You’ve decided the problems or challenges you have need the attention of a professional, and have decided to seek one out. Congratulations, that decision takes courage. The first thing I tell clients during our initial session is how much I respect their decision to push out of their comfort zone and talk to me. After you’ve decided on this, though, you’re confronted with some new problems: how do I find available therapists in my area, and how do I find the right one for me? I’ve written this article to directly address these two questions.
First, how to find therapists in your area. If you have health insurance, a first step is to go to your insurance’s web site. On that site they will list every provider that accepts the kind of insurance you have. This can give you a pool of therapists from which to choose. Another option is to do a web search for therapists in your area. The most popular site, and the one with the most listings is through Psychology Today. Head over to https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/ and you will be able to find dozens or possibly hundreds of available mental health professionals in your area. More current information is typically available here, such as what the therapist specializes in, what insurances they accept, what age groups they serve, as well as a photo of what they actually look like.
The second dilemma, how to find the right therapist for you, is one that most people just don’t have the experience or knowledge to solve. Navigating through lots of names and faces can be a daunting task. One of the best ways is by word of mouth. Either a friend, relative, clergy member, or physician you trust has historically been a sound way to narrow the field down and give therapist a try. It’s still one of the best ways out there, as you can gain more detailed information on how they work and what to expect than just calling up someone out of the blue or looking at an online profile. However, maybe you don’t know someone who’s had a therapist, or you just don’t feel comfortable letting someone know you are looking for one. How do you find a good one on your own?
A larger proportion of consumers than ever before are looking online to find therapists. This can be helpful in that you have a larger pool to draw on, but it overlooks one basic fact: while online consumers are more educated about shopping, they are not educated about therapy. If you are looking for a particular book, for example, you can look online to find a place that will sell it the cheapest, and buy it. Wherever you go to buy that book, you are getting the same product. Looking for a therapist is completely different, because therapists are all different. Looking at 10 therapists who work with depression, for example, will give you 10 totally different experiences. Don’t make the mistake of thinking finding one therapist who works with depression, or who uses cognitive-behavioral therapy, is the same as another.
How to select a therapist online
Most people want to see what a therapist looks like, so take a look at their face. Do they look like someone you could talk to? Do they have at least a few years’ experience in the field? Five years experience is a good beginning, but more isn’t necessarily better, don’t get hung up on that. Most therapists list what kind of disorders and issues they treat–do these match up with what’s going on with you? Do you want someone who prescribes medication as well? Those folks are a bit more rare, but they’re out there. Think about the kind of therapist that would be ideal for you, and try to find around three that fit the bill.
Once you’ve done this, give them a call as an initial form of contact. This may be 5-30 minutes long. Tell the therapist you’d like to know if they would be someone who can help with your issue. Give them a thumbnail sketch of why you are wanting to be seen, such as, “My husband died three years ago, but I can’t seem to get over it. I don’t know how to move on with my life, I can’t sleep well and I feel worthless.” Another common example might be, “I have anxiety, it’s hard to be around other people at all. I’m always afraid I’ll say something stupid and look like an idiot.”
Let the therapist ask you some basic questions, and get a feel for how they seem on the phone with you. It’s the therapist’s job during that first phone call to do some basic screening and get an idea if you would be someone they can help. It’s also their job to let you know what kind of services they provide, and to make you feel comfortable about setting up an initial counseling session. Don’t be shy about asking questions, so that you feel comfortable. you don’t have to commit to an initial session right then, and even if you do you can always cancel. Be sure and try to reach each of the therapists you’ve narrowed it down to, and compare the impressions you’ve had of each one.
What NOT to do
Here’s what you don’t do. Don’t try to ‘shop’ for a therapist the way you would for an auto service center. Don’t call or email a therapist and have the first questions out of your mouth be, “do you take my insurance?” or “what are your rates?” or “are you open on evenings or weekends?” Don’t tell a therapist you’ve just met on the phone a list of times when you are available to be seen.
These are not the most appropriate initial questions when trying to find someone to help you with your most personal issues. The point of an initial contact is to find out if this particular therapist can help you with your particular challenge, if you will be comfortable with them, and if outpatient treatment is appropriate for you. Once these questions are answered, then feel free to ask about insurance, rates, and their scheduling availability.
How to tell if you’ve found the right therapist for you
Here’s what I tell most people when they begin therapy. Here are four things to look for when getting started with a therapist:
Do they get me? By the end of the first session you should have a sense that the therapist actually understands what’s going on with you. If they don’t, then they can’t help you.
Do they care about me? You should get a sense that your counselor actually cares about helping you live a happier life. If you get a sense that your therapist is sitting back collecting a paycheck, try someone else.
Are they actually able to help? You may not know this in the first session. I tell folks to give a therapist four sessions. By the end of the four sessions, do you get a sense that they can actually help you? Nothing else really matters if your therapist can’t help.
Do I feel comfortable? Time and again research shows the most important variable in the success of therapy is the strength of the relationship between the therapist and the client. Within a session or two you should get a sense that you can relax and talk about whatever you need to talk about, and it’s OK. If you don’t feel this way, bring it up to the therapist. If you still don’t feel good about it, find another therapist.
I hope this has been helpful to you. Do yourself a favor and don’t procrastinate. Do something today, even if it’s small, that will help! Please don’t hesitate to Contact Me if you have any questions.