How Do I Choose the Right Therapist?
by Nina Westbrook
One of those crucial lessons we learn over time is the importance of taking care of our mental and emotional well-being. Often this learning is an evolving process birthed out of seasons of hardship and life stressors that challenge our mental state. We all know there are many ways to foster mental and emotional health: self-care, healthy HABITS, LIFE-GIVING RELATIONSHIPS, MINDFULNESS, EXERCISE, and EATING CLEAN, just to name a few.
With MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH just around the corner, we’re focusing on a strategy that, while remarkably effective, can also feel intimidating to face and overwhelming to begin: therapy. Whether you’ve tried THERAPY in the past, are currently seeing a therapist, or are considering therapy, we hope we can answer a few of your questions, demystify the process around getting started, and ease any fears you may have about the experience.
How does therapy work?
Therapy, or psychotherapy, involves meeting with a mental health practitioner/therapist to collaboratively address issues you’re facing. There are several types of therapists with a range of credentials and educational backgrounds, including psychologists, clinical social workers, and professional counselors, among others. Often therapists specialize in one or more evidence-based approaches. Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy are a few of the most common modes. Therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups.
People turn to therapy for a variety of reasons, from DEPRESSION and career-related quandaries to family and marital challenges, ANXIETY, eating disorders, TRAUMA recovery or difficulty sleeping—and everything in between. Indications you may need to see a professional therapist include (but are not limited to):
Prolonged sadness or feelings of helplessness
Intrusive or distracting anxiety or worry
Difficulty focusing on work or other tasks
Engagement in behaviors that are harmful to yourself or others, including alcohol or drug abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, etc.
Intense and persistent negative emotions
According to the AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION, hundreds of studies have demonstrated that “therapy helps people make positive changes in their lives” and that about 75 percent of people who engage in therapy benefit in some way.
Finding a Good Fit
Arguably the most crucial factor that makes therapy successful is the relationship between the therapist and the client, often called the therapeutic alliance. A strong therapeutic alliance will create a safe space for you to open up and will ensure that the therapeutic process is productive. Researching and networking to find the right therapist is the first very important step in ensuring a solid therapeutic alliance, so take the time to find the right fit.
Starting your search
If you prefer to find a therapist through your employee assistance program or insurance plan, start by checking the your insurance plan’s directory of providers or talk to your HR representative. Consider consulting your primary care doctor or trusted friends for referrals. Try searching for therapists in your area on Psychology Today’s ONLINE DATABASE. And if you’re interested in online services, there are now several companies who offer excellent and affordable virtual individual and group therapy options: BETTER HELP.
Once you’ve got a list of a few names, schedule phone consultations. Most practitioners offer 15-minute complimentary consultations to cover the basics:
Fees, availability, and scheduling
Background, expertise, and specialties
Based on these quick calls, you should get a sense of the therapist you’d like to try first. In your first appointment, you’ll get a better sense of whether the therapist will be a good fit for your personality and goals.
Your first appointment
Therapy sessions typically last around 50 minutes. Your therapist may ask you to complete paperwork prior to your first appointment. You may also want to think through and write down what you hope to accomplish through therapy and the challenges that have brought you to this point. Consider bringing this list with you, along with a list of any additional questions you have.
During the first session, your therapist will start to get to know you, answer your questions, and provide, at minimum, a general roadmap toward achieving your goals.
After the session, evaluate how comfortable you felt with the therapist and whether you felt heard and understood. Your gut instinct is important. Sometimes it may take few sessions to evaluate the fit of a new therapist but know that you don’t need a reason for changing therapists. If you’re not comfortable, try someone else.
With that in mind, there are a few red flags to look out for. If the therapist violates your confidentiality, behaves inappropriately, or is constantly interrupting you, we highly suggest that you make a change.
Be proud of yourself. Seeking help during a challenging season of life takes courage. By taking this step, you’re demonstrating remarkable self-awareness and a brave commitment to making improvements in your life. Be good to yourself always, be proud of yourself for being open to what therapy has to offer, and give yourself time and space to process the changes you experience.
The information provided in this post is to be used for educational purposes only. It should NOT be used as a substitute for seeking professional care for the diagnosis and treatment of any mental/psychiatric disorders. Our information is designed to be used for peer support and should be used in conjunction with professional care.
If you are considering harming yourself or someone else, or if you suspect someone you know is in immediate danger of the same, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Visit the Bene RESOURCES page for a list of mental health organizations.