How to Find the Right Therapist
Today, we’re getting real practical. Let’s be honest: therapy feels a bit odd, awkward, and down right uncomfortable in the first place. How in the world does one go about finding a therapist who will not only make the first wobbly steps somewhat bearable, but also turn out to be someone we actually like? And yes, contrary to popular belief, you’re going to need to like your therapist in order to trust them, let alone experience growth and healing.
I had this conversation with my therapist a few weeks back. Whereas I don’t believe we’re always supposed to be “in therapy,” I’ve always valued the sacred space of therapy as a sounding board and a refiner’s fire so to speak. In other words, no matter what season I’m in, I depend on my therapist to challenge me, call my BS (bullshit and blindspots), and serve as a loving mirror when the reflection I see is less than compelling.
Whether you’re in a tight transition or a season of loss, it's imperative to reach out and find the help you need. As someone who’s sat in therapy far longer as a client then a therapist, I relate to the struggle of finding the right fit. It’s real. Today, I want to unpack this process as much as possible. You’ve already got enough on your plate.
Before launching on your quest, there’s some necessary prep-work. Often times, it can be the most difficult part of the process.
The first step is always to get still, spend about 10-15 minutes alone, and ask yourself what it is you need from therapy. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. Oftentimes, we’re operating in crisis. The survival strategies involved in crisis don’t provide much of a margin for eating, sleeping, let alone self-reflection. It’s important to give yourself a small window of time and ask yourself a) what you need and b) what you want from therapy. (Two different questions, mind you.) I find it easiest to write this pertinent information down in a journal or notebook. This content will serve as somewhat of a roadmap for the journey ahead.
Once you’ve taken the time to explore these questions, here are five helpful guidelines to follow:
1. Logistics- Let’s get the unsexy bit out of the way. First things first, you need to get clear on practical parameters such as location, budget, male vs. female, type of therapy (individual/couples/family), availability, and whether or not they offer a sliding scale or the opportunity to use insurance. These will steer the next several steps accordingly. It’s worth noting that while some practitioners do accept insurance, some insurance policies only allow for a maximum number of sessions they will cover, making ongoing therapy an out-of-pocket expense. Also, confidentiality can become an issue when therapists apply diagnostic codes for billing purposes. Again, all good things to consider and inquire about based on your needs and privacy preferences. For a helpful therapist directory that often provides answers to several of these basic questions, visit psychologytoday.com.
2. Referral- Ideally, finding referrals from those who know you personally is the best place to start, be it an existing physician, family member, pastor, or friend. If possible, I always encourage people to start with their current sphere of influence when looking for therapist recommendations. This is where I’ve always had the most luck.
3. Style- Just like with dating, you’re not for everyone. No matter how fabulous you are, you won’t be compatible with every attractive person you meet (*sigh). I tell people this up front in therapy all the time. I can’t help everyone and am quick to practice transparency when I feel another therapist might be more equipped to support someone with specific needs I don’t feel qualified to meet. Do you want a no-nonsense, direct approach in therapy or would you prefer a softer, more indirect style? (Or something in between? ) Do you seek a therapist who is faith-based? Do you appreciate someone of a specific age? These qualifiers will hopefully show up in the prep-work listed above.
4. Expertise- If you’ve done therapy before and know certain modalities or tools that work for you, it’s important to bring this insight into your search. Interviewing a handful of possible therapists is important so as to understand their approach and expertise. Do you want to explore the Enneagram in your work? Do you need a grief or addictions specialist? Do you prefer brain-based therapies such as EMDR or Brainspotting? Do you like talk-therapy or more of an experiential technique? Do you need group therapy in addition to individual and which therapists provide this?
5. Consult- Most therapist will offer a free 15-30 minute phone consult. You’re about to invest time and resources into the therapeutic process. It’s vital to understand a bit more about the experience, training, and approach to therapy they have. I always encourage this as sometimes we just need an opportunity to suss it out in a quick conversation. Email is a great starting point, however, I always like to get a feel for communication style and vibe on the phone. Having as many of the prior steps filled out is bonus so as to be able to clearly ask as many questions as possible. (Also worth noting, if you need to stay within a budget, therapists who are newer to the field or working towards licensure will often provide a sliding scale rate based on your income.)
And listen, often times this “pre-production” business is a luxury. Therapy is often a last resort as we find ourselves amidst chaos, crisis, and loss. In these times, simply taking the brave first step to start therapy with someone and trusting the process to unfold as it should is all we can do.
P.S. As a helpful checklist, I’ve posted The Cheatsheet: A no-hassle guide to finding the right therapist on my website!
Oh, P.S.S. This goes without saying, but I’d LOVE to serve as a resource for you on your quest. If you have questions for me, or need referrals, I’ve got some incredible ones for you. Please reach out.
Love & Gratitude,