May 22, 2020

How to Find a Good Therapist and Start Therapy

by Petra Brunnbauer
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​The journey to find a good therapist

Searching for a therapist

Whether you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or feel like you may just need to talk about what is happening in your life with someone outside your social circle, therapy can be an incredibly helpful tool in finding our way through life. For some people it’s hard to come to a place where they are ready to see a therapist.

But it can be even harder to find the right therapist that will actually help you with the problems you are facing.

It took me a long time to finally find a person that works for me in my unique situation. And the process of getting there has been frustrating and confusing at times. The first step for most of us these days is to hop online and start searching for our options. And looking at all the different letters after a therapist’s name is where some of the confusion may already start.

Your therapist might be multiple people

For me, my therapist ended up being several different people. During my depression, I had access to a mental health counselor. Working with him was the very first step I took toward counselling and therapy. After several years, I had to relocate for school. Needless to say, I had to find a different therapist in the new city.

“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful parts of us.”
                                               - David Richo

And as I moved along my journey through depression, many others joined my mental health team. For instance, I worked with a psychiatrist and a hypnotherapist for some time. After that, my needs changed and I worked with a relationship counselor and later on a women-focused life coach. You may find that over time, your needs will change as well.

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Psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or therapist?

Broadly speaking, different designations (their title represented by letters after their name) refer to different paths and lengths of education that person has taken to come to practice. They may also be registered with different regulatory bodies depending on which designation they have. I have a quick outline for you here. But keep in mind that there may be differences depending on the country of practice or even the state or province you live in.

Psychiatrist

  • A medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness
  • *Licensed to write prescriptions*
  • Equipped to deal with extreme presentations of mental illness
  • May focus solely on medication management and a medical diagnosis and work in tandem with another therapist for behavioral therapy (some psychiatrists will also do behavioral therapy themselves)
  • Determines appropriate treatments based on clinical diagnoses and observations
  • May have a more academic approach

Psychologist

  • Has a doctoral degree in psychology
  • Most psychologists cannot (in most states of the USA, for example) prescribe medication, so they may work with your medical doctor if prescriptions or medical procedures are necessary
  • Focus is on behavioral therapy
  • Helps clients clarify their feelings and make life decisions
  • Aims to support and guide you

Licensed Counselor

  • Usually has a Master's Degree in Psychology, counseling, or a related field
  • Cannot prescribe medications
  • Focus is on talking and behavioral therapy
  • Helps clients clarify their feelings and make life decisions
  • Aims to support and guide you

Clinical social worker

  • Has at least a Master's Degree in Social Work and additional training to be able to evaluate and treat mental illnesses.
  • Most can help with case management (like hospital discharge planning), in addition to referring to community resources and advocate for patients in the system
  • Helps clients clarify their feelings and make life decisions
  • Aims to support and guide you

Therapist

  • A broad term in the mental health field that usually refers to someone who specializes in behavioral therapy, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, marriage counselor, social worker, or even alternative helping practitioners and life coaches
  • Helps clients clarify their feelings and make life decisions
  • Aims to support and guide you
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Navigating the internet for a therapist

With the above guidelines in mind, have a look at online registries and search results and start browsing your options. Reading through their websites thoroughly can often give you a pretty good idea of the type of therapy they provide. A lot of times you can find a rating for a doctor or therapist and read through the reviews online. Moreover, there are many mental health forums you can join that help you find a therapist in your area.

You may also want to find the answers to some basic questions for each therapist. Is their approach more academic or emotional? What type of methods do they specialize in? Do they work with specific demographics? How long have they been a therapist? What are their qualifications and are they licensed to practice where you live?

Finding a therapist online

It’s a good idea to narrow down the field with practical things like driving distance, hours of operation or offering online appointments.

If you end up finding a helpful therapist, you could be going to see them for months or even years. A long commute or restricted working hours may end up becoming a burden when sessions have to fit between work and life. In addition, you might prefer to have sessions online, if driving is not feasible. In that case, be sure to check if they offer online appointments.

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Will the cost of a therapist be covered?

In case you are lucky enough to have extended medical coverage, you may also want to check with your insurance provider if they cover the specific designation of therapist you are considering. The letters at the end of the name can be a minefield of confusion. Even one letter different than the approved designation can mean that you end up paying out of pocket.

I found it easiest to actually have their title in front of me when I called my insurance provider to double check if it was included in my coverage. If you don’t have medical coverage, there are still many resources online. Moreover, certain programs you may qualify for that subsidize therapy or provide free counselling. Check with your doctor, community mental health resources, or online for more information specific to your area.

Therapist costs

During my teenage years, I received free counselling through our local mental health program. Later, my therapy was covered through my studies at university. Once I finished studying, I did not have a job with medical coverage. I ended up in another community mental health program. This worked very well for me because I was still in a large city. It might be a little more difficult to get access to support in smaller towns or rural areas.

As my needs changed and I considered alternative therapies, some sessions were covered by my extended medical and some were not. I have to say that private medical insurance is getting much better at covering therapy; however, they still have a long way to go. You may find that if you choose an alternative practitioner, like a hypnotherapist, you may have to pay out of pocket.

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Ask friends and family or check online reviews

Different people respond to different therapists and everyone has different goals for their own therapy. In other words, what might work for one person, may not work for another. So with that in mind, it’s still worth asking for recommendations from friends or family. It can be very helpful if they are seeing their therapist for similar reasons or goals to your own. If you’re comfortable, ask around to your family or friends to see if anyone has had an experience worth recommending.

Therapist reviews

If that’s not an option for you, it can always be worthwhile to read the online reviews for some therapists you are considering. Again, keep in mind that a therapist is a very individual fit, but sometimes the review can apply more broadly. Take the online reviews with a grain of salt. I have seen so many bad reviews that actually had nothing to do at all with the quality of therapy. Above all, don’t be turned off solely by the online reviews.

You may be seeing a doctor already for your depression and you can always ask her or him for a recommendation. Often, doctors know the available therapists in the area and can even make a quick call for a referral. Keep in mind that you are not obliged to stick with that therapist. But, it might get you a quick appointment, if you need help now. My doctor set up my referral to the community mental health program and I received the help I needed right away.

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Have a consultation call

Once you’ve narrowed the field of potential therapists, try to request a short consultation phone call or ask questions in an email. Share a bit about your background and your goals and see if this fits into their area of expertise. After that, you can also ask any questions the website did not answer for you. Especially any questions around fees or age group.

Consultation call

Some people ask the therapist about where they went to school or the experience they have with their type of issue. Have they ever helped someone overcome it successfully? Their answer should make you feel confident that they can help you achieve your goals. So, go with your gut feeling when it comes to making the final decision.

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The first session

Especially if it’s your first time to counselling, it can be an awkward experience to just sit down and start talking about your intimate feelings with a complete stranger. A good therapist will, however, always make you feel welcome and comfortable. They will be a very attentive listener, while building a conversation as organically as possible. You should never feel like they are distracted, or pushing their own agenda or opinion on what you’ve shared. You should feel like they are only working to support your goals for therapy.

Look for any red flags, including:

  • Your therapist is talking more than you
  • The therapist is interrupting you a lot
  • Your therapist is making you feel judged or ashamed
  • Physical contact without express consent that makes you uncomfortable
  • Inappropriate behavior or questions that make you uncomfortable in a way that feels unrelated to the goals of the therapy
  • Violating confidentiality about you or another patient (like sharing details with you about another patient while actually sharing that individual’s identity)
First session with a therapist

If all goes well, and you feel comfortable, you and your therapist will agree on a treatment plan and schedule going forward; however, if the session did not make you feel comfortable for any reason, you have no obligation to schedule another appointment. You can simply continue looking for another therapist. Never feel pressured to have to stay with one therapist. Therapy is deeply personal and you need to feel like you can work with a particular therapist.

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How long should I see a therapist

This answer very much depends on the issue you are dealing with and the type of treatment you are receiving. Everyone is different. Some people go to therapy for only a few months to overcome a particularly hard time in their lives. Others will need the support for life. Talk to your therapist about their recommendations in order to set expectations and find the right fit for your life.

I started off with counselling several times a week because of my situation. Over time, I went once a week. Later, I simply phoned when I needed an appointment. You may find that when you are in the midst of a severe depression, you will need a lot more support than when you are just feeling down. As you get to know yourself and your depression, you may also find that you get better at asking for help when you need it. Now, when I know I am sliding down a slippery slope, I get in touch with my therapist and get the support I need. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a support network you can call on when things get tough.

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Finding a good fit

While highly trained, therapists are people, and just like anyone else you meet, they will have a certain style through which they communicate. Depending on where you’re at with your journey and why you’re seeking counselling, you may or may not feel comfortable with the way they communicate with you and approach what you’re sharing with them.

