Sometimes I feel like I need a therapist just to endure the challenge of finding the right therapist for me.
So many factors impact the journey of finding “the perfect therapist for me.” Time, money, availability (both on my part and the therapist’s part), insurance, location, the therapist’s niches [specialities, areas of focus, experiences in treating], ease of completing the paperwork/consents, Google reviews, recommendations from other people, how comfortable I feel with the therapist, my own mental health and headspace to start therapy, the therapist’s social media presence (or lack thereof), and so much more.
Finding a mental health therapist is like finding a pair of shoes. You and your friend go to the mall and you both have your eyes set on this beautiful pair of black and white converse. Your friend tries on the shoes and she is GLOWING. She says, “Oh my goodness Melissa, these shoes are perfect! You should totally get a pair too! I feel SO confident in them and they’re so comfy. I’m in love.”
You decide to try on the shoes too-after all, your friend seems like a changed person with them on. But then you start to try on the shoes and you notice it’s a little loose on the right side. No worries, you can adjust. You start to walk in the shoes for a bit and you stumble, almost tripping into that little mirror thing on the floor. You take a closer look at the shoes. The logo is on the inside and you really wanted a pair of shoes with the logo on the outside. The shoes aren’t quite the color you wanted. The shoelaces look weird and are hard to lace. On top of that, the shoes are out of your price range! But your friend loved the shoes-why can’t they work for you too?
That’s because shoes, like therapists, work best when they fit the criteria we have in that moment. A therapist that may have worked wonders for your coworker or your cousin or your friend may not be a good fit for you and that’s okay.
So dear reader, you may be wondering, “how do I find the right therapist for me with all of these checkboxes that need to be filled?” The answer starts here!
If you are seeing a therapist and it isn’t working, ask them for a referral. They are ethically obligated to provide you with referrals to other therapists if you ask.
Research, research research. There are many online directories for finding a mental health therapist (see my previous blog post for examples.) Check out their website, Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, Google reviews, Psychology Today page, and anything else you can find on their practice. Usually, our first impression is in the range of how it will go long-term.
Know what you hope to accomplish in therapy. Do you want to combat childhood trauma, explore your feelings about your current relationship, process the new Taylor Swift album, learn how to be a better parent? All of these may be different types of therapists, so prioritize what goals are your most important.
Determine what your ideal therapist is like. Are they LGBTQ+ friendly? Older? Are they active on social media? Do they utilize worksheets in session? Do they offer pet therapy? Are they super serious or do they add jokes in a lot in session?
Decide if you want therapy in-person, virtually, or if you want the option to do both.
If you see the same therapist as your cousin, friend, coworker, know the therapist cannot speak on matters related to them unless they have a ROI (release of information) from both parties and explicit consent. The therapist client confidentiality is sacred. Similarly, the therapist may refer you to another therapist if there is an extreme conflict of interest which may damage the therapeutic relationship.
Every therapist will have Intake paperwork and some version of an assessment. This means you will be asked many personal questions in the beginning and it may feel more “business-like” rather than therapy. Consider giving your therapist at least two sessions to see what your sessions will actually look like going forward.
To save time on #7 (and be a super organized human being), consider making a document with basic information about you to offer providers. This could include information such as current medications, list of triggering events that have occured, emotions/behaviors you have experienced over the last 2 weeks, past providers (doctors, therapists, life coaches), and insurance information. If you decide to make this document, make sure you keep it safe and password protected so your information only goes to the people you want it to.
Interview your therapist. Seriously. Ask them what your sessions will look like, experience they have had with your symptoms, and what insurances they take. This person will likely be hearing some pretty personal stuff about you and you want to be able to trust them. Most therapists will offer a 15 minute consultation-use this wisely and ask your most immediate questions first.
Give it time. Finding a therapist that “checks all the boxes” will take time. You may go through 5 therapists before you find one you actually feel comfortable opening up to. Some help is better than no help, but doing damage is worse than any help at all, so remember you always have the option to leave [terminate services] if you feel things are getting worse because of how the therapy is being conducted.
Finding a therapist is hard. Finding the right therapist is harder. However, I have connected and worked with many wonderful mental health therapists. They are out there and some of them don’t even have a waitlist! Hope is here. Help is here.
If you need immediate help, have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, and cannot wait for your first appointment, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.