Finding a therapist sucks. Whether you have a mental illness, suspect that you do, or are just having a difficult time and need someone to talk to, a therapist is a powerful tool for healing and problem-solving. Yet when you’re going through hell, taking the time to find a therapist can be exhausting. However, the right therapist can completely change your life, so it is worth it to put effort into the search, even when it seems completely daunting. To make it a little easier for you, I have broken down the process to give you a jumping off point.
Understand the Labels
First of all, there are a couple of different types of therapists that you can see, so it is a good idea to know what they are to see which one is best for you.
Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health. They are licensed to prescribe medication and also provide psychotherapy. Psychiatrists are a great option if you are struggling with severe mental health symptoms that may benefit from medication. Psychiatrist’s sessions do tend to be more expensive, so if you don’t think medication is right for you and are really just looking for therapy, a psychiatrist may not be necessary.
Psychologists have doctoral degrees in psychology and are licensed to provide psychotherapy and psychological testing. While they can’t prescribe medication, they can diagnose you with mental health conditions, and refer you to a psychiatrist if need be. They generally offer cognitive behavior therapy, which helps address your mental health goals by helping you change thought and/or behavioral patterns that are harmful.
You can find a social worker either in a healthcare or social services setting, or some provide private counseling in their own office. They are trained to provide empathetic counseling to help people improve their mental health by addressing interpersonal problems, like family or relationship issues. Social workers are great mediators who may be able to help you if you want couples or family counseling, but they can also counsel one-on-one.
A licensed counselor has at least a master’s degree in counseling and a license from the state in which they practice to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and emotional problems. They can provide help for a whole range of issues, and a session is often more affordable than one with a psychiatrist or psychologist because they don’t require as much higher education to practice.
Keep in mind that having more education, a higher certification, or more years of experience does not necessarily mean that one therapist is better than the other. A newly licensed therapist who has a good grasp on your problem and who jives well with you could help you much more than a psychiatrist with 25 years of experience who you can’t seem to connect with. Keep an open mind to different types of therapists in your search.
Explore Your Options
One way to start looking for therapists is through your health insurance. Many companies will have a provider list on their website that allows you to search for specialists who are covered by your policy. You can also ask your doctor for a referral, or see if your friends or family know of anyone. Another great resource is Psychology Today, where therapists can put up profiles so you can see what they specialize in, get a general idea of their counseling style, and if they take your insurance. The American Psychological Association (APA) also has a similar type of search function on their site as well.
Think About What is Important to You
Once you have a few options, consider what you need in a therapist. There are the more obvious things, such as being nonjudgmental and empathetic, but also think about little logistical things that will influence how much you get out of therapy. For example, consider the location of any potential therapist; is that somewhere you are going to be able to get to on a regular basis? That one counselor who is an hour away may seem like a great personality fit, but if there is a different therapist who is located within five miles of your home who could help you too, you will be more likely to make the trek each week. Additionally, consider what they specialize in and whether their background seems like they would be able to help with your specific needs. You should also think about whether or not you would feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist of a certain gender. Keep an open mind because you may be surprised who can help you, but be honest with yourself about what you really want out of therapy and who can provide it.
The next step will be to call up your remaining options and see if they are taking new clients. If they are, see if they provide a free consultation session (this is pretty common). Don’t be afraid to schedule these sessions with several therapists to help you figure out which is the best fit. Whether you get in front of them for these questions or they happen over the phone, here are a couple of things you may want to ask:
- Do you take my insurance? Even if you found this therapist through your health insurance, that information could be outdated, so it is always a good idea to double-check with the therapist.
- Do you do regular appointments or is scheduling more flexible?
- What do you specialize in? Even if you saw their list of specialities online, hearing them tell you gives you a better idea of what they truly have a strong background in.
- What is your approach to therapy?
- What happens if I have to miss or am late to a session?
- What do we do during a session? Do I have to do things between sessions like homework?
- Do you do phone sessions?
- Do you think you can help me with my problem?
Give it a Try
You might leave your first therapy session feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Starting a new relationship with a therapist can be daunting, and the experience of talking about your deepest feelings for an hour can be really disorienting if you’re not used to it. Don’t let this dissuade you from going back. The benefits of therapy happen over time as you grow your relationship and unpack more of your issues. It may only take few sessions, or you may form a long-term relationship with this therapist, but if you give therapy your best try, you may find that you find relief from whatever is troubling you, or at least, some perspective on it.
I hope these tips help you find a therapist who can truly help you. Godspeed in your search!