Starting Therapy: What to Expect

Starting Therapy – How to Prepare

Learning to Thrive: A How-To Guide for Therapy

by Gavin Hannegan, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo undergraduate intern, supervised by Dr. Hannah Roberts

Hello Thrivers! Welcome to the first installment of a three-part series called, “Learning to Thrive: A How-To Guide for Therapy.” This series will help you understand what to expect as you are starting therapy and continue through the end of your therapy journey. Over the past few months, we’ve explored how therapy can be an effective self-care tool no matter what your needs are. Now, let’s put those discussions into context. 

Even if you feel ready, starting therapy can still feel daunting, especially for the first time. If you’re asking yourself, “Where do I even start?”, this guide is for you! Our goal is to alleviate any uncertainties you may have about the initial contact with your chosen therapist. Here are a few recommendations to help make this process feel comfortable and accessible.

Set Aside a Weekly Time for Therapy

It’s helpful if you have an idea of when you would be willing and able to meet with a therapist. Therapy sessions tend to last about 50 minutes, but you may need to factor in additional amounts of time for commuting to and from the therapist’s office, for example. Additionally, to be fully present, give yourself a few minutes before and after the session to center yourself, identify your goals for the session, and reflect on what was discussed. Your sessions should be a consistent part of your schedule, but it shouldn’t become a burden. Unfortunately, a perceived lack of time tends to be one of the largest barriers for mental health treatment among college students, especially those from ethnic or racial minority backgrounds (Miranda et al., 2015). The good news is that the format of therapy can be flexible to meet your needs. You can meet with your therapist virtually, meet with an on-campus professional, or schedule a nature therapy appointment to combine therapy with movement outdoors. Weekend sessions are also an option if you have a full workload during the week. An agreed time between you and your therapist is one of the first steps in starting therapy and crafting the therapeutic relationship.

Select a Therapist That You Will Feel Comfortable Working With

Therapy is a space that allows you to be vulnerable and open about yourself, so it is important that you find someone who is capable of holding space for you. Your therapist does not have to come from the same background as you, but they should have the experience necessary to make you feel affirmed, heard, and supported. One way to gauge if a therapist is right for you is to read their bios. Click the “Meet Us” section to learn more about the team behind Thrive. Psychology Today is a great resource for finding therapists in SLO county, virtually in California, and all across the country. These bios will contain the therapist’s specializations (eating disorders, LGBTQ+ care, etc.), the format of their sessions (in-person or virtual), the cost of each session and how to pay for it, and their contact information. Feel free to reach out to a therapist if you have specific questions about their style and practices. And don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself as you’re starting therapy. Therapy clients see the greatest improvements in their mental health when both the therapist and the client believe in the strength of their relationship (Zilcha-Mano et al., 2017). Choose a therapist that you would be comfortable working with in order to build this strong relationship.

Consider How You Might Pay for Your Sessions

A common challenge in starting therapy is concerns about the cost (Miranda et al., 2015). In a study of over 12,000 adults with a mental illness, over 70% cited financial concerns for their lack of treatment, particularly among those with no health insurance (Walker et al., 2015). In SLO, the cost of a session usually ranges from $150-$250, which is what you can expect with your Thrive therapist as well. While money can be a sensitive subject, remember that therapy can accommodate your needs. Attending therapy sessions from home can reduce transportation costs. When reading the bios of different therapists, identify a price range that would fit well within your budget. Psychology Today lists the different payment methods that therapists accept, such as credit cards, Venmo, and cash. Each bio also lists which insurance each therapist can take. Some therapists may offer a sliding scale depending on your income. Remember, if you have a PPO insurance, you may be able to get some reimbursement for your sessions. And finally, colleges and universities may offer free or reduced-cost therapy sessions with on-campus treatment centers – Cal Poly’s Graduate Students offer low-cost services for all (you do NOT need to be a student) at the SLO Counseling Service at Cal Poly. There are a variety of options to help you afford your therapy sessions. Build your therapy into your budget so it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Remind Yourself That You’re Deserving of This Care

The stigma against mental health is rampant and pervasive. When we start to internalize these messages, we become less likely to seek help for ourselves (Schnyder et al., 2017). Instead of listening to problematic messaging in society, surround yourself with uplifting voices. Think about the goals you hope to achieve through therapy and let that motivate you. Practice some daily affirmations such as, “I am worthy,” “I feel inspired,” or “I want to grow.” Share your concerns with a friend who would be happy to support you in this journey. Be open about these insecurities with your therapist so that you two can identify and work towards a solution. It may take time to build your self-worth, but that’s part of what therapy is for! 

Feeling ready for starting therapy? Next week, we will identify what this initial session may look like, and discuss strategies to help you adjust to this new environment. We’re so excited to see where therapy takes you!

Have more questions or feel ready to start therapy in California today? Schedule a session with one of our therapists! You can schedule online here!

We hope you enjoyed this blog post! Have more topics you’d like us to blog about? Contact us and we’ll be sure to include your topic in a future post.


Miranda, R., Soffer, A., Polanco-Roman, L., Wheeler, A., & Moore, A. (2015). Mental health treatment barriers among racial/ethnic minority versus white young adults 6 months after intake at a college counseling center. Journal of American College Health, 63(5), 291-298.

Schnyder, N., Panczak, R., Groth, N., & Schultze-Lutter, F. (2017). Association between mental health-related stigma and active help-seeking: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 210(4), 261-268.

Walker, E. R., Cummings, J. R., Hockenberry, J. M., & Druss, B. G. (2015). Insurance status, use of mental health care in the United States. Psychiatric Services, 66(6), 578-584.

Zilcha-Mano, S., Snyder, J., & Silberschatz, G. (2017). The effect of congruence in patient and therapist alliance on patient’s symptomatic levels. Psychotherapy Research, 27(3), 371-380.

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