Finding the right therapist

As you guys know, I love Huffington Post’s coverage of mental health. They are inclusive, compassionate, and straightforward, and I really appreciate that. This morning they published some incredible stats about mental health and the pervasiveness of issues, and I highly encourage you to take a look at them. There are a number of issues mentioned that I have addressed before, and ones that I want to tackle in future posts. But I really want to talk about here is finding a therapist that works for you.

There are a lot of things that stop people from seeking help: the stigma of mental health issues, cost/insurance, time commitment, not thinking you could benefit, etc. If you have at all entertained the possibility of seeking professional counseling, do it. What do you have to lose? It’s your decision whether or not to tell anyone, and if you feel it’s not working, you can stop or find a new therapist whenever you wish.

Once you have decided to take the plunge, there are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your goal for treatment? What do you want to get our of it?
  • What qualities do you want in your therapist? What would make you comfortable? What kind of approach do you want them to have?
  • What are your cost restrictions, if any? Are you willing to circumvent insurance if your therapist is a great fit but not covered by your provider?

For me, the most important question on this list was the second one. It was vital to me that I felt comfortable with my therapist; how else was I supposed to talk about my most personal fears and worries? It is really important that you and your therapist are a good fit; otherwise, you will definitely not reach the full potential of treatment. This might take some time to find, and that’s ok. Not clicking with someone right away happens, and you do not need to feel guilty about it if that’s the case with you. You have the right – and the obligation to yourself – to find someone with whom you are comfortable. This might mean paying out of pocket if your therapist doesn’t take your insurance, and, honestly, it’s worth it. If you find someone you like and you can afford it, I highly encourage you to prioritize the relationship over the cost. If that’s not the case for you, there a tons of great therapists in every network, and you can absolutely find one that meets your personal and financial needs.

As you’re looking for therapists, it might help to interview them. Huffington Post has a good guideline of questions to ask, and I would also encourage you to add the following to the list:

  • What kinds of therapies do you use? (Some examples include: Cognitive Behavioral, Psychoanalysis, etc)
  • What can I expect from our sessions together?

While you don’t need to ask those questions, they can be really helpful for people who have never been in therapy before or for folks with anxiety who like to know what’s coming up. This is also a really nice way to see what the relationship might be like. When I asked these questions of my therapist, it was really cool to see how she answered. It was indicative of how much she would guide and give feedback during our sessions, and it also gave us a great way to touch base in future sessions about my project.

Once you’ve gotten in touch with someone and had the initial conversation with them, there are some things you should be on the lookout for in your first few sessions. A good therapist:

  • sets boundaries. They’re not your friend, they’re a professional, and they should behave as such. This shouldn’t feel like a conversation with a friend where you’re both talking about your relationships. This is about you, and it should stay that way.
  • isn’t judgmental. Your therapist shouldn’t be telling you what you should or should not do, or that something was good or bad. They might make suggestions for how to handle things, but they should never make an empirical judgement about your life or behavior, or anyone you may mention.
  • helps you think through issues and change behaviors, if necessary. Your therapist will probably ask you a lot of questions, and if you’re dealing with a specific situation, they will ask questions that require to you exercise empathy for others and think about other ways you may have handled it. They will help you think through the actions you took, how it made you and others feel, and what you may want to do differently next time.
  • keeps your goals in mind and checks in with you about them regularly. Enough said.
  • encourages you. You’re doing something that is (or might be) really difficult for you. Vulnerability is hard, and a good therapist recognizes that. You should hear verbal encouragement from them, and they should be engaged. This ties into your goals; when they check in with you, part of the conversation should be around the work you have done, not just the work you have yet to do.

Most importantly, you should feel comfortable. If you don’t, for whatever reason, address it. If the issue is something physical, talk to them. It’s often hot in my therapist’s office, so she will usually have the window open a bit when I arrive. If it’s a bigger issue, such as boundaries or progress, talk to them about it, especially if there are other parts of working with them that you really enjoy. But, as always, it’s your healing process. If it’s not working for you, you don’t need to feel bad about looking for help from someone else.

Asking for help is hard, but it is SO worth it. Even if you haven’t taken that step yet, kudos to you for being reflective about yourself.

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