Trust and rapport with therapist

Some have a very “no-nonsense” approach that can cut through messy feelings, while others may take a very soothing or comforting tone to encourage elaboration instead. It’s important to go with your gut when deciding whether a certain therapist’s style is right for you; however, it’s most important to have a good rapport and feel very comfortable sharing with them.

If after several sessions of getting to know them, you find yourself not wanting to share the whole story, or lying about anything, you’ve most likely not found a good fit yet. The tendency to hold back or distort the truth means you are still feeling some kind of judgement from that person, and likely won’t be able to share truthfully enough to make progress. Telling the whole truth in therapy is vital. In other words, if I’m lying to my therapist, I’m paying a lot of money to have someone work on a false problem. And that doesn’t help!

It may take a few sessions to know if you want to continue seeing a certain therapist, but don’t feel bad if you have to try a few different ones before you find the right fit. While it can feel overwhelming to have to open up to different people in order to find a therapist you really find helpful, the reward of having someone who truly understands and guides you can be life changing (well worth the work).

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My own journey with therapists over the years

I once saw a psychologist for a few sessions who showed that she empathized with me like a trained parrot who said “awww yes, that must have been hard for you” after literally every sentence I said. At first I thought it was a nice way of sympathizing, but after an hour I had to restrain myself from yelling “yes of course it was… that’s why I’m here, thank you for dwelling on that!!”

I also saw a very stuffy counselor who was quite matter-of-fact. And at the end of the session I felt a bit judged and ashamed, almost like she was telling me to “suck-it’up” about what I was feeling. In conclusion, I found that to be a very discouraging session and it took me a long time to even try with another counselor again.

Bad experience

I have also seen other therapists who just wallowed in my pain with me out of immense empathy but never got me anywhere productive in my thoughts. Above all, while sympathy and empathy are important, you also want to find a way to resolve your problem, not just keep drawing it out.

In the end, through a friend’s inadvertent recommendation I found a woman who has just the right amount of humor, sympathy and “let’s do it” attitude to make me feel like I am talking with a friend. I feel accepted, so I can be completely honest with her, and to me, that is the most important part.

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The Takeaway

No matter how many degrees a therapist has, if you feel scared, intimidated, or judged, you won’t tell them the full truth. And they will never really be able to help you with your inner conflict. You have to find someone you can be open with, someone you trust fully; however,  the biggest mistake I made was giving up after meeting with a counselor who was simply not a good fit for me. I mistakenly thought all therapy would be the same.

What I learned over time is that it might take a bit of searching and trying before finding someone who clicks with you. In addition, you might want to widen your search area to therapists who work with different methods. Some people respond better to one therapy method and others need a different way to work through their situation. I feel like therapy is as individual as buying your clothes. In other words, what fits for you might be terrible for someone else.

And you can hopefully count on the fact that you will change. Your therapist will likely make the very best effort to support you as much as they can. For instance, you may reach a point where you have resolved one issue and are needing to resolve something else. Sometimes, as you grow as a person, you may outgrow your therapist and need to work with someone else.

New therapist

Don’t be afraid of therapy

Therapy is there to help you. You may not want to hear the truth about certain things you discuss in therapy, but even that is crucial if you want to move forward. I found that while it was comforting to talk to my family or friends, I needed someone completely unrelated to help me. None of my family is trained in therapy. But, they also tend to coddle me and that did not help with my recovery in the long term.

Often, after severe trauma, it is difficult to get started with therapy.

Don’t let that fear of opening up and having to “relive” your trauma stop you from seeking help. Therapists are trained to work with traumatized people and they will support you through whatever you are experiencing. I found that working with my trauma actually allowed me to heal through it. I feel like if I had not worked with a therapist, my trauma would still be haunting me at every turn because I would have just tried to ignore it and shut it out.

No fear of therapy

One final thought I want to put out there is that you need to be open. If you go to therapy with the mindset that you have no problems and you will just prove them wrong, therapy will be a waste of your time. You can only be helped if you are open to receiving help and open to changing. You are in your current situation because you have followed one path. It seems obvious that if you are not prepared to change that path, you will continue down the same road with the same results.

Make a conscious decision to choose yourself today. You deserve to be happy and find the healing and support you need.


Sources

https://www.allpsychologyschools.com/psychology/differences-therapist-psychologist/


Tags

anxiety, counselling, depression, depression symptoms, the jorni, therapist, therapy


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