Choosing a therapist and/or mental health professional can be a daunting and confusing task. For many people, if this is your first time seeking therapeutic services, you may have no idea where to even begin to find someone to work with or how to know if you found the “right” person to support you. If these statements ring true for you, I have outlined some steps that may clarify the process, as well as provided you with some tips to choosing the right professional.
Step 1: What are you needing help with? This may seem like a simple enough question, but in reality, can be quite difficult for many people to define. Are you needing support and someone to talk to around issues of depression or anxiety? Do you feel like you need some guidance to help you move on to the next phase of your life? Perhaps there are a few challenges you are experiencing, and you need someone to help you sort them all out. Whatever the driving force may be, asking yourself these preliminary questions can help begin to guide you towards seeking a professional who may specialize in your areas of need.
Step 2: What are your financial constraints? This question alone can cause people a great deal of stress, but it is incredibly important to consider especially when your mental health is concerned. For many of us, times are tough, and the thought of going to therapy on a weekly basis may begin to feel like a “luxury”. Therefore, it is necessary to balance the realities of your financial situation with the importance of self-care when selecting a mental health professional. Is it financially necessary for you to be able to use your insurance to cover costs and does your individual insurance plan afford you the mental health benefits to do so? If yes, then you may benefit from seeking guidance through your insurance company to identify providers in your area that are covered/paneled with your insurance carrier. If you are needing more pertinent information about a therapist’s specialties or abilities (and/or if you are considering paying out of pocket), you can also search and peruse Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com), which is an online database for mental health professionals. This website often allows potential clients to catch a glimpse into a therapist’s style through their own words, as well as gather information related to payment and fees, office hours, and treatment modalities. Once you have found a few potential professionals who appear to be able to support the symptoms and experiences you have outlined in Step 1, you may be able to email them directly through Psychology Today or gain access to their preferred contact method.
**Please note that many therapists and mental health professionals may not be able to call you back immediately as they are with other clients. Often, they include in their outgoing message their general timeline for returning calls. Some may even encourage you to email them instead as they are then better able to get back to potential clients in a timely manner. If you don’t hear back from a therapist right away, do not get discouraged. Worst case scenario, it never hurts to call a second time if you have not heard back within a few days. However, if several days have passed and a specific professional has not returned your phone call or email, you may be better served looking elsewhere.**
Step 3: How do I know if I found a “good fit”? This question has many layers, and it is important to consider and weigh all your thoughts and feelings when deciding whether or not to stick with a specific therapist. Please note that you may not know right away! For many of us, when we meet people for the first time, we can usually get a general sense whether or not we want to spend time with that person in the future. However, relationships typically do not get solidified right away, and it often takes time to settle in and determine if a relationship, of any kind, can be built and fostered. The same happens when working with a mental health professional. Each psychologist, therapist, or counselor brings their schooling, training, and expertise to their sessions… AND they also bring themselves as people! It is your absolute right as a client to make sure that you feel comfortable working with this professional, especially since you typically will be discussing and exploring potentially vulnerable topics and experiences. If you find yourself questioning your comfort level or the possible “goodness-of-fit” of your therapeutic match-up, bring it up to your therapist! Most people do not realize that you are allowed to do this - but we encourage it! Being able to have an open and honest discussion with a mental health professional about your relationship and the work you are doing is often imperative to growth and can typically help bridge gaps in communication and style. However, if you feel that the disconnect is too great between you and your therapist, that is okay too. You are not obligated to stay within that relationship and are free to terminate sessions with them at any time. It is also important to know that while you are evaluating the relationship and work in the early stages of therapy, so is your therapist! That statement may be anxiety-provoking for some people, but I want to encourage and remind you all that it is also within the therapist’s best interest to make sure that the relationship is working well too. They want you to have the best experience possible during therapy (as best as you can when you are doing hard, emotional work), and it does not behoove them to try to force a connection with a client that just is not working. So, if your mental health professional suggests that they are not a good fit for you, what they are really saying is that “I may not be fully equipped or the best person to help you with your needs.” This may be frustrating at first, given that you may need to locate someone new to work with, but ultimately, they are trying to guide you in a better direction to getting your needs met more efficiently.
(Disclaimer: Your own mental health and your right to quality therapeutic care is incredibly important. Please note that these steps are just meant to be general guidelines and not absolutes. Every individual is unique, and not everyone will need or follow the same therapeutic trajectory. Therefore, it is imperative that each person decide for themselves the best route to finding a clinician and seeking mental health supports.)