Some Practical Things to Look At Before Starting Therapy

When I see a client for the first time in my therapy practice, I ask questions about their daily life and habits to help both of us get started.  If a person spent weeks in advance of therapy thinking over these questions and trying to address any issues they illuminate, therapy would get a nice kick start.  With that in mind, this post is for anyone out there who is considering calling a therapist, to help kick start your own experience.

First, I want to know if there are physical issues that could be relieved by seeing a medical doctor. Sometimes, physical issues such as thyroid problems or hormonal changes due to perimenopause can cause a person great emotional distress. If you are battling physical issues by trying to attack the emotional ones, you won’t get very far and you will get frustrated.  If you suspect that something physical is going on, make an appointment with a medical doctor first to rule out or address these issues.

I also want to know whether you are getting any exercise, and if so, how much, how frequently and how intensely. Exercise can help move emotions along and has a profound impact on mood and anxiety. If you are getting too little exercise, before calling a therapist try to fold exercise into your life for a few weeks to see if that helps. If, on the other hand, you suspect that you are getting too much exercise, see what happens if you cut back just a little bit. Notice what changes for you when you change your relationship with exercise.

Linked to exercise is food. What sort of relationship do you have with food, and are you eating a healthy, balanced diet?  It is quite common to have an emotional rather than a physical relationship with food. Even if you don’t change anything in your diet, see if you can become aware of things such as whether you eat when you are hungry, whether you stop eating when you are full, if you eat to avoid certain feelings, if you have judgments about what you eat and so on.  Coming into therapy with this sort of awareness gives you a head start, but if you suspect that you have an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, you need to consult an eating disorders specialist.

Related to food is your relationship with alcohol, caffeine, recreational drugs and prescription medications. If you suspect that you have an addiction to any of these substances, it is important that you address the addiction before you try to delve into deeper emotional issues.  Contact an addictions specialist or seek out a twelve-step program.  If you’ve ruled out addiction, but you suspect that your relationship with these substances is contributing to your emotional state, shine some awareness on these habits.  Notice how much caffeine you have each day and how it makes you feel. If you are on a prescription drug such as asthma medicine, pay attention to its impact on you.  If you drink alcohol or smoke pot regularly, pay attention to the impact it has on you physically and emotionally.  If there is something you can change, give it a try and take note of how it affects you.

Another thing to look at are your habits around screen time. How much time do you spend on social media? How much time is spent on political or news sites?  Do you engage in comment threads, and how susceptible are you to the trolls that lurk on these threads? Do you shop online, do you play games online? How much television do you watch, and what sort of shows do you like? Do any of these shows make you feel tense?  Spend a few days or weeks keeping track of your online and television habits, really noticing how much time you spend each day online or watching TV, and try to see how you feel both physically and emotionally while you are doing so.  Ask yourself if there is anything or anyone you are avoiding or neglecting when you want to get onto a screen.  If you decide to make any changes with your engagement with screen time, take note of how this makes you feel and when you feel most tempted to get online.

It is possible that you might feel much better after examining these areas of your life and making some changes.  You might even decide that therapy is unnecessary, which would be the ideal outcome.  It is also possible that you feel the same or maybe even worse, and that you want help navigating all the feelings that this self-examination has brought up for you.  Therapy is most effective when there is awareness, so you will be entering it equipped with the right tool to give therapy the best start possible.

Share if you are inspired.