What is Therapy?
What is Therapy? avatar

Brandon Tomlinson, CTWillow Wisdom

What is Therapy?


Alright. Life’s gotten difficult for you or someone you know. Your doctor, a friend, a family member, or some other person you trust recommends “seeing someone.” Now, “seeing someone” has taken on this meaning: “It might be helpful to see a mental health professional.” The question then becomes: what does this even mean? To help foster an understanding of what exactly therapy entails, let’s lay out the basics.

Who provides therapy?

There are several fields that most prominently function as therapy providers: counselors, social workers, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists. While psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide therapy, they more often than not serve as prescribers and managers of medication for psychological issues; of the professions mentioned, they are the only ones that prescribe. Therefore, if you’re looking for a therapist, you’ll likely end up with one of the first four mentioned.

If you start looking for a therapist, depending on your state, you’ll see labels like LPC, LLPC, or LPCC for counselors, LSW, LISW, or LMSW for social workers, LP for psychologists, and MFT, LMFT, or IMFT for marriage and family therapists. These people are licensed by their different states to practice as therapists. Therapists with the right training and experience can see anyone from those living with severe mental and emotional disorders to those whose lives are weighing them down and feel they need help adjusting. Some therapists have specialties, while many others are generalists (meaning they see a wide variety of people). Though there are variations in philosophy between them, their education and experience enable them to provide similar mental health services.

What does starting therapy look like?

Therapy looks different with each therapist because, although the training within each field is standardized, each therapist brings a piece of their personality to their practice. It’s okay to look around for a therapist who works best with you and your personality. That said, remember that not all of therapy is comfortable, so don’t mistake some normal discomfort with not jibing with the therapist.

When you start therapy, you’ll fill out an intake form that asks for some basic information, as well as some information about what it is that’s brought you to the decision to seek therapy. When you do this, you give the therapist valuable information that enables them to help you. One thing to bear in mind as you start: therapy is collaborative. Your therapist is an expert on mental health, but you’re the expert on you, and it requires the two of you to work together, each bringing your respective expertise to the therapy room.

The therapist will work with you to learn about you and help you gain insight into the ways you “work,” then they will help shepherd you toward growth, working as a helper who comes alongside you to assist your healing process.

What should I keep in mind during therapy?

There are three things to keep in mind during therapy

  1. Be honest. Your therapist will not judge you. You can talk to them openly, and their goal is always your health and safety. They also want you to be honest with how you’re experiencing the therapy process. If you think it’s going well, let them know. If there’s something you wish you were doing in therapy or if there’s something you’d change, they want to know that, too. If you’re feeling confused or concerned, remember that it’s okay to ask questions and seek clarification!
  2. Think about what you want. Your therapist will talk to you about goals and help you flesh them out. Think about how you want things to be when therapy ends. Having a goal gives you and your therapist something to work toward, because aimless therapy doesn’t help you grow!
  3. Understand that change takes time. Progress differs from person to person, and, often, things get harder before they get easier. Growth is not linear, but ebbs and flows, with an overall positive trajectory. Remember to keep the “overall” in mind, and know that some days will be harder, and some will be easier. Keep putting in the work and don’t lose hope.

I hope this helps and best wishes on your journey!