tops for starting counseling. Again, I am not a licensed professional; please talk to a doctor, parent or guardian, or professional if you feel you need help. There are resources there for you, no matter what your circumstance. I truly wish you the very best of luck.

Sara Laughed

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, programmer, and American in the Netherlands. This blog is about my life, discoveries, and mistakes. Follow along, and thank you for stopping by!

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