Advice I Wish I’d Heard before I Started Therapy

Eight years ago, I was depressed. Like, couldn’t get out of bed for weeks on end depressed. My life felt like it was falling apart: I was missing school, staying awake all night, losing touch with friends, and feeling like there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Looking back, I realize that I was so immensely privileged to have had insurance that covered therapy at the time – but while I was ultimately the one who said I needed help, I still felt like starting therapy was a prescribed treatment rather than a choice. I was thrown into the process without any understanding of what therapy was for and what my options were, and made a few mistakes along the way. 

My relationship with therapy changed as time went on. As I became acquainted with the process and moved away from home for university, it became something I would seek out on my own. I learned what I liked and didn’t like about the process – and different therapists’ working styles – and took more control of my own mental health care. 

After speaking up online about my journey with my mental health, I’ve often found myself sharing anecdotes from my experience and words of encouragement with people considering starting therapy. While I can only speak to my own experience, I do feel that I’ve learned a thing or two about therapy over the years that might be helpful to others. If anything, this is really a list of all the advice I wish I’d heard before starting therapy myself!

Before we jump in, I just want to provide a disclaimer that I’m not a medical care provider, and none of the following statements have been reviewed by a mental health care provider. The information in this post is not intended to replace the advice of a trained professional. These statements are based on my own personal experience in the United States, and may not apply to others’ experiences with therapy. 

Please also note that conversion therapy is not illegal in all US states, and many countries around the world – if it is safe to do so in your area, please take precautions to find an LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist if applicable.

The Stigma

Illustration courtesy of Sravya Attaluri

It’s no secret that mental health issues and care are heavily stigmatized. I’ve experienced feelings of shame, embarrassment, and inadequacy around not being able to manage my mental health “on my own”. I wish I’d known that many of these feelings stemmed from the stigmas around mental health issues, and not from any real shortcomings on my part. 

One thing I learned during my process with therapy is that it’s important to have a strong support system to manage my mental health. It’s natural and normal to have friends and family to check in with about how I’m doing, as well as some go-to activities and coping mechanisms that keep me afloat on bad days. This idea that I was somehow failing by being unable to do it all on my own was a toxic symptom of the stigma around mental health issues, and ultimately made me feel like I was somehow doing something wrong if I wasn’t self-reliant. 

If I’d known this before starting therapy, I might have been able to be more honest with myself throughout my work on my own mental health. I might have been willing to admit that I needed help sooner, or able to ask for continuing support from loved ones earlier in the process.

It’s Okay to “Shop Around”

When I first started therapy, I went through two therapists before I found one I actually liked. Once I found the right fit, I liked her a lot and stuck with her for the long term. As with any healthcare provider, it’s important to find someone who is affirming and makes you feel safe and comfortable. For some, it might mean finding a provider within their race or ethnic background for cultural competency reasons. For others, it might just mean checking to see if you like their conversation style and the energy you feel in their space. 

For me personally, I feel most comfortable when my therapist shares my gender, which I learned after seeing a therapist who happened to be a man. I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing details of assault and other situations I’d been in to him, which would have gotten in the way of my treatment. The second therapist I saw before finding “the one” seemed very focused on getting a diagnosis for me right off the bat, and I felt that her approach didn’t make me feel listened to. 

I usually like to try at least one session before I decide if something is a good fit, but it may take more or less time for you. Just know that it’s okay if you don’t find the right provider right away!

Don’t be Afraid to Ask

This advice works in two ways – the first of which is treatment options and methods. If you find a therapist that you really love, but they don’t explicitly state that they work with patients with your particular concerns, don’t be afraid to ask if they’re comfortable working on them. You may find that they have experience working on those particular issues, but the website or directory they’re on is just out of date. If not, they might be able to refer you to a provider with a similar personality and approach who is more comfortable working with patients that have the same concerns as you. 

This advice also applies when it comes to insurance and affording therapy. If you’re lucky enough to have insurance, but a therapist you like doesn’t accept that particular type of insurance, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they can. Sometimes, therapists might be willing to get credentialed with your insurance in order to work with you. 

If you don’t have insurance or your insurance doesn’t cover mental health services, you might also be able to ask for sliding scale rates. Depending on their availability, some therapists offer reduced rates for patients with proof of income. Either way – checking in about how and how much you’ll pay for care is a normal part of the process, and you’ll never know what’s possible unless you ask!

Some Methods May Feel Uncomfortable at First

Illustration courtesy of Sravya Attaluri

My therapist encouraged me to attend group therapy on top of one-on-one sessions. I didn’t want to attend them because I thought it would be embarrassing and awkward, but it ended up being one of the most helpful treatment methods I participated in.

