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August 4, 2023

How to Start Therapy

Kristie Plantinga
Male hands writes in a journal, there is a woman on a couch sitting across from him; how to start therapy
August 4, 2023
25 min to read
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Are you interested in starting therapy? You’re in the right place.

I’m living proof of the power of good therapy, and I’m here to tell you everything I wish I knew about therapy when I started back in 2012.

If we haven’t met yet, hi 👋🏻 I’m Kristie Plantinga, and I’m the founder of Best Therapists. I’ve dedicated my life’s work to getting more people connected with high-quality therapy providers, and I hope that this post helps you on your therapeutic journey.

I know it’s overwhelming (and even scary!) to start therapy, so I want to commend you for being brave. Therapy isn’t all sunshine and roses (yes, you will probably cry… a lot), but my life is infinitely better because of it. I’m no longer holding myself back, and my mental health feels so much more manageable.

Let’s dive into everything I wish I knew about how to start going to therapy (and therapy in general)!

Why start therapy

If you’re here, you’ve probably had that moment all therapy-seekers have had. The “oh shit, I really need therapy” moment. Been there 🖐🏻

You also probably understand the value of therapy, but when the going gets tough (it may take you a while to find a therapist), here are the reasons why starting therapy is so, so worth it (I recommend bookmarking this for a rainy day).

Our mental health is everything

Most of us think and feel every second of every day. Even when we’re sleeping, our dreams help us process what we experience in the world.

Our minds (and how we process things in our bodies) is as baseline to humans as our heartbeat; it’s the foundation upon how we experience everything, from that first sip of a cup of coffee in the morning to cryptic texts from our friends and romantic interests.

If our mental health foundation isn’t strong, our quality of life suffers. Simple as that.

Life is short

Apologies for going full existential immediately, but it’s true: life is too short to allow our mental health to hold us back from living our fullest, peaceful, and most joyful lives.

When I first started therapy back in 2012, I had reached a point where I was so sick of feeling depressed. Even though I was young, I felt my life slipping me by. Every day that I struggled to get out of bed, feel joy, and experience peace and satisfaction in my life felt like a loss.

I simply didn’t want to lose any more of my life to a mental health condition. 

Granted, that is a privileged place to come from. I was able to be “cured” of my depression (although the anxiety has lingered, obviously 😂), while many mental health conditions are more chronic in nature. But the work I’ve done in therapy has not only helped my various mental health conditions–it has helped the resilience of my spirit.

Resilience is crucial, especially because mental health is more often managed than cured. Life will continue to be hard, and you’ll still feel triggered by situations and people, but you’ll feel more in control of your life and emotions, which results in more moments of satisfaction, peace, connection, and joy. What else is life about?

Relationships are worth improving

Relationships are not only the main source of joy in our lives–they are also often the main source of our pain.

Humans are endlessly complex. It makes sense that we unintentionally (or intentionally) hurt each other, but resentments, misunderstandings, and unspoken truths can rob us of deep connection with the most important people in our lives.

Working on how we show up in our relationships in therapy changes our lives for the better.

But sometimes, the best thing for us isn’t to deepen our relationships through honesty and boundaries–the best thing is to end them. Having ended relationships myself, I know firsthand how immensely difficult this can be.

Therapy helps us do both–it helps us heal our relationships and make the decision that some relationships aren’t meant to be life-long. Both are okay :) 

Become a better person and make the world 🌎 a better place

Can you imagine a world where everyone went to therapy? Your parents, that one nasty customer, your ex…

Not everyone will go to therapy (for many reasons). But YOU can. You can make your little slice of the world a more loving, healed, and let’s be honest, sane place to be. Call me cheesy, but I believe in the powerful trickle-down effect of more individuals experiencing therapy, because the world becomes a better place when we prioritize our mental health.

Plus, if you start going to therapy, you might inspire others to do the same.

What to expect from therapy

Here’s what you can reasonably expect to get out of therapy (note that this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list).

Therapy can change your thinking

How we think significantly shapes how we experience life.

If some of those ways of thinking are incorrect, damaging, or unhelpful, you’ll likely remain stuck and hurting.

