Finding the right therapist can be challenging and quite the process. Hopefully, the steps below can help.
1. Consider the top issues and concerns you want to address.
Whether it’s your first time going to therapy or you are a returning client, there is usually a major issue or multiple issues that are motivating you to seek therapy.
You may be experiencing panic attacks, going through a divorce, suffering from severe depression, dealing with challenging family dynamics, having trouble forming lasting relationships, coping with a history of trauma and abuse, or unsure about career goals, navigating issues of identity...
Being clear, or as clear as possible, on what you want to address will help you find the right therapist.
2. Determine the type of clinician you need.
There are various different types of clinicians and licenses in the mental health field so it can be confusing as to what type of clinician to look for and what their licenses mean.
Here is a list of different type of clinicians. All of them can provide counseling and therapy with slight differences on focus. Note that two clinicians of the same license might also differ in the training they received and what services they offer. It's best to ask and clarify.
LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor): Counseling and able to provide vocational / career counseling
LSW or LCSW (Licensed Social Worker or Licensed Clinical Social Worker): Counseling and trained in community mental health issues
LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist): Primarily focused on counseling and psychotherapy for individuals, couples, families and groups
Psychologist: Counseling and able to provide psychological testing, assessment and official diagnosis
Psychiatrist: Able to diagnose and prescrible medication but might not provide counseling
PMHNP (Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner): Able to diagnose and prescrible medication but might not provide counseling
3. Ask trusted friends and colleagues for referrals.
Ask people you trust if they have referrals for you. Ask if they like their therapist and why they like their therapist. The 'why' is important. What someone likes might not work for you.
If you have friends or even acquaintances in the counseling field, ask them if they can provide referrals. Therapists usually have an extensive network of other therapists who they trust.
Tell them what issues you are working on and what's important for you in the therapist.
The more information you provide, the better the referral.
4. Research online.
Research online in directory listings of therapists or just type in google what you want to work on and your location and see who comes up.
Check for the following:
5. Have an understanding of the identity of the therapist.
The identity of the therapist - their lived experience in the world - is critical to your treatment. Who they are affects your relationship to them, how they see you, and how you feel in the room with them.
While your therapist doesn’t have to be similar to you in their identity to be effective, some similarities in lived experience will help you feel more safe and/or positive towards them and help speed the therapeutic alliance in service of your treatment.
6. Check for fees and insurance.
If you have health insurance, check which therapists are in your insurance network, what fees might be covered by insurance, and what fees you are responsible for.
Some therapists are completely out of network but will provide invoices / statements / superbills that you are able to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.
Don’t let insurance coverage be the sole determinant of who you choose as your therapist.
Some therapists are able to offer sliding scale depending on your financial circumstances.
Some community clinics and universities also offer therapy services provided by interns at lower rates.
7. Short list 2-5 therapists and schedule phone or in-person consultations.
Most therapists offer a free short phone or in-person consultation to help determine if you are a good fit to work together. Take advantage of this and schedule a time to talk and meet with them. It will be very helpful to determine who you want to work with.
8. Make the most out of your free consultation.
In the phone or in person consultation, the therapist will have some questions for you and leave time for you to ask questions of them.
Notice how you feel talking to them and notice your reaction to their questions and responses to you.
While this initial consultation is not an actual therapy session, you can get a sense of how it might be to work with them.
Possible questions to ask them:
9. Trust your instincts.
Having met or spoken to 2 to 4 therapists should help you have a sense of who you want to work with.
You want to be able to feel safe enough with your therapist but also feel that this person can support and challenge you towards healing and growth.
10. Assess after 3-5 therapy sessions.
After 3-5 sessions, assess how you are feeling about how your therapy sessions are going. Your therapist should be checking in with you as well.
Discuss any concerns with your therapist. If you feel too uncomfortable to bring up concerns, try to do it anyway. It may result in a very informative and rich conversation.
If they are not at least receptive or open to your concerns, that could indicate that the therapist struggles with feedback - this is a sign of an unskilled clinician.
Distinguishing between a healthy therapeutic challenge/normal feelings of discomfort with the therapy process and a potentially harmful therapeutic encounter can be tricky. If you have some concerns about whether your therapy is hurting more than helping, we recommend consulting with another therapist for a second opinion and even speaking with a trusted family member or friend about it.
A private practice of Yin J. Li MA LMFT
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