Tips for Finding a Therapist

I am a mental health professional or at the very least…mental :-). I’ve mentioned before that my job consists mainly of supporting people with mental health or substance abuse issues on their journey through recovery. I believe in recovery. Many people have one version of what a good life looks like. There is NOT one type of fulfilling, happy life. There are more versions of a happy life than there are stars in the sky. Before I start waxing philosophic, I want to see if I can offer some advice to those of you looking for a therapist/psychologist for the first time or are perhaps looking to break up with your current therapist (like me). I have a LOT of experience with therapy and therapists and there are several things to keep in mind when searching for the right fit. It’s a difficult task if you don’t have a referral or any real place to start, but let’s see if we can’t get you moving in the right direction.

Step 1: Therapist search

As I mentioned, I recently broke up with my therapist. I use the term ‘break up’ because after sharing your deepest darkest with someone over the course of several years, the end of the…uh…arrangement, feels like a ‘break up’. OK, back to business. I had several referrals from people who work in the mental health field and my psychiatrist. Well, the suggested therapists were either too far away from where I live, didn’t take insurance or had no availability. What next? Well, I did what every office person told me to do. I went to my insurance company’s website and started looking for ‘in-network’ doctors. There really is no secret trick to finding someone, you just have to start looking. Look at their credentials and if you’re not sure what the credential is, look it up. I should say right now that just because someone has a PhD. by their name, does not necessarily make them a better therapist than someone who has LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). I found this out the hard way…but that’s for another time. Take a look at their specialties. Is marriage counseling at the top of their list? Skip to the next one, unless of course you are looking for marriage counseling, in which case I wish you well. After you find several therapists that ‘look’ like they would be a good fit, make a list. From that list, go out to the interwebs and see if you can find any information at all about them. There are several sites that have ratings for doctors/therapists etc. When you’ve found ‘the One’, call the office and see if they have any availability and whether or not they can meet with you during hours when you can make appointments. Assuming this all works out, we will move on to the next step. If not, go to the next name on the list. Rinse and repeat…

Step 2: First visit to the therapist

During your first visit with your new psychologist/therapist keep in mind this time is on your dime. The purpose of a first appointment is for you to be able to tell your story. Why are you there? What are your main malfunctions, triggers and needs? The therapist's job during this appointment is to listen and to ask pointed questions to get a feel for who you are and what type of therapy you are in need of. If they spend the hour talking, cutting you off, making broad generalizations about your issues or are in any way argumentative or dismissive, then you, unfortunately, need to get back to that drawing board. The end game is to have a supportive, stable, working relationship with someone that you feel you can trust. Without these attributes, you will not be able to reap the benefits of a good therapeutic relationship. This is your money and your time…spend it wisely. If you make it to follow up appointments, see how you feel after each session. The idea is that you should feel a bit better after you leave or at very least have learned something new about yourself. When you finally come to the point where you are happy with your therapist, it can open up a whole new world of possibilities for your mental health. Happy hunting.

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