By Emily Tanner

Western’s Crystal Hall Counseling Center. Photo: Alex Pedersen

In the midst of a mental health crisis, reaching out for help may seem like the scariest thing in the world. Even those who do not experience mental illness often find the task daunting. Unless you have been through the process before, you probably don’t know what it’s like to find the right provider, what the privacy laws and regulations are, or where to begin. 

Many people are reluctant to seek therapy because they are afraid of finding themselves embarrassed, in trouble, or “saying too much.” The truth is, mental health is a key aspect of overall health, and therapists are bound to privacy law in the same way that your general doctor is. If you are looking to utilize additional mental health resources, but want to know more about what you’re getting yourself into first, read on: 

Finding the Right Therapist

Very rarely does someone find “the one” on the first try. In rural communities like Gunnison, this can be frustrating as it is often difficult to find even one fitting provider- let alone multiple! Don’t let this deter you; counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists are people, too, and it’s only human for us to click with some and feel uncomfortable around others. Thanks to expanded options like online profiles and teletherapy, finding the best fit for you has never been easier! 

All therapists offer a different philosophy and approach to treatment. When choosing a provider, pay attention to what areas they specialize in. This should be readily available information on their website or profile.

If you’re attending therapy for the first time and don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, that’s okay! It is the therapist’s job to guide you through your own thoughts, past, and concerns. They are there to help you verbalize what is going on in your life.

American healthcare can become pricey, which is why many mental health teams and providers offer a sliding-scale service. This form of payment takes your income into account so that you can still get the help you need. Colorado’s Medicaid program, Health First Colorado, covers mental health services for those diagnosed with a mental illness; including inpatient care when deemed medically necessary. There are four Gunnison County providers that accept Medicaid, and The Center for Mental Health is in network for individuals with Medicaid.

What is most important during these initial steps is self-advocacy and transparency. Be upfront with your provider about what you need help with, what kind of background you come from, and what goals you have set for your mental health journey. This not only gives your therapist a better understanding of how to help, but it also gives you peace of mind knowing that there are expectations in place. 

Here are some steps you can consider when seeking mental healthcare:

To find a provider in your area, go to Psychology Today and search by city or zip code.

If you are open to the teletherapy option, look into top-rated options.

If you are a student at Western Colorado University, consider trying TimelyCare or The Counseling Center.

If you are in need of a scholarship or grant, there are both local and federal options available

The First Session

During your first session, you and your therapist will go over the intake forms. Intake forms are written by the provider themselves and lays out the “terms and conditions” of your time there. These forms should be filled out prior to the appointment as they ask patients about themselves, what brings them to therapy, and what concerns they may have. Privacy practices and payment information is also included in the intake. 

When you arrive at your appointment, you may feel anxious- after all, you’re about to share your deep-seated, inner thoughts with a stranger. Take a deep breath and remember that therapists are highly trained professionals who hold the utmost respect for your dignity and privacy. The first session may be the scariest, but afterwards you can know that you’re making a healthy choice and the hardest part is already over. 

Privacy Practices

Therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and all healthcare professionals are bound by HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Put simply, HIPPA is a federal privacy law that covers “protected health information.” As it applies to therapy, any notes or information that your provider has about you cannot be shared with anyone unless you authorize them to do so, or it falls under certain notable exceptions. 

Per HIPPA, there are twelve reasons why protected health information may need to be shared. Some are more relevant to a therapy setting than others. A therapist is mandated by law to report you to the police if they believe that there is an immediate threat to yourself or others. 

If you are working through self-harm, it is safe to talk to your therapist about it as they do not necessarily have to report it. Other situations in which a therapist must contact authorities is if they are aware of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect of a minor, elder, or mentally impaired dependent.

There are other instances in which a provider may be required to share your information. For example, if a court of law orders client records, a therapist must comply. Your insurance company may request official notes from the therapist regarding health updates and treatment information. 

However, these notes are not the ones a therapist would take during sessions and only include more official information. Healthcare professionals may share information about a client they both treat without the client’s knowledge. 

In small communities, privacy is often a big concern. Rural therapy providers are very conscious of this, which is why HIPPA is followed so strictly. If you are ever concerned or curious, your provider will be able to explain more. Therapists and counselors also know that it takes time to feel comfortable sharing, and they should never push you to talk about things that you truly don’t want to. 


Though there are many kinds of therapists, most providers are good listeners who help you practice self-calming techniques, rational thinking, kindness, and balance. It is important to remember that healing occurs at your pace; therapists do not necessarily tell you what to do, but rather, they suggest ways that you can help yourself. 

There are many kinds of therapy that tackle a multitude of lifestyles, but there are five general approaches. These approaches tackle harmful thinking, interpersonal relationships, behavioral patterns, and more. As said before, you are not expected to walk into therapy for the first time knowing exactly what it is you’re looking for. Honesty truly is key when seeking counseling, and the sooner your provider knows what’s going on, the sooner they can help. 

Medication is very rarely suggested in early treatment, and sometimes just talking to someone is enough to help, but your provider may bring it up at some point. Some providers may suggest psychiatrists and doctors to help screen your needs, and your mental health team will work together to find what’s best for you. 

Every medicine – and every person – is different, so there really is no “one size fits all.” Side-effects of medication may seem daunting, but modern medicine has made a variety of options and dosages available. If you feel uncomfortable or unprepared, your therapist can help you seek alternative treatments. 

In many places, talking about mental health is still considered taboo. However, you need to personally decide what is best for you and your health. Talking about trauma, relationships, and even everyday life is not an easy thing to do. You can rest easy knowing that there are trained professionals who truly want to help, all you need to do is self-advocate. 

There is absolutely no shame in seeking medical care for the sake of your overall health. Therapy– and everything that comes with it– can be truly frightening from an outsider’s perspective. However, millions of people find the healing and care they need through counseling on a daily basis.