That particular route might not be for everyone, but the idea is – therapy and mental health care are extremely stigmatized, and in order to participate completely, I had to think about why the feelings of embarrassment I had were coming up. Realizing that I was entering into a new type of care that was unfamiliar to me, and that I would have to go a little out of my comfort zone, helped me get what I needed from the experience. 

If you’re not sure about taking the plunge into full-blown therapy and want support right away, there are a lot of low-cost or free community groups online and in person that may be helpful.

It can take a lot out of you

Illustration courtesy of Sravya Attaluri

Therapy is a long process and it can feel really draining at times. When I started therapy again my junior year, I would go into what I referred to as a “therapy coma” – where I’d feel overwhelming exhaustion after each session and fall asleep for a few hours. 

While I can’t claim that this exact response is a universal experience, I do know that it’s common for therapy to bring up different feelings that can outlast a session time. I worked around this by being extra kind to myself on therapy days, and planning my sessions to be on days I could go home and rest afterwards.

Give it a Try

Overall, my advice is this: if you’re able to access therapy, and you’re thinking about taking the plunge, give it a try. At the end of the day, if you decide it’s not for you, it’s okay – it’s just a conversation. Therapy can be really helpful, and in my case, it was pivotal in my mental health care journey. Having someone objective and removed from my life to talk to, whose only objective was to help me feel better, was exactly what I needed along my road to recovery.


Have you tried therapy? If not, is it something you would consider? If you have, how was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!

35 Comments

  1. Dona sil
    September 12, 2020 / 9:44 pm

    very Insightful

  2. Vaishali
    September 12, 2020 / 10:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! 🙂

    I have been considering therapy since the past 6 months but I haven’t been able to because I am staying with my parents amidst the pandemic and I don’t know how they’d react if I say I need therapy. I am afraid they’d say “Aisa Kuch Nahi hota hai” because honestly, desis don’t get the idea of depression, and eventually dismiss my thought. And I’m not sure when and how I’d gather enough courage to tell them that I need help.

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 12:43 am

      oh no! mental health concerns are really so stigmatized in South Asian communities – in the meantime, there are some free or sliding scale resources linked in the “mental health” highlight on my IG profile – they might be helpful depending on where you’re located! I hope you get what you need ♥️

      • Vaishali
        September 14, 2020 / 3:08 am

        I have been following you regularly, but I don’t know how I missed the resources highlight! I just checked and there is a post for resources in India. I’d definitely give it a try and share my experience here once I start. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂 You’re too kind. 🙂

        • anjalich
          Author
          September 14, 2020 / 4:02 am

          I hope it helps! I can’t wait to hear <3

  3. Poorabi
    September 13, 2020 / 1:18 am

    I really wish I’d known this. I’ve been to therapy once. Just once. I left feeling worse and cried a lot and because of it just stopped going. I wish I hadn’t; I really think it would have helped but I’m still scared to try again.

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 13, 2020 / 11:57 pm

      Aww I’m so sorry you had that experience. It can be so painful to go through those first few sessions because for some people it’s the first time they’ve opened up ever, and emotions can really take a physical toll! If you decide to try again, just know that I’m here cheering you on! Big hugs.

  4. Mihika
    September 13, 2020 / 1:54 am

    hi! i recently started therapy (it’s been about 8 sessions) and i find it hard (?) to open up maybe because of my past experiences but i’m learning how to! and it’s been pretty okay till now and i’m finding it to be nice as well. thank you for this blog post 🙂 much love <3

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 4:16 am

      That’s lovely! I like how you’re giving yourself credit for learning because it’s totally a journey! I hope you get what you need from the experience, sending you lots of love ♥️

  5. Zahraa Noor Azim
    September 13, 2020 / 2:09 am

    This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing, I’ve always been nervous to actually go forward with the process and have just always been reluctant.
    After reading this I know it’s perfect for my mental health/ wellbeing and this is exactly what I needed to make that first step to recovery.

    with love,
    zee x

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 13, 2020 / 11:55 pm

      wow that’s amazing! thank you so much for sharing that with me – I hope your journey with therapy brings you what you need! Much love ♥️

