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Therapy: Frequently Asked Questions and What You Need to Know Before You Begin

Therapy is a mysterious and confusing process.  Today, we’ll be answering some of the most frequently asked questions about therapy. Hopefully, this will help you decide if it’s the right option for you.

What is therapy?

The nature of therapy is one of the most frequently asked questions that I address as a mental health professional. Therapy is an ongoing professional relationship in which a client (or in some settings a “patient”) works with a licensed mental health provider to improve their day-to-day life. For some clients, therapy can be about the management of symptoms associated with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety.  For others, therapy can be a place to gain insight and promote overall personal development. In many instances it is both. Therapy can be provided in individual, couples, group or family formats.

Why should I go to therapy?

Therapy can be helpful in managing symptoms, bettering relationships or helping clients develop greater insight to improve their lives. If you think that you may be dealing with mental illness, a licensed mental health professional can help you figure out what is going on and help you develop the skills to effectively manage your condition or problem solve around its symptoms.

For couples and families, therapy can be a safe space to heal relationships together . This presents an opportunity to learn new skills to more effectively communicate and work through issues such as co-parenting, divorce or separation, and behavioral concerns of children.

What are the differences between a psychologist, therapist and psychiatrist?

A therapist is a general term for a licensed mental health professional who providers therapy services.  Therapy can be conducted by any mental health professional who is licensed in their state of practice.  Most often, therapists are Masters level mental health professionals who have a graduate degree in counseling psychology and extensive post-graduate training and work experience.

Common types of Masters level therapists have the following designations after their names LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) and LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist).

A psychologist is a doctoral level licensed medical professional who has more advanced education and training in the practice of therapy than Masters level therapists. Most often psychologists are often well-trained in psychological testing which can be helpful to some clients. Psychologists often have advanced degrees such as a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). PhD level clinicians often focus or work in academia or research, whereas PsyD professionals tend to work more in application of counseling techniques on a day-to-day basis.

Psychiatrists are licensed doctors (MD) who specialize in treating mental health conditions. Some psychiatrists provide talk therapy, while others solely provide medication management.

What are the different kinds of therapy?

There are a variety of different models of therapy. The most common is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as it is found to be highly favored by insurance companies, which many clients use to pay for therapy services.  CBT works well for a range of conditions including anxiety and depressive disorders. Research indicates that it is not the most effective, however, as many types of therapy work equally as well. Other types of therapy include Psychodynamic, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Person-Centered Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy among others.

How long does it typically last?

There is not definitive time limit on therapy. For specific problems, for instance a performance issue (fear of public speaking) or the management of specific symptoms (e.g. panic attacks), there is some support for great effectiveness after about 12-15 therapy sessions.  However, for broader issues such as problematic interpersonal relationships or other concerns, therapy may take longer to produce solid and stable results.  In large part, the length of therapy depends on a client’s needs, preferences and committment to the therapy process as well as therapist effectiveness.

Some people  see a therapist for extended period of times, akin to a personal trainer that they meet with periodically for ongoing maintenance. For others with acute concerns, the process may be shorter in duration and more time-limited. It is not uncommon for the expected length of time in therapy to change.

Can I use insurance for therapy or how do I pay for it?

You can absolutely use your insurance to pay for therapy services. If you do this, be mindful that your insurance will have ultimate control over how many sessions they may cover. You may also be subject to deductibles, which you may need to pay out-of-pocket before your insurance covers any portion of your sessions.

That being said, using your insurance can be cost-effective in managing your therapy and health care costs. If you’re only responsible for a low co-payment for every session, then you may meet with your therapist regularly without financial concern.

How can I find a therapist to work with?

If you have medical insurance, you may be able to find a therapist to work with that is a member of your insurance network (in-network). Call your company’s representative or visit their online directory to search for providers close to you that you may be able to meet with.

Alternatively, there are online directories such as Psychology Today, Good Therapy and Lighthouse that help connect you directly with licensed providers. Most often you can see whether a therapist accepts your insurance or not. If not, then it will list acceptable options for payment (cash, card, etc.). Some therapists also offer sliding scale options which are based on your annual salary so that may be an option for a discount if the provider you want to work with isn’t in-network with your insurance company (or you don’t have insurance coverage).

Do you have any questions about the nature of therapy? Please ask them in the comment section below!



Author: Jor-El

Jor-El is Co-founder of Viva Wellness and a foodie and film buff. He most often writes about mental health, relationships, food and mindfulness. When he’s not busy working, he typically can be found lounging or walking around NYC with his pup Nomi.

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