A guide to starting therapy

So you’ve been wondering about starting therapy for some time and begun to think more about seeing a therapist. How do you go about it? Here are some commonly asked questions about therapy to help you get started with the process.

How does therapy work?

Whether you are going through a critical event, have been experiencing difficulties for a while, or simply want to work on personal growth, therapy engages you in the kinds of discussions that bring you to where you want to be.

Therapy occurs in a non-judgmental, safe and confidential environment where the aim is to help you feel comfortable to begin the conversations needed to take care of yourself. Discussions in therapy work to help you to gain an understanding about what is going on for you right now in life, the patterns that keep you feeling stuck and different paths that you can consider taking for change to happen. The role of the therapist is to guide and support you as you discover new patterns of thinking and being.

At the first appointment, you can expect to discuss what you would like to address in therapy and have any questions you have about the therapeutic process answered. By the end of the 60 minute session, you will most likely have discussed the main reasons why you have decided to try therapy as well as some significant background information about yourself. This initial information will shape whether you and your therapist can work together and what future sessions will look like.

What’s the difference between counselling and therapy or psychotherapy?

These terms are often used interchangeably and generally refer to the process of talking to a professional therapist (e.g. counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist) in order to resolve issues happening in a person’s life.

Counselling is sometimes considered a way to resolve more identifiable issues with a clear goal such as finding a way to manage workplace stress or a resolving a specific conflict between two people. Counselling may therefore be relatively short-term and time-limited. Psychotherapy is considered longer-term, where the goal is to explore and learn about themselves and their own patterns over a longer period of time.

How long does therapy take?

The therapeutic process is different for everyone. Some people start sessions for very specific reasons and may stop once they feel they have resolved those issues. Others may see it as a way of continually exploring and learning about themselves over time. As the client, you decide how long you want to continue sessions for as well as the frequency of sessions over time. It can be helpful in the beginning to have some regularity to the sessions to keep the momentum of what you are working on up. Over time, it is common for sessions to become more spaced out or scheduled on an as needed basis.

How do I pick the right therapist?

There are several things to consider when picking a therapist to meet with and the most important is how comfortable, heard and understood by the therapist you feel. Asking for referrals can be a good place to start and out of those referrals, it can be helpful to get in touch with the therapist(s) to see if they are available to chat briefly over the phone. This is a good opportunity for you to find out find out information practical information such as scheduling availabilities, fees and if they are currently taking on any new clients but also gives you a sense of what to expect if you were to meet them in person. The first session is a good opportunity for you to get a real feel for whether you are comfortable to continue sessions together. It is important for you as the client as well as for your therapist that you feel at ease with the therapeutic process; if you don’t find that it is a good fit, it is perfectly normal to let them know or to ask for other referrals. In certain cases, the therapist may feel that they themselves are not the best fit for you and refer you to other professionals who will be better suited to your needs.

How much does therapy cost?

While the number of sessions needed differs from person to person, typically the process requires several sessions over time in order for therapeutic effect to take place. It is therefore important to make going to therapy financially sustainable for you so it can be helpful to plan or set aside a budget for 4-8 sessions to begin with. The cost of each session will depend on the therapist or the organisation they work at but some therapists will have a sliding scale with adjusted fees for individuals who are unemployed, full-time students, or have other financial constraints. It is normal practice to enquire about this when making an appointment for the first time.

Finally, below are some links to get you started on searching for counsellors or therapists in Hong Kong and Asia:

Psychology Matters Asia has listings of mental health professionals in Hong Kong as well as in Asia.

The US Consulate has a listing of psychologists, counsellors, and psychiatrists in Hong Kong.

For those looking for Chinese services, non-profit organisations such as Caritas, Joyful Mental Health Foundation, and HK Sheng Kung Hui provide counselling and mental health support