Is what I say to my therapist going to be completely private? Yes. Most therapists, irrespective of their degrees and training, are very protective of your privacy. What you tell your therapist should remain "in the room" and will not be shared with anyone except under very particular circumstances. In order for your information to be shared with anyone, you will sign a Release of Information form that gives explicit permission to share your information. As a mental health practitioner, I am legally required to break confidentiality in the event of an imminent danger to yourself or someone else. In rare circumstances, a subpoena from the court might require your therapist to share clinical information about you. If you are using your insurance to defray the costs of treatment, then basic clinical data and diagnostic information will be shared.
Will I have to take medication? No. While some people's symptoms are helped by medication, not everyone can tolerate being on psychotropic medication because of the side effects some experience. Plus, even without unpleasant side effects, many people simply are not helped substantively using medications. My own philosophy toward suffering de-emphasizes medication and focuses instead on finding out WHY we are struggling and how best to manage our feelings and behaviors along the way. Some mental health practitioners rely heavily on medication to treat their patients; I do not.
How long does therapy take? Short-term psychotherapy can be conducted in a relatively short time period (e.g., 4-6 months) for problems that are quite specific and/or due to specific circumstances in your current life. If you have been suffering for great lengths of time or find yourself in destructive relationship patterns, then you can expect that therapy will take a fair amount of time longer (12-24 months or beyond). The broader the goals, the longer it usually takes.
What should I look for in a psychotherapist? You should choose a psychotherapist who has a graduate-level degree in the mental health field (e.g., psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, licensed professional counselor) and holds a current license endorsed by the state in which they practice. Time and again, research shows us that one of the most important variables in effective therapy is the relationship (therapeutic alliance) that develops, so makes sure you choose someone with whom you feel reasonably comfortable from the start.