  6. Taylor
    September 13, 2020 / 2:41 am

    Hi Anjali, Thank you for your honesty about your experiences with depression and therapy. I think any bit of openness around mental health helps destigmatize it so I really appreciate your bravery in sharing this. I similarly stared therapy 8 years ago, it was my sophomore year in college and it has been a journey. I really liked your emphasis on shopping around for a therapist. Overtime I have come to realize that therapy is much more effective for me when I have a woman therapist with a certain communication style that is hard to put into words. I usually give it one session to see if we’re a good fit, in the past I used to go to several sessions before I had the confidence to advocate for myself and ask for a new therapist. Accessibility based on income is also so important. I have been very lucky to have insurance that covered therapy when I needed it most. In university I was covered and living in NY I’ve been on Medicaid which made therapy free at many locations. I also lived in Utah for a few years after graduating and I was struggling with depression and coming out and was lucky to find an organization called Encircle. They help provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in Utah and provide therapy on a sliding scale. I found the first therapist that I was ever really comfortable being fully vulnerable with at Encircle and I think a lot of that had to do with knowing the space was affirming of all sexual orientations. I also think noting the importance of psychiatrists and medication in relation to therapy is really important when it comes to destigmatization but I realize that may not be part of your experience (and if it is can be a lot harder to disclose). Anyway, I’m sorry that this was a long and rambolly response. I really appreciate your article and think it will help others in their mental health journey.

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 13, 2020 / 11:54 pm

      Wow!! Happy 8 year therapy anniversary to us! I totally understand what you mean about accessibility – our healthcare system is so limiting. I’m so happy that you found safe spaces and ways to make access work for you when you needed it. I totally agree with you that it’s important to destigmatize medication as a form of treatment! I actually loved your comment so much – thank you for reading and for such a detailed response ♥️

  7. Sakshi Sharma
    September 13, 2020 / 2:51 am

    Thank you, this was beautiful. I’ve always felt bad for being unapproving of therapists right off the bat. Sort of made me feel like I’m so troubled even therapy can’t help me. This blogpost made me feel better about myself.<3

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 13, 2020 / 11:51 pm

      I’m so happy you found it helpful! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, I hope you find right fit for you ♥️

  8. Sneha
    September 13, 2020 / 2:57 am

    i have tried it once! but i didn’t really click with my therapist or feel heard, like you mentioned. sadly, it’s slightly harder (i think) and definitely expensive to get therapy in India. but I’m still looking for resources online because i could really use the help.

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 4:15 am

      I’m sorry you had that experience! I have linked a spreadsheet with some resources for people in India in my “mental health” highlight on my profile!

  9. VISHNU
    September 13, 2020 / 7:15 am

    This was really lovely and helpful to read 💖 Am from Singapore and good therapy is wayyyy to expensive but it’s been something that I’ve been considering for awhile… The process of finding a good therapist was really eye-opening as well! Thanks so much for sharing 🙆🏾‍♀️🙆🏾‍♀️🙆🏾‍♀️

    • anjalich
      Author
      November 25, 2020 / 2:44 pm

      I’m so sorry you’ve been having trouble accessing therapy in Singapore. I hope you get what you need soon – thank you so much for sharing!

  10. September 13, 2020 / 8:41 am

    I’ve done therapy for a while, but feel like it’s not really helping recently 🙁

    • anjalich
      Author
      November 25, 2020 / 2:45 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear that! I hope you feel comfortable enough communicating with your therapist about what’s not working for you. Lots of love, Anjali

  11. Arshi Kuraish
    September 13, 2020 / 10:17 am

    Thank you anj for sharing your experiences. This gonna help much cz everyone is facing low key days cz of pandemic . I love you and your writings and specially the topics on which you speak . Love love 💜💜💜

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 4:03 am

      aww, thank you so much for reading! I’ve definitely been having low days during this time myself. Lots of love to you!

  12. Firdaws
    September 13, 2020 / 1:25 pm

    Thank you!

    I’m in therapy and I feel like a burden to my therapist. An issue I’m having it feels like everytime I want to talk about something heavy it’s pushed away? And I also feel guilt for wanting to talk about heavy things as well.

    Loved the article ♥️

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 4:06 am

      Thank you so much! I’m sure those feelings come from a complicated place and it’s not my place (as a person who isn’t a mental health provider) to opine on them, but remember that your therapist is there to listen and they want to know what’s going on with you. I hope you find yourself in a more comfortable position to get what you want out of therapy in the future ♥️

  13. Rayan
    September 13, 2020 / 8:25 pm

    Hey Anjali,

    Thanks for your writing. This is a really good piece I wish I had when I first started therapy 3 years back and I’m sure it’ll help a lot of people. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about switching my therapist for a while.

    You see, I sought out therapy at a really low point in my life and just started to go to the first person who would take my call and booked an appointment. I was so low and tired it took all my energy just to find someone. As a result, although I have a good therapist, she definitely does not understand a lot about my identity on an intimate level because she’s white, straight and female. But I didn’t feel like I could ever leave and find a new therapist because of the relationship we built and the fact she saw me at my worst and knows me very well by now. So now I feel almost stuck in my head because although it’d be great to have a therapist who looks more like.me and understands the intersections of my identity (south Asian child to immigrants, Muslim, gay) I just get myself to rebuild a relationship with a new therapist.