In therapy, you identify thinking patterns that are holding you back from improved mental health and relationships. So much so that for me, personally, my anxiety improved when I identified flawed ways of thinking; meditation, medication, and other things didn’t help nearly as much. That was my personal experience, so don’t be discouraged if that isn’t what helps you most–everyone is different.

Keep in mind that a lot of therapy is your therapist telling you that you’re wrong 🤷🏼‍♀️ Yes, the way you’ve been thinking about things is just wrong, so approach the process with a healthy dose of humility.

Therapy can help you identify and accept emotions

Learning about your emotions is a big part of the therapy process.

In therapy, you’ll learn to identify which emotion(s) you’re feeling. This alone is extremely valuable, but you’ll also learn how to accept and then work through your emotions.

Accepting your emotions is the first step to moving past them. In the past, your go-to move might have been to repress negative feelings–but therapy is about doing the opposite. So get ready to talk about your feelings!

Therapy can help you uncover and confront trauma

We all have trauma.

Sometimes our trauma is from significant, singular events. Other times, our trauma is complex and administered as a slow and steady dose over decades.

Both are completely valid and worthy of unpacking.

When we understand what happened to us and how that shapes our experience today, we can start to grieve what happened and feel at peace (or just neutral) towards those events or people.

In therapy, you can’t erase what happened to you–but you can integrate new ways of thinking and coping mechanisms to manage.

Therapy can rewire your brain (literally)

Our mental health is tied up in our minds AND our bodies.

Many body parts can be affected by our mental health, like our shoulders, pelvic floors, and, of course, our brains (the anatomical brain 🧠).

Some trauma, mental health conditions, and thinking patterns are better resolved with therapy that disrupts neural networks that keep us stuck in a trauma loop (like EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Learn more about EMDR and how trauma works neurologically here.

Some traumas are difficult to address with talk therapy–we may not even be conscious of a trauma’s effect on us or cannot access it cognitively altogether. That’s when modalities that are less focused on talking like EMDR, somatic therapy, and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can help.

Therapy can help you develop coping mechanisms

Like I said before, the goal of therapy isn’t always to “cure” us. Sometimes, it’s to build our resilience to a world that will continue to trigger us.

Your therapist will help you develop tools that you can use when things get tough. For example, I know that when I’m anxious, I can do the following things (and almost always expect to feel a little [or a lot!] better):

  1. Read a passage from one of my favorite books, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  2. Brain dump in my journal
  3. Get my heart rate up and sweat it out (even 15 minutes helps)

Nine times out of ten, it works!

In therapy, you’ll develop your own toolbox, routine, and boundaries that help you reclaim your mental wellness.

What you can’t expect from therapy

Having realistic expectations about therapy is important for improvement in the therapeutic process. Here are a few things that you can’t always expect from therapy.

Therapy can’t change your thinking

In the same way that therapy can change your thinking, it also can’t.

You have to be willing to accept that you’re thinking about things wrong, and that you may be playing a part in your own suffering.

I hesitate to provide blanket advice, but this was such a game-changer for me that I have to share. So here’s a little tough love: you may not 100% be the victim in your life. 

I know that sounds harsh. But for me, when I accepted my fair share of the blame in my relationships, my life turned around.

After you accept what happened to you, grieve, and then start taking radical responsibility for yourself TODAY, you can become free of the victim mindset. Don’t underestimate your own power.

Note that accepting your own responsibility does not excuse another person’s behavior or diminish the impact and hurt that something caused. Additionally, this does not apply to situations in which you were the victim of abuse, a crime, or something out of your control like natural disasters or systemic injustices.

Therapy can’t change your actions

Therapy is an active process.

It’s not something you sit in for 50 minutes a week, get “therapized,” and then go throughout your week like it’s business as usual.

If you’re doing it right, it will likely turn your world upside down. But trust me–you’ll eventually prefer the view 😉 

Think about it this way: our dentists always tell us the same things: brush your teeth twice per day, floss at night, and maybe invest in a mouthguard (any other teeth grinders here? 👋🏻).

A dentist, like any other professional, can tell you what to do all day, but it’s up to YOU to take action.

