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How to Find A Therapist

So you’ve decided you want help. That's fantastic! We all need help. All of us. Especially these days, having survived a global pandemic. More specifically, you know you want to talk to a therapist. Or a counselor. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, it depends on who you ask, or what site you look on, but generally speaking, a therapist is someone who is trained to do in-depth work in a particular area of emotional struggle, while a counselor is often described as someone who helps with short-term concerns or life challenges. However, the two terms are frequently used interchangeably and I’ve called myself both, though I prefer to tell folks I’m a therapist. (Except at cocktail parties. That’s awkward. Suddenly everyone I’m talking to has an urgent need to go elsewhere. Go figure.)

For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be sticking with the term “therapist.” No knock against the counselors of the field; y’all are fantastic too. :) But: How on earth do you FIND a therapist? Where do you even begin? First, BREATHE. There are so many people seeking therapy these days, but there are an awful lot of therapists out there, and there IS one for you, I promise.

One thing to keep in mind: What do you want to work on or get help with in therapy? Here’s an industry secret, free of charge: What most clients I’ve had the joy of knowing *think* they need help with when they first start working with me is very often not what they *end up* focusing the work on. So many challenges are closely related, though, so of course I begin wherever my clients feel most comfortable starting, and then what usually happens is the “real” therapy reveals itself as we keep meeting and digging into what the client feels overwhelmed or stressed out about.

Some common concerns that bring clients to offices like mine are stress, overwhelm or burnout, depression or anxiety symptoms, a major life event (divorce, marriage, birth or death, major relocation, retirement, all the things that cause so many people to reevaluate who they recognize themselves to be and realize they need to take some time to get to know this new person in the mirror), and the like. But it’s also COMPLETELY OKAY NOT TO KNOW WHAT YOU NEED, just that you need help and support and the things you’ve been trying-and sometimes the people you’ve tried talking to about your stresses-haven’t been working like you wanted, so you’re ready for a professional. If you DO know what specific topic you need help with, you can seek out a therapist who specializes in that area, and you’ll likely get a really experienced professional who can help you resolve your struggles more effectively.

Another good pointer: What kind of therapist might you feel most comfortable talking with, in terms of their presence or personality? This is also something that is FINE not to really have an opinion about just yet. There are many, many therapists and many, many clients, and many, many ways to connect as human beings in this endeavor of feeling better or more like yourself. Some therapists do far more listening than speaking (psychoanalytic therapists are often “blank slates” at first, letting the client do ALL the talking before an insight is achieved), while others trend towards engaging clients dynamically and collaboratively in setting and reaching therapy goals.

You don’t always know what you like or what you need until you try one or a few out. It’s like finding a suit or fancy dress for a formal event; you have to try a few on to see what fits YOU the best and feels workable. And sometimes it’s the last one you’d expect to be ideal that goes the distance and feels RIGHT. (True story: I once tried on a prom dress off the rack as a joke to make my friend laugh, and wore it five separate times. In ONE year. It was my favorite and I am very sad it’s gone. But also no way would I be able to wear it now. Ha!)

Keep in mind that it’s very common and normal to sometimes work with a therapist for a handful of sessions and then want to shift to someone else. It takes time to get to know someone and decide if they’re the right fit for you, and just because one therapist isn’t for you doesn’t mean another one won’t be better. Trust your gut and your instincts, and if you’re already working with a therapist, it is COMPLETELY ALLOWED to express that you don’t think you’re a great fit, and to dialogue with your therapist what you feel isn’t going well, for whatever reason. You may get through the difficulty and be able to keep working together, or you may realize you need a referral to a new therapist. Again, it is totally okay to reach this point; none of us is an ideal fit for everyone, whether you’re the client or the therapist. The benefit to talking about it with your therapist as it’s becoming known to you is that you’ll learn more about what YOU need and benefit from, and that will bring you another step closer to being the best version of yourself ever.

Okay, now you’ve gotten to the where, as in “Where are these therapists who fit like prom dresses and are going to solve all my stress?” A good first step here is to ask your trusted friends or family members how they found their therapist, and talk with them about their experiences. You don’t have to see the same person they see, but they can sometimes help you find a therapist who fits your personality or needs best, and can share with you what aspects of therapy they’ve found helpful, how they found their therapist, etc.

If your friend or family member knows you well and has some sense of what you’re seeking therapy FOR, they may be able to improve your chances of striking gold first thing and finding a therapist who fits your personality or conversational style best. It’s still up to you to see how you feel once you start a session, but if you ask the people you trust, it’s likely they’ll share their experiences in therapy with you and know a bit about what would be a good starting point for you.

Don’t have any friends or family in therapy that you know of? No problem. There are excellent online directories that do a fantastic job of collecting a wide array of therapists and counselors for you to browse, including Psychology Today, Mental Health Match, and Good Therapy (to name just a few). You can filter your search results by dozens of terms or categories, too, including zip code, therapist gender, the issue(s) you need addressed, and many others. Many therapists have linked websites and sometimes blogs, which can give you a taste of their personality style and areas of expertise. You can call, email, or message a therapist through these directories to find out more or to schedule a session. Then off you go to better mental health!

One other aspect of therapy to think about when you’re deciding which therapist is right for you, once you’ve considered where you want to start getting help, is the therapeutic approach. It may sound like a complicated term, but a therapeutic approach is simply the way a therapist views a client’s main challenge or complaint, and how the therapist uses a research-based set of particular skills to help a client find ways to solve or minimize that problem.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one very effective and popular form of therapeutic approach used to treat anything from panic disorder to specific phobias to social anxiety and nearly everything else under the sun. But there’s also psychodynamic psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems therapy (one of my personal favorites), Solution Focused therapy, and many more. This is also something you do not have to know a ton about as you look for a therapist. You can absolutely ask a potential therapist what their therapeutic approach is and how it might be helpful to use in your efforts to feel better, and see what they have to say.

I would note here that sometimes the goodness-of-fit between therapist and client is more valuable and important in doing good therapy than the specific therapeutic approach, though, mainly because good seasoned clinicians are usually adept at pulling strategies and options out of a variety of therapeutic approaches and having the approach tailored to each individual client, rather than sticking to a concrete script or series of steps. Sometimes you feel that click right away with a potential therapist, and sometimes it takes a few sessions to know if they're your person. All totally common experiences.

Now to the tough part: How to find an AFFORDABLE therapist. Ah, money; the one part of the field we therapists all hate hate HATE discussing with our clients. (Or maybe it’s just me? Ha-I know it’s not just me. But until the governmental powers that be listen to my suggestions that every citizen be granted at least 50 free sessions a year and that all therapists make six figures so we don’t all have to manage fee structures and insurance networks and the rest of the financial headaches of mental health care, here we are.) You can use your health insurance benefits, or you can pay privately for therapy. There is a wide, wide range of costs for counseling, and you don’t always get what you pay for, but sometimes you hit the jackpot and find a phenomenal therapist who is fantastically affordable. It all depends.

I will add here that you can ask a private pay-only therapist if they offer a sliding scale, if they will provide you with a superbill for out-of-network coverage, or if they can help you find someone who takes your insurance. Even if you don’t work with that therapist beyond that conversation, sometimes their connections can help lead you to the therapist you DO work with and benefit from.

Okay, this was my very first blog and it has probably gone on long enough (who am I kidding; way, way TOO long!) so I’m stopping here. More to follow! If you have questions or need help finding a therapist for you or someone you care about, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me; I’d be happy to help.



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