Here are some tips to help demystify the process of finding the right therapist for youself or a family member.
Choosing a Therapist
Sometimes this is more complicated than you might think, it is not just a matter of if they are accepting new clients. When choosing a therapist:
Do you like what they have to say? Does their style fit your needs?
Is it easy to get in touch with them?
Do they have experience in your issue?
Do you like their approach?
What type of license do they hold? (Be sure to check their credentials, just because there are letters after someone's name it does not always mean what you might assume or are lead to believe.)
These are some of the key things to look for. Remember, finding the right therapist is like finding a good pair of shoes. You may have to try several and it might take a little while to figure out what style works well for you. You would not stop wearing shoes just because the process was difficult- just as it is important to keep looking even if you have disappointing experience while exploring therapists.
Contacting the Therapist
When contacting the therapist's you are interested in, here are some questions or points to include:
Are you accepting new clients?
Give a brief summary of your main concerns ( "I am looking for a therapist that works with anxiety." "I am looking for a therapist for my 8 year old who is recently struggling at home and school." or " I am looking for a therapist that works with symptoms of depression and has handicapped accessibility.")
If you are using insurance, then it would be good to ask if the therapist takes your insurance.
Visiting the Office
Some therapists (such as myFIRE Studios) offer a free initial meeting or consultation session to meet the therapist, see their office, and get an idea of their style. You can always ask if this is an option.
When visiting their space, I suggest taking notice of:
How they organize their space? Does it feel safe? Comfortable?
Do you see yourself here?
How is the therapist's manner?
Did they see you on time?
Did they answer all your questions?
Does their personality and style seem like one you can work with?
Not all of this may be determined in the first meeting, you may be nervous and do not get an accurate read during the first visit. If you have a good feeling, but are still unsure, it is okay to ask to try a few sessions before making a commitment. You can also bring up the reasons why you are unsure, so that the therapist is aware that you are still deciding. (Some may react poorly to this, which will also give you valuable information.)
During Your First Visit
Remember that while they are a professional, this therapy is for YOU! Ask as many questions as you need, make sure you get them answered. The initial paperwork that you fill out, including what is called "Informed Consent" will give you information about polices, practices, etc.
Understand how they work, what they will expect from you and what you can expect from them. When I meet with new clients, I like them to understand that therapy cannot work without practice- so I do give homework. I also explain my policies, how I will structure the first few sessions, and how I usually work in the session. If I am working with a child, I like both the child and the parents/guardians to understand how information will be shared and ways to support their child before and after sessions.
As Sessions Continue
Remember, this therapy is for you! At any time if you are unsure or have questions about your treatment or therapy goals, you should always bring it to the attention of your therapist. The relationship between therapist and client is a tricky one; often issues arise (which a trained therapist is TRAINED to recognize and work through!) Many people leave therapy the instant something is concerning, confusing, or off putting. Give yourself and the therapist a chance to work through it.
Notice I said a chance, not an eternity. If you have tried to work through something, but it is still an issue, I would consider looking for someone who may be a better match.
Q & A
Some people say therapist, some say counselor...
What is the difference?
Therapist, counselor, clinician, all these terms are often used to describe mental health providers- what they call themselves is not as important as what degree, schooling, and licenses they have. I tend to use the term therapist, it is just what I am used to.
What type of credentials should I be looking for?
It depends on what you need. Licensed practitioners (LMHC, LCMHC, LCSW) all have ethical codes and a board which they have to follow. They are also responsible for getting continuing education credits and often supervision.
Many clinicians also have certificates in other areas, which means they took a training program or online course in a particular topic, in addition to a full training in their field. Practitioners can also take certificate training without a license, but they then do not follow a board or necessarily even a governing body.
It might be good to research the credentials of a certain provider before contacting them. Just because there are letters after someone's name does not always mean what you might assume it does.
Do you really lay on a couch and talk about your dreams?
No, not usually. There is one form of therapy, Psychoanalysis, that is where that stereotype comes from, but now days there are many types to choose from.
I keep asking my therapist what to do and she will not tell me... why not?
Your therapist is not supposed to tell you what to do or make decisions for you- they are supposed to help give you tools to make the best decision for yourself.
My therapist's office is small with all mis-matched furniture, does that make him a bad therapist?
Of course not! There are many reasons why that could be. Many agencies are forced to work within very tight budgets, so that means access to space, supplies, and all may be hard to come by. I have had offices in closets, basements, and worse.
The comfort of the office should be taken into consideration, but should not be a deciding factor.