In other situations, you might be feeling low or anxious, but not understand why.
Read on to find out what a therapist does and when it might be time to reach out for support. You’ll also learn about the different types of talking therapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as how to find the right therapist for you.
What is a therapist?
A therapist (sometimes called a psychotherapist or a counsellor) is a health professional who’s trained to offer specific types of talking therapy. Some therapists focus on certain areas – for example, you can see a family therapist, an addiction therapist or a marriage therapist. Others can provide support across a range of issues.
How do I know when it’s time to see a therapist?
Some people think you need to have a mental health problem to see a therapist. You don’t. And there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you feel like it’s time to talk to someone.
But what if you just aren’t sure?
, a London-based psychotherapist and mental health expert at Healthily, believes there are 5 key signs to look out for. These are:
- Noticing new, uncomfortable feelings or memories – this could mean that your feelings are being triggered by something difficult from the past.
- Self-judgment – if you’re very self-critical, which may affect your day-to-day life.
- Going through a life change, good or bad – a loss or new chapter in your life may stir up difficult feelings that may need space to process. Anything from getting a new job to being recently married, grieving for a loved one or finding out you’re pregnant.
- Needing new coping strategies – maybe your previous coping strategies are outdated or aren’t helpful anymore. Therapy is a space where you can evaluate how you deal with stress and trauma, and learn new habits.
- Psychosomatic symptoms – these are physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue and dizziness, which might be a result of your emotions rather than a physical illness. However, always get symptoms checked by a doctor to rule out physical causes.
What can a therapist help me with?
Talking therapy, a type of
(CBT), can be an effective way to get help with mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
Therapy may also help you cope with:
- health conditions, such as infertility, chronic illness or eating disorders
- difficult life events, including bereavement, divorce or work-related stress
- low self-esteem or anger management concerns
- emotional problems associated with sexual identity
Types of talking therapy
There are many different types of talking therapy – your therapist might use a mixture of techniques, or focus on just one. Some common techniques include:
- psychoanalytic therapy – when a therapist encourages you to talk about your life and looks for patterns or key events that might affecting you
- CBT – this approach looks at how what you think and believe affects your feelings and behaviour. It may help you to challenge negative thinking patterns and be helpful if you have depression or anxiety
- group therapy – a common format for support groups, where 2 or more people share their experiences and work through issues with a therapist. This approach is often used to help people deal with chronic illness and phobias
Do I need to pay to see a therapist?
You may be able to speak to a therapist in person, over the phone or
Depending on where you live, therapy might be offered as part of your country's health service – in the UK, for example, CBT is covered by the National Health Service (NHS). In this case, therapy is free and you’ll usually be offered a set number of sessions.
You can also see a therapist privately. While this does cost money, you’ll often be able to get an appointment right away, instead of joining a waiting list. You can also have as many therapy sessions as you need (or can afford). Going private means you can choose your therapist – something that may not be possible if you go through your country's health service.
How much does private therapy cost?
Prices for private therapy depend on a number of factors, including where you live and if you’re a student, on low wages or jobless. It can also depend on the therapist’s qualifications and experience.
Always ask about fees before you start therapy.
How do I find a therapist near me?
Working with the right therapist can make all the difference, but it can often take some trial and error before you get there.
Jonatán Kyer Szabó, 38, is a group counsellor based in Philadelphia in the USA. Jonatán started seeing a therapist when he was 14 years old, after his dad passed away. He says: “Finding the ‘right’ therapist takes time. It’s a bit like dating – a getting-to-know-you period is necessary.”
If you find a therapist isn’t working out for you, continue the process, even if you don’t continue with that person.
Here are some key questions you should ask potential therapists:
- How much will each session cost?
- What qualifications do they have and are they registered? If in the UK, you can check this by looking for fully qualified therapists on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) register
- How long can you expect your sessions to last?
- Can you have a free trial session to see if you can both work together before you start properly?
- Do they offer therapy over the phone, video call or in person, and how soon can you get an appointment?
- How many sessions can you have – is there a set number you need to attend?
- Do they charge for missed appointments?
Once you’ve made your shortlist, you might also want to:
- have an introductory chat with them – use this time to discuss your needs and what you hope to get out of the sessions
- ask about the type of therapy they offer and if they have any experience working with the kinds of problems you need to discuss
What’s therapy like?
It’s normal to feel nervous when you first start seeing a therapist, but you should start to feel more comfortable as the sessions go on.
Rachael Jones, 26, who’s based in Bedfordshire and works in publishing, started counselling after a close family member passed away. She’s been seeing the same therapist for 2 years and still remembers that very first session.
