Getting help can be daunting, so make it easier on yourself by breaking it down into manageable steps. Learn how to find the right therapist for you.
Mental health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being, and seeking therapy can be an effective way to improve it. However, considering how to find the right therapist can be a challenging and overwhelming process, especially for those who are new to therapy.
With so many options available, it can be difficult to know where to start. In this article, we will provide six steps to help you find the right therapist for your needs. By following these steps, