Everything you need to know about seeking help from a mental-health professional.
by Juliet Lam Kuehnle
Hi, I’m Juliet and I’m a therapist who goes to therapy.
I get asked all the time how someone can know it’s the right time to go to therapy.
Spoiler alert: There’s never a wrong time.
You go to the doctor for checkups for your physical health, and perhaps you go to church, meditate or walk in nature for your spiritual health — so why should mental health get left out? Our mental health is foundational to everything we do and yet, largely because of stigma, people still carry a lot of shame and misconceptions. As humans who are constantly evolving, tending to our mental health simply ensures we are doing so at our full capacities. We can flit through life on autopilot without a lot of awareness or we can be more purposeful and intentional. Doing so alongside a therapist can make it that much more powerful and sustainable.
I’ve addressed a few frequently asked questions about what therapy is and how to do it:
How does one know they need therapy?
This is a very unique and individualized thing that can come to people at different points in their lives. Some people will wait until they’re in crisis and are in desperate need of help. Some people come to therapy as a proactive measure, for deeper self exploration, self-awareness, and to learn some tools and improve relationships. Either of those reasons — and everything in between! — is fine.
What is therapy all about?
“Ms. Lam, stand up tall. Do not shrink for anybody.” It is my favorite, not-so-humble brag that I’ll tell anyone who will listen. I got to take a college course with the Dr. Maya Angelou when I was at Wake Forest University. I was taking a picture with her at the end of the semester, and I thought I’d crouch down to be in the frame next to her as she sat. But, no. She encouraged me that day (and every day that I remember her words) to stand tall and take up space. I also got to go to her house not once, but twice. I don’t really remember what we talked about. But many of you know Dr. Angelou’s wisdom of never forgetting how people make you feel. That, I remember. In her presence, I felt heard, self-assured, settled, introspective, confident, inspired and stirred.
This is how I feel as a client in therapy, too. Therapy is a place you can just show up and be. No pretense, pretending or judgment. Where else can we unabashedly do this? We’ve gotten really good at protecting ourselves and showing up as others expect us to be. In therapy, there is truly no judgment around what’s happened to you, what choices you’ve made, or what you have to say. It’s all about deepening awareness and making sense of things to navigate the present day as fully as possible.
What’s it really like in a therapy session?
A lot of us have an image of lying on a couch talking to some old guy who’s writing copious notes with some “hmmms” and “how does that make you feel?” sprinkled in. If that’s what you’re interested in, I’m sure you can find it, or any other vibe you might prefer. My style is very casual and conversational and we’re getting a lot done. Much of showing up as a therapist is an art. The best therapists are intuitive and know just what to do with the energy in the room and the energy the client is emitting or resisting. A good therapist knows when to interject with a thought, prompt the client to stay with a feeling, recall names the client has mentioned in previous stories, connect parts of your story to larger themes, allow silence and so much more. Therapy is a collaborative process in which the therapist walks with you in your story and in your journey toward growth, healing, balance and greater self-awareness.
How do I find a therapist?
There are a lot of great therapists out there, but how do you find the right fit for you? One place to start is by asking for referrals from people in your trusted network. This could be friends, doctors, teachers or guidance counselors at school, etc. There are also some great search options online, some of which allow you to filter by certain preferences. These include:
Clinicians Of Color
Melanin and Mental Health
The Loveland Foundation
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
Mental Health Match
A lot of therapists offer free meet-and-greets so that you can get a feel for their style. This is a great time to ask questions and to just chat to see how it flows. If you know what some of your presenting concerns are, it may also be good to ask about the therapist’s experience with that particular issue.
What do you mean it needs to be a good fit?
The greatest predictor of “success” in therapy is how the client perceives the quality of the relationship with the therapist. If you don’t click with your therapist, you will likely get nowhere. This is because you won’t truly be able to let go and trust the rapport. You might remain guarded, even subconsciously, which will prevent you from peeling back layers to effect change. It will be harder for you to receive nudges from your therapist if you’re not all-in on the relationship. If you’re defensive or guarded, this block is a barrier to forward movement. No one can decide for you what “vibe” you’re looking for in a therapist, but because all of us are human and ideally we bring our personality into the room, you can find whatever it is you’re looking for! SP
Juliet Kuehnle is the founder/owner and a therapist at Sun Counseling and Wellness. Kuehnle is wrapping up her first book called Who You Callin’ Crazy?!: The Journey From Stigma To Therapy. Follow along on Instagram @yepigototherapy for updates.