    You said in your writing that you shopped around but how long do you experiment with a new therapist and how did you move on from one to another?

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! It gives me so much light in my life to see people like you and Sufi who look like myself. It’s hard to find community among lgbt and south Asian communities or a place for both. Have a beautiful day ❤️

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 12:49 am

      Hi Rayan, thank you so much for your comment, and for reading! If you’ve been considering it for a while, it might be worth taking action on your thoughts! Remember that at the end of the day, your therapist is there to help you. If there are things that your therapist just can’t do for you, they will understand. I usually know within the first session if a therapist is right for me, but on one occasion I had 6 sessions before I realized that her approach wasn’t working for me. There are a couple of options – you could look to your insurance (if you have it) directory to see where else you’re covered, or look for Muslim therapist directories online. You can also talk to your therapist about your concerns to see if she can refer you to someone she knows, or if you ultimately decide to stay with her, to an LGBTQIA+ Muslim support group in your area. At the end of the day, I’m not a care provider and your primary care doctor or therapist might have better suggestions, but these are just some routes I’ve taken or seen in the past! I hope you find what you need ♥️

  14. September 13, 2020 / 9:40 pm

    I just started therapy. Have only had one session and honestly this article is so helpful. It feels sort of safe to know what you’re getting into so thank you so much. My friends shared your Instagram account with me when I realised that I definitely wasn’t straight .

    • anjalich
      Author
      September 14, 2020 / 3:58 am

      I’m so happy you found it helpful! I hope you have a positive and affirming experience in therapy ♥️

  15. Vaishnavi
    December 15, 2020 / 6:32 am

    Hi anjali…. I have been in therapy for about 6 months now. This article really helped me get things into perspective. In India mental health is stigmatized and not given enough importance. And it took me really long to express the need for professional help and as a result I was in a really bad space. Your Instagram and YouTube videos have been really helpful. Specially the highlight “mental health” where you mentioned what helps you on bad days. I had tough time managing low moods and bad days, thanks to you I have been feeling better by following what works for you. Thank you so much for putting your experiences out in public. I understand that it must have been a tough decision for you. Thanks a lot for helping me through your experiences. I am really grateful to you. Wishing you and Sufi all the happiness and success.

    Lots of love,
    Vaishnavi.

    P.S : I just love you both. You both are so cute and adorable.😍❤

    • anjalich
      Author
      December 16, 2020 / 6:10 pm

      Thank you so much for such a kind and heartfelt comment, Vaishnavi! I’m so happy that you find what I share helpful. It is hard to be open about these topics with so many people, but I always tell myself that if posting about my mental health makes even one person feel less alone, it’s totally worth it. I really appreciate you for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Love, Anjali

  16. Salma
    January 24, 2021 / 3:19 pm

    Hi, Anjali! Thank you so, so much for writing this piece. I’ve always felt that therapy was something that was often stigmatized and/or used as the butt end of a joke in my community and the groups I was surrounded by, but with pieces like this, I’m learning to undo the stigma that has unfortunately been portrayed in front of my eyes so many times. I’m sorry if this is a personal question, but how did you become absolutely sure that you wanted to seek therapy? I’ve recently been seriously considering it, but I’m still not one percent sure if I should take the next step to seek it out.

    • anjalich
      Author
      January 25, 2021 / 2:22 pm

      Hi Salma, I’m so sorry you’ve been experiencing that! Unlearning the stigma is hard, but it’s so important, and I’m proud of you for taking this step. In my situation, I was really having trouble getting out of bed and following through on day-to-day commitments like school when I finally asked for help; however, I don’t necessarily think that others should only seek out help when their situation becomes that dire. If you find that your mental health or general life concerns that you want to seek therapy for are getting in the way of your day to day life even in small ways, it could be time to reach out to some therapists for support!

  17. Komal
    February 15, 2022 / 4:23 pm

    Hey Anjali,
    I have recently started taking therapy. I am done with two sessions but I don’t know why I just don’t feel good about it.
    The last session was a depression session for me. I exactly didn’t want to hear what my therapist said. I know it is difficult to listen to hard truths. That is what she said. But it came with a smirk and a judgement.
    I think you are right, we need to first make sure if that person is the right fit for us. Thanks for talking about it. This helps.!!!:-*

    • anjalich
      Author
      March 7, 2022 / 1:56 pm

      I’m sorry you had that experience! I agree, it can be hard to hear some things about ourselves in therapy, but you deserve compassionate care. I hope you are able to ask for what you need from your current therapist, or find what you’re looking for with someone else if it comes to that! Sending you a hug.

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