The first counselor I went to was terrible. I could put the word terrible in all caps, italics, underlined, and add in some emojis and it still wouldn’t be clear enough. It was only years later after I’d been to many other counselors and therapists (both as an individual and couple) that I was able to see what a terrible fit that first counselor was for me and my situation.

Since then, I’ve experienced the benefit of having a great therapist I looked forward to seeing, knowing that I would leave the session with hope and confidence. I’ve also worked with a couple of business coaches who helped me get clarity about what I wanted and helped propel me in that direction.

When you have no experience paying a professional to help you move forward it can seem awkward and intimidating. And of course expensive. In my experience, when you find the right person, the cost turns into a valuable investment in your mental, physical, and emotional health. When I found a great business coach, one of the many positive results was that I was able to find more time to exercise because I was able to reduce stress in business.

If you’re interested in finding some one-on-one support from a counselor, therapist, or a coach, here are some things to consider:

1. Know what you want to get out of the relationship. What will “success” look like?

Most professionals will ask you this, but it’s better to spend time thinking about it ahead of time because it will help you clarify what type of support you need. Counselor, therapist, psychologist, life coach, business coach, fitness coach, or some other type of professional accountability.

Do you need help processing things that happened in the past? Or are you looking for someone to help you strategize for the future? Or maybe you’re looking for accountability and support to help you do the things you already know you need to do. If you are grieving a major loss and not sure about exactly what you need, I definitely suggest starting with a therapist or counselor.

2. Remember that the type of help you need will most likely change over time.

I think this is one of most important things to remember. Your needs will change. And that is healthy and good. It means you’re growing! It’s okay to try out a life coach and then realize you actually need a psychologist. It’s okay to try therapy and then realize you actually need a business coach. It’s also okay and very normal to meet with one type of professional for a short time frame and then have ongoing (but less often) check-ins. Seeking out professional help is a process. You’ll learn more about yourself and your needs over time.

3. Don’t be afraid to try out multiple people to find the right fit for you.

Education, certifications, and specializations matter. Approach and techniques matter. But so does personal preference and the subjective nature of having a good rapport. You should respect the person you’ll be working with and find them trustworthy. You should feel generally comfortable so that you can dig into uncomfortable things (or at least imagine being comfortable once you get over the initial awkwardness).

Ask about free screenings or trial consultations. Don’t buy a 6-month package until you’ve created a connection and know that you like their approach and feel comfortable opening up to them. People who specialize in helping others in these ways are also interested in finding clients that are a good fit for them. “Fit” goes both ways.

Ask for recommendations from people you know in real life, but also don’t feel pressured to use their recommendations.

4. Spend time preparing for your sessions and then process after.

One thing that helped me get extra value from both my therapy and business coaching sessions was that I always planned to make time to journal before my appointment. This helped me make the most of the time I was paying for. Of course, sometimes we still ended up going in a different direction, but the time spent processing what I was feeling and what I needed real help with allowed me to use that time efficiently.

I also made a habit of debriefing after I left a therapy session and during business coaching. Sometimes I would record a voice memo to myself on my drive home from therapy. This helped me make sure to remember some of the key ideas or remind me to spend more time journaling about particular topics.

I really believe in the value of investing in yourself and taking your physical, mental, and emotional health seriously. This doesn’t always require paying a professional, but if you’re intrigued and interested, try it out. Dip your toe in and see what you learn about yourself in the process. My experience with both therapy and coaching is that they helped propel me forward. I would have gotten there anyways, but I got there faster with professional support.

Have you tried counseling, therapy, or a coach? How did you find them and what advice would you give to someone interested but intimidated by the unknown?

• Listen to the podcast episode about this post.