If your therapist tells you to journal for ten minutes in the morning and you don’t, don’t expect your anxiety to be more under control. If your therapist encourages you to set a firmer boundary with your parents and you don’t, don’t expect your relationship with your parents to improve. If your therapist gently recommends that you try to prioritize sleep over scrolling on TikTok, don’t expect to feel more rested and less insecure about your less-than–perfectly-aesthetically-pleasing apartment.

Therapy has to go beyond the therapy room (whether it’s a physical or virtual therapy room). Try to feel (and welcome!) your experience in therapy spilling out into all areas of life.

Therapy can’t fix everything

Therapy can’t make your trauma disappear. Therapy can’t make your parents more mature. Therapy can’t save a relationship that can’t be saved.

I believe that acceptance can set us free. Accepting things that we cannot change is the most direct path to healing, and trust me–it feels incredible to release the things you can’t control.

Additionally, have realistic timelines about the “results” you’ll get from therapy. Our society values immediacy and convenience, but that's the opposite of how therapy works. There are things you can start in therapy that can make you feel better pretty quickly (like anxiety medication, changing parts of your lifestyle, etc.), but transformative, lasting change can take months (or even years!) to really set in.

How to get started with therapy

It goes without saying that starting therapy is a daunting process. Especially if you aren’t close with someone who’s been in therapy before, you might not even know where to start.

Here, I’ll go break down the steps to getting started with therapy.

Step 1: Make a plan

Most of us have a tendency to compartmentalize our emotional life, but if you want to do therapy right, this is the opposite approach to take.

Just like any major decision (a job change, moving in with a partner, etc.), you should plan how you’ll incorporate therapy into your life.

Your therapy plan will primarily involve your finances and your time.

Making your financial plan for therapy

It’s no secret that therapy costs money.

Although I’ll make the argument that there’s no better investment than therapy, how you’ll start paying for therapy and how much you’ll pay is a personal decision.

How to pay for therapy

You can pay for therapy a few different ways.

  1. First, you can pay less for therapy by getting therapy that’s supplemented by an organization. For example, there are mental health funds like the BIPOC Therapy Fund. If finances are severely limited for you, funds like these are an excellent choice.
  2. Second, you can pay for therapy by seeing a therapist that’s in-network with your insurance, whether that’s Blue Cross Blue Shield or Medicaid. This is the route that most therapy-seekers start with, but I’ll caution you against this approach. Insurance companies reimburse therapists at (sometimes laughably) low rates, which forces therapists to see too many clients per week. This often results in a burnt-out therapist, which means you get lower-quality care. But don’t blame the therapists–this system is designed by insurance companies. On top of burnout, you may also run into issues like your insurance company limiting the amount of sessions that are covered. In-network therapists are also required to diagnose you with something, but out-of-network therapists are not.
  3. Third, you can take advantage of your out-of-network benefits. With this route, your insurance company reimburses you for a percentage of your therapy sessions (this can be as high as 80%!). This approach is my #1 recommendation. Not sure what your benefits are? Use our free out-of-network mental health benefits checker.
  4. Finally, you can opt for private pay. Private pay is when you pay your therapist directly without involving your insurance company at all. This is the simplest way to pay for therapy, but also the most expensive.

Note that whichever route you take, you can use your HSA to pay for therapy.

How to budget for therapy

Although mental health care is certainly an aspect of our physical healthcare, you need to shift how you think about paying for therapy.

Therapy is an investment in yourself, and sometimes, that investment requires sacrifice. Would you prefer to get a gel manicure twice per month or get help with your OCD? Do you want to get takeout every night or finally start getting your anxiety under control? I apologize if that’s reductive (I don’t know your unique situation), but you need to reconsider your budget if you want to take your mental health seriously.

Here are a few additional questions to get you thinking differently about paying for therapy.

  1. Why do we expect therapists to work with insurance companies? If your boss told you that you can only make $15/hour and you’ll never get a raise, you would quit, right? That’s the situation therapists are in. Their earning potential is significantly stunted when they’re in-network with insurance companies, which is bad enough–but therapists also have significant debt from their graduate degrees and clinical training. Insurance companies’ reimbursement rates are simply too low, so expecting therapists to accept this treatment is not just hurting them–it’s hurting you. In-network therapists are almost always burnt out, and that means you get worse care.
  2. Why do we expect therapists to fix the mental health system? When you start searching for a therapist, you may find yourself getting upset with therapists. Why is this therapist so expensive? Why can’t they be in-network? Aren’t they supposed to care about people? Please don’t expect therapists to be martyrs. Although therapists went into the mental health field to help people, that doesn’t require them to sacrifice their well-being. We don’t expect teachers to fix the education system–why should we expect therapists to fix the mental health system?
  3. Why do we expect therapists to be “cheap?” Real talk… do you want “cheap” therapy? I love a good bargain as much as the next person, but I don’t want a “cheap” engine in my car. I don’t want a “cheap” foundation underneath my house. Why do we want “cheap” therapy when therapy’s effects can be so profound? On top of that, if you find yourself scoffing at therapists’ rates, ask yourself this: why are you expecting a therapist to supplement your lifestyle? If you want extra drinks at happy hour, that means your “cheap” therapist can’t get those drinks. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s something you have to understand.

Long story short, take a hard look at your budget and the mental health system. I believe that our mental health shouldn’t come at the cost of our therapists’, and if you’re financially able, you can help change the mental health system.

Making your scheduling plan for therapy

Your appointment time may not always be convenient.

Although your therapist will try to work within your schedule, you’ll likely have to shift some things around to make appointments.

In the past, I attended therapy at 8am. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but I am NOT a morning person. So I would wake up an hour (or more!) early to make sure I was awake enough for therapy.

If your schedule is limited, you may have to sacrifice a lunch break or start work early so you can take a late morning or afternoon appointment.

You might get your ideal time slot, but you might not–so prepare to adjust if needed.

Step 2: Find a therapist

Now that you’ve made your therapy plan, it’s time to find a therapist!

What to look for in a therapist

Before you start your search, have some search parameters in mind.

  1. Specialty. Ideally, you’ll work with a therapist who’s a specialist in the area that you’re seeking help. From first responders to bicultural couples, there’s a therapist who’s specialized in every issue. A well-trained therapist can likely help you with whatever you’re facing, but working with a specialist is a guarantee that they’ve worked with people like you before and understand you before you even begin therapy.
  2. Personality. Do you want a therapist who is highly solution-oriented, or do you want someone who’s more emotionally focused and existential? Do you prefer to face the tough things in life with humor, or would you prefer a therapist who’s a bit more solemn in nature? In my opinion, your chemistry with your therapist is the most significant predictor of success in therapy. At the end of the day, you should simply get along with your therapist. Your therapist isn’t your friend, but they should be the type of person with whom you would grab coffee.
  3. Treatment type. Therapists use all sorts of modalities, and I won’t get into the specifics of all of those here (there are a lot!). But if you’re looking for a therapist who offers EMDR, somatic therapy, or something else, make sure to check their website or inquire about that specific modality.
  4. Location. Therapists are licensed on a state level. That means your therapist has to be licensed in the state where you live. Note that your therapist doesn’t have to live in your city, though–ever since the COVID pandemic, almost all therapists offer virtual therapy as well. You may prefer in-person therapy, but virtual therapy is just as effective. I actually talk to my therapist on the phone as I stroll/power walk through a park nearby (pro tip: sunglasses are great for hiding tears in public 😂).

How to find a therapist

In my opinion, directories, referrals, and Google are the best ways to find a therapist.


Therapy directories (like ours!) are a great way to get started with therapy.

That being said, most therapist directories like Psychology Today, Good Therapy, Choosing Therapy, and more have hundreds (if not thousands) of results for therapists in your city alone. The search for your therapist becomes instantly overwhelming, which stops some therapy-seekers in their tracks. 

At Best Therapists, our involved vetting process goes way beyond a basic license check (unlike the other guys), which simplifies YOUR search.

Finding the best therapist for you is hard enough, so we curate lists of top-rated therapists, so you can get quality care as quickly and seamlessly as possible. And no need to check a therapist's availability or add your name to their waitlist—all Best Therapists are currently accepting new clients.

Should I find a therapist on BetterHelp, Talkspace, Cerebral, etc.?

I can almost guarantee that you’ve seen or heard ads from mental health startups like BetterHep.

Not only do the reimbursement rates make insurance companies look generous, but mental health startups aren’t held to the same ethical standards as individual therapists. Need proof? Check out the lawsuit against BetterHelp for exploiting their users’ data for advertising purposes, or read this New York Times article on Talkespace’s super shady marketing practices.

Long story short, you couldn't pay me to see a therapist from one of these companies.


Referrals are an excellent way to find a therapist.

Ask your friends and healthcare professionals for a recommendation, but make sure to set up a consultation with the therapist. Just because your friend gets along with them doesn’t mean that you will.

Google searches

Google is a great way to find a therapist.

Try a search query like “therapist” + “your state” + “speciality.” For example, “therapist california codependency.” This will bring up a highly curated list of specialized therapists that are licensed in your state.

Step 3: Consult with multiple therapists

When you get started with therapy, I highly recommend consulting with multiple therapists before choosing one, especially if you haven’t been to therapy before.

The therapeutic relationship is a unique one, so it’s helpful to compare your chemistry across multiple therapists before committing to one.

What to expect in a consultation

Consultations (which should be free), will be anywhere from ten to 30 minutes, and they will likely take place via phone or video chat.

Every therapist runs consultations a bit differently, but they’ll likely ask you 1) what brings you to therapy and 2) what you’re hoping to get out of it. Just answer their questions honestly, and be prepared to feel vulnerable.

It’s okay to feel nervous going into a consultation. Just remember that therapists are professionals, and the good ones will usher you through the process to ease your nerves.

Remember that as much as you’re feeling out your therapist, your therapist will be feeling you out, too. It has to be a mutually good fit!

How to know if you’re a good fit for therapy

This isn’t an exact science, and I recommend that you primarily trust your intuition.

On a more practical level, the therapist should be a match logistically. Do they offer the type of therapy you’re seeking? If you want to see them in person, do they have an office that’s within a reasonable driving distance?

On a personal level, you should feel chemistry between you and your therapist. Although you’ve just met each other, you should feel like this is a person that you could talk to. It’s okay if you don’t spill your guts right away (vulnerability is hard!), but you should be able to imagine yourself being open with this person.

Remember that if the fit is right, your relationship with your therapist will likely be one of the most intimate relationships in your life. It takes time to build that trust and rapport, but deep down, you should feel safe with your potential therapist during a consultation.

Step 4: Try a few sessions and reassess

After you’ve selected a therapist, it’s time to finally start therapy!

I recommend committing to a therapist for three to five sessions. Throughout these sessions, be open with your therapist about how you feel things are going between you two. Good therapists appreciate honesty, and you only have things to gain by getting real with yourself and your therapist.

Note that you won’t be “fixed” or “cured” after three sessions–not even close. But you should feel like you’ve learned a thing or two and that your therapist is a person that you can trust.

If you complete your trial sessions and it doesn’t feel like it’s a good fit, let your therapist know. At that point, you can either do a few trial sessions with one of the therapists you consulted with previously or go back to step two to connect with more potential therapists.

Ready to start therapy?

I hope you’re feeling better equipped to start therapy and find a therapist. It’s one of the best decisions you’ll ever make, but I know firsthand how daunting the search process can be.

At Best Therapists, we vet therapists so you can focus on fit, not quality. If you want to start consulting with some of our top-rated therapists, start your search for a therapist here.

Good luck, and I’ll be here cheering you on :)

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Written by
Kristie Plantinga

Kristie Plantinga is the founder of Best Therapists. Along with being on the client-side of therapy, Kristie has had the honor of working directly with therapists in her marketing agency for therapists, TherapieSEO. While working alongside therapists, she learned about the inequities in our mental health system that therapists face on a daily basis, and she wanted to do something about it. That’s why Best Therapists is a platform designed to benefit not only therapy-seekers, but therapy providers. Kristie has a Masters degree in Written Communication and a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Music.

Reviewed by
Katelyn McMahon
Registered Psychotherapist, VT #097.0134200

Katelyn is a therapist-turned-writer with a passion for mental health. She has a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of England and is a Registered Psychotherapist in the state of Vermont. Katelyn has professional experience in aging care, addiction treatment, integrated health care, and private practice settings. She also has lived experience being on the client side of therapy. Currently, Katelyn is a content writer who’s passionate about spreading mental health awareness and helping other therapists and therapy-seekers Do The Work.

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