“Walking into the room for the first time is nerve-racking because you’re sitting down with someone that you don’t know,” she says.
“But by the time you realise this is something you need, the relief overrides any apprehension you might have about telling a stranger things you might not have told anyone else.”
Is it worth it?
If you choose to go private and pay for your therapy, be aware that it can get expensive.
“The cost of therapy makes it difficult because you have to work that in with the rest of your life, but if it’s something you want to prioritise, it’s worth it,” says Rachael.
Therapy isn’t a quick fix and signing up to a block of sessions won’t solve all your problems there and then. In fact, when you first start seeing a therapist and you begin to open up about what’s bothering you, it can sometimes be upsetting.
Salwa Abdul Hadi, 41, a female empowerment and leadership coach from West Yorkshire, UK, has seen a therapist on and off for 10 years after reaching the point of burnout at work.
“I found therapy hard in my 20s when I sat and talked about my childhood, which meant reliving the trauma I’d gone through. And when the hour was up, I was sent off to relive my trauma again and again in my head,” she says.
But if you’re ready and you find the right therapist, talking can offer valuable support...
Rae Radford, 58, a social media marketing specialist in Kent, UK
Rae saw saw a therapist for more than a year after experiencing a family trauma.
“When bad things happen to you in life, your mind can become like a ball of wool and what you need is someone to pull that out. Each week you see your therapist, they pull a bit more, until the ball is all straight again. They can help unwind your brain and give you a different perspective.”
Louisa Herridge, 41, an empowerment coach based in Cheshire, UK
Louisa had 10 therapy sessions after she was abused.
"We all have adversity in our lives. Talking is a great tool, but with a professional it can be life changing. You’re able to explore things that might never be discussed. It’s a safe environment and I believe, with the right therapist, so much can be resolved."
Anna Hall, 26, a mental health nurse in London, UK
Anna's had therapy on and off for 10 years after feeling overwhelmed and anxious when she started university.
"I’d say therapy is definitely worth it. Anyone can struggle with their mental health and you don’t have to be at breaking point to seek support. It could be that you’re feeling stressed and that you’d just like to speak to someone to alleviate some of that stress.”
When to see a doctor
If something is bothering you or you’re feeling low, it can be helpful to speak to a doctor. Particularly if self-care has not helped, or your mental health it's getting in the way of your everyday life – for example, it could be affecting your sleep, appetite, relationships or work.
Your doctor may diagnose a mental health condition like
. If you aren't seeing one already, they may then refer you to a therapy specialist or suggest something else like medication.
You can also try reaching out to charities or private therapists, if you’d prefer to do this yourself. Specific organisations you can go to for help include:
- – Available in the UK, Italy and Australia, Samaritans provide support for those who are feeling low, through a free helpline, email and web chat. They also have a self-help app that can be used to keep track of how you’re feeling
- – a resource offering advice and crisis resources for those living in the US
- – whether you want to read about more information, or you’d like to speak to someone on the phone, Mind offers an A-Z library of mental health resources, a call line, web chat and email service for those living in the UK
- – If you’re living in New Zealand, you can use Lifeline’s helpline or text line to get free 24/7 support from trained counsellors
- – a service for men in the UK offering free support via a helpline and a webchat service
If you feel suicidal or like you might harm yourself, it's important that you seek urgent help or go to A+E.
Your questions answered
What happens when you see a therapist for the first time?
Your first session will be an introduction, giving you and your therapist time to get to know each other and ask questions, such as why you’re looking for therapy and what you want to get out of the sessions. After this, you might decide that it’s not going to work – and that’s fine. The therapist may suggest a referral if they think a different type of therapy would be more useful for you. However, if you both feel comfortable, you can go on to discuss how often you’ll meet, the cost of therapy and how you’ll work together.
Do you have to be diagnosed with a condition to see a therapist?
Not at all. Anyone can see a therapist if they need help coping with any aspect of life, whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not.
How long does talk therapy usually take?
It depends on why you want to see a therapist and the form of therapy offered. A block of 6 sessions lasting 1 hour is common for something like CBT, but this might be extended if your therapist feels you need more support. However, everyone is different. Some people continue seeing a therapist for months or even years, either on an ongoing basis or only when needed.
- a therapist is trained to offer a form of talking therapy
- therapists are also sometimes called psychotherapists or counsellors
- you don’t need to have a mental health problem to see a therapist
- therapists may be able to help in a range of situations, including during bereavement, chronic illness or if you’re having problems managing your emotions
- there are many different types of therapy, including CBT and group therapy