How to find a good therapist in 5 steps
How to find a good therapist
How do I find a good therapist? Finding a good therapist is more difficult than it should be. With something as important as managing your mental health, you would think the process would have improved to more closely resemble finding a doctor for your physical aches and pains. Sadly, this is not yet true. Seeing how it is hard enough to get people to openly talk about mental health in the first place, admitting you need some help is courageous — but it’s only the first step.
Read on to learn about the five steps that have most helped me to find a good therapist.
1. Do your research
First and foremost, you need to do your research. Nowadays, this means that most of your research will take place online. WebMD has a good primer for types of therapists. Search for therapists in your area. Psychology Today is a good places to start. Also, try searching for “therapists in your town, your state.”
Read through therapists’ profiles online. Do you like what they are saying about themselves and their approaches? Does it seem like their worldview might help you in improving your own? Is the online profile even well written? If your potential therapist couldn’t take the time to put together a coherent profile describing his or her experience, this may something about the dedication they have towards their craft.
Carefully scrutinize what you find online. Look at the reviews current and past clients have left for them. Keep in mind that people are more likely to post online about very bad experiences that they have had, but assess those reviews to see if there is any validity in their claims. The truth about a bad client / therapist relationship is typically somewhere in the middle. But if a past client makes a cogent argument with convincing evidence to back up the claim, you should make note of that.
Ask people you trust for advice. Do your friends go to therapists that they like? Is it working for them? If your friend has been going to to the same therapist for 10 years and doesn’t seem to be working through any issues, that might not be the best therapist for you.
Lastly — and this is a sad state of affairs — you need to look at the types of insurance accepted by the therapist. Having good health insurance is the great, ogre-like gatekeeper for access to mental health care. If you have insurance, it will be much easier to find mental health service. If you don’t, there are options, but they will be more difficult to find.
2. Check out the therapist’s credentials
First, let me be clear — it is a good thing when people have acronyms after his or her name, but it does not mean that they have life all figured out. Being a licensed clinical social work (LCSW) or a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) means that the person has completed all requirements as determined by their professions’ licensing boards. It means that they have proven themselves according to the standards of their respective professions. It does not necessarily make them an expert or the right therapist for you.
I have worked with great LCSWs and LCPCs, and I have worked with terrible LCSWs and LCPCs. The therapist with whom you eventually connect will most likely be licensed, meaning he or she can open a practice and start billing insurance. Finding a qualified and experienced therapist is crucial. With that in mind, don’t expect a title to mean that a person is infallible and capable of fixing everything in your life.
3. Go in with an open mind, but treat it as a trial run
You found a therapist that you think will be helpful, and you have set up an appointment. Congratulations. That is a huge step, and you are on the path to bettering your mental health.
But your work does not stop there.
During your first therapy session, gauge how you feel. Does this person make you feel welcome? Has the therapist created an inviting therapy space? Is the therapist listening to you? Did the therapist clearly explain the therapy process as he or she sees it? How did she describe her role, and what does she think of your role in all of this?
Treating mental health issues is extremely tough because people seeking help for them are already in a vulnerable mental state. It can be hard to move on from an ineffective therapist because you might think that this is all that you deserve, that the lack of connection is your fault. Don’t accept this.
Do not feel bad if the therapist’s approach is not working for you. This is your life, your mental health, and you have the right to find a good therapist who can join you on your journey through this wacky world.
Finally — and this is a big red flag — if the therapist talks more about himself or herself than you, this is a major problem. If the therapist has no boundaries and starts to make you feel uncomfortable very early on with how much they are divulging, this is not OK. It is already uncomfortable enough exposing yourself in therapy. If the person with whom you are placing your trust is making you feel doubly uncomfortable because of their behavior and bad boundaries, get out of there and find someone else.
4. One therapist does not fit all
Most therapists specialize in one or a few areas. This is also the case with doctors who treat physical issues, and this is a good thing. Would you go to a doctor who dabbles in heart issues, ankle pain, and nasal congestion? Being a jack-of-all-trades is not always a good thing.
If you have experienced trauma in your life, look for a therapist who specializes in trauma. If you have bad anxiety, look for a therapist who specializes in anxiety. One therapist is not going to be able to treat every possible issue under the sun — nor should he.
Also, a therapist may be great for treating one issue, but then later you find out that her or she is not so great when it comes to other areas of your life. This was the case for me, and I spent too long waiting around hoping it would get better. Don’t be like me. If you know something is not working for you, look for a therapist who has experience in handling what ails you.
5. Keep at it and don’t give up hope
This may be the most important one of all. Don’t give up on yourself. Your mental health matters. You wouldn’t tolerate a doctor who only half-sets a broken bone in your arm — or chooses to focus instead on the bone in the other arm — so why would you tolerate it when someone to refuses to work on issues that you are presenting?
Remember, you know your life better than anyone else. In my experience, the best therapists will not only acknowledge this but embrace this. The job of your therapist is to challenge you and help you grow to become a more resilient person — but don’t sweat it if this is not happening. Just take the lessons you have learned with that person and move on. To find a good therapist, you must take an active role in seeking one.
Life is too short, and your mental health has too much of an impact on the quality of your life, for you to give up hope of ever finding a good therapist.
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