So, you’ve decided it’s time to see a therapist. Whether anxiety and depression are the unwelcome companions wreaking havoc on your life, or you’re just looking to talk some things out, I am proud of you for taking this step. More importantly, you should be proud of yourself.
Now you just have to find a therapist. This, and I cannot stress this enough, is the most important decision you will make in your therapy journey. A good therapist can be the catalyst for positive change in your life. A bad one can make you feel astronomically worse.
Over the past three years, I have seen five different therapists. I could blame at least one of those transitions on my move from Atlanta to Indianapolis, but that wouldn’t be fair to you, dear reader. The truth is, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. My hope is this article will help at least one person avoid the mistakes I made.
Don’t be like me! You shouldn’t have to bear your deepest insecurities and struggles to five strangers just because they have counseling degrees. Read on to find the tips and tricks to finding a therapist who is right for you.
Choosing a Therapist – The Dos and Don’ts
Do Establish Your Goals
First thing’s first. You need to get real about why you are seeking therapy. Take some time to write down your goals for counseling. This can be something as simple as, “figuring out why I have trouble getting out of bed,” or “learning coping strategies for my anxiety at work,” or “having more productive conversations with my spouse.”
I like to write down as comprehensive of a list as I can think of. Emotion can easily take hold when you find yourself in your first appointment. That’s why you’ll want to be prepared with exactly what you’re looking to achieve. You don’t want to repeatedly expend that first-appointment emotional energy.
Related Content: How to Manage Your Emotions with an Emotional Guidance Scale
Don’t Accept the First Available Option
It is important to do your research when finding a therapist. Sites like Psychology Today can help you find therapists and counselors in your area. The option to filter your results make this site especially helpful. Would you prefer to see a woman or someone who aligns with your spiritual or cultural beliefs? Psychology Today has a filter for that.
Be sure to explore each therapist’s credentials, specialties, and reviews. You’re looking for signs this provider aligns with your goals for therapy. Do they specialize in women’s issues? Do they offer couples counseling options? These are all good things to consider.
I also recommend digging a little deeper and looking into a therapist’s personal website. Once you’ve made your short list, it can be beneficial to whittle down your options based on how each therapist presents herself. These websites often have photos of the session space and details about hours, which can help you decide.
Do Request a Phone Consultation
Before you shell out the cash for an initial session, ask to schedule a 15-minute phone consultation. Have your notebook ready and use this time to share your goals for therapy.
Ask questions about the therapist’s care style. How often do they see their patients? Are they proactive in suggesting action or do they prefer to let the patient lead their lifestyle changes? Do they assign homework? What are their strengths and weaknesses as a counselor?
The most important thing to consider during this consultation is how the two of you vibe. Do you enjoy talking to this person? If not, don’t schedule an appointment. It doesn’t matter if they seem to be the nicest person on the planet, if you don’t like them during the consultation, you won’t like them more when you’re paying $60+ a session. Trust your gut and keep trying until you find someone you love.
Don’t Neglect the Financial Aspect
Unfortunately, you will have to pay for therapy in one way or another. I paid the price of seeking “free” counseling more than once.
When I was a student, I sought help through my university’s CAPS (counseling and psychological services) program. I was paired with a man who thought my baggy sweatshirt and tendency to binge junk food when I was stressed to be signs of an eating disorder. He never attempted to address the problem I came in for, the crippling depression that was draining me and damaging my relationships.
Thankfully, I did not have an eating disorder, and I was able to switch my care to another woman who worked for my school’s CAPS program. She was wonderful. But that doesn’t change the emotional toil I suffered from being initially treated by someone who didn’t listen to or believe me. The session might have been free, but I definitely paid the price.
I had a similar experience with a free session sponsored by my company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These mental health programs are wonderful ways for institutions to care for their students and employees, but it doesn’t mean they always provide the best quality care.
Be sure to do your homework regardless of how you’re obtaining your therapy. It is also a good idea to call your insurance provider to see how or if mental health coverage is included in your benefits. Therapy is an investment in a healthier, happier you. Just make sure you benefit from the care you’re paying for.
Do Lean on Your Support System
Sometimes the best therapists come from the recommendation of a friend. Talk to the people you trust about seeking counseling and let them know how they can support you. Remember you don’t need to shoulder this burden alone.
I wish you the best of luck in finding your dream therapist. Pat yourself on the back for taking this step toward better caring for your mental health. Trust your gut, girl.