The new year serves as a natural reset for many people. New Year’s resolutions, goals, plans and vision board parties permeate the month of January. Along with fitness goals, it is a good time to start working on mental health and relationship goals. Total wellness involves being the best version of yourself in any given moment. Being the best you in any given moment is not about perfection, it is about showing up in your life and your relationships in a manner that feels healthy for you. Finding the right therapist is one way to support this endeavor. This blog provides some helpful ways to start your search up through the first session.
Places to Search
During your search, I recommend you create a list of 5-10 therapists to contact. Hours and schedules may change frequently. If one therapist is full, you want to be able to have another name to contact instead of having to start a new search.
• Psychology Today
This is website has many tools for mental health and wellness. Along with helpful articles, the “Find a Therapist” function allows users to search for therapists by zip code. Once this list populates, you can narrow your search by various filters: Insurance, Issues, Sexuality, Gender, Age, Language, Faith, Treatment Orientation, and Online Therapy
• Word of Mouth
Some friends and family may be willing to share information about their therapists or other ones who they are familiar with.
• Primary Care Physician
Many PCPs have referral lists that they share with patients who request mental/behavioral health support.
• Insurance Provider Directory
If you are using your insurance, use this as a first step. This way you will know that the therapist is covered by your insurance. From here, you can use one of the other directories to do research on the therapists you find.
• Specialty Websites
These are websites dedicated to certain populations, types of therapists or professional organizations for therapists. A few examples are:
Therapy for Black Girls
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
• Google Search
You can conduct a search based upon various criteria. A few examples: “therapists near my zip code”, “pre-marital counselors”, “therapists who treat depression in my area”
Some therapists will not charge for a 5-10 min phone consultations and some offer in person consultations. Either way, this is your time to see if some of your preliminary needs are met.
Things to consider:
What hours do you need? Make note if you want an evening or weekend appointment. This is an important first or second question as the other questions are not relevant if your schedules do not match.
• Treatment Population
Does this match your need? For instance, if you are looking for a therapist for your child, you would not select a therapist who only treats adults.
• Treatment Orientation
Some examples are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (CBT). Most people are not familiar with clinical treatment orientations so this is a great time to do some research and to ask the therapist about what methods the approach utilizes.
Customary fees for private pay (paying out of pocket) vary depending upon experience and level of education. You want to know what your fee will be up front. If you are using insurance, contact your insurance provider to inquire about any fees or co-pay for mental/behavioral health. Ask the therapist if your insurance is one that is accepted in their practice.
This is your time to see if there is a good enough fit to continue. If you are unsure after the first visit, give it one or two more sessions. The initial session is generally an intake assessment and structured differently from a treatment session. It is a time to gather information in order to create an assessment and goals for treatment and rarely involves interventions. This may feel frustrating that you did not “start” working on the issue right away. However, you want the therapist to get to know what your goals are prior to giving you ways to address them.
Things to Consider:
Do you want someone active who provides feedback or someone who is more reserved?
Do you feel as if the therapist is engaged or removed from the process?
• Comfort Level
This one can be a little tricky. You want to feel comfortable with being vulnerable in the room. At the same time, you want to find someone who can challenge you.
• Personal Information
Be mindful that a therapist does not typically disclose personal information unless it is relevant to treatment. If you are seeking faith based counseling or feel as though a certain race, gender or sexual orientation is important to you, let the therapist know.
In addition, some couples may want someone who is married or has been married. Some parents may want a therapist who is a parent. In any of these cases, when you want to know personal information, you have to ask yourself (1) why this is important to you (2) how will this information impact treatment?
• Red Flags
Prejudice, bias and inappropriate words or sexual contact are not things to dismissed. If any of these things occur, please look for additional support with the state board that governs the professional.
The Fit Is Not Right:
It is okay if you do not “click” with the first or even second therapist you meet. This may feel like a difficult conversation to have. However, therapists know how important the right fit is for treatment. Some may welcome this as part of the process and allow space for this by asking if you would like to continue after the first session.
Things to Consider:
• What to Say
It is a great exercise of setting your own boundaries to be able to say this is not a good fit or that you would like to continue your search.
• Keeping the Momentum
Even if you do not find the right fit with the first therapist, continue the process. Every therapist is different from the next so your experience with one may not set the tone for all.
Finding the right therapist does not need to be a rushed or haphazard process. The therapeutic alliance between the client and the therapist is typically a large component in the effectiveness of therapy. Thus, you want to be able to find someone who is right for you. These were points to help you start your journey. I invite you to tailor the lists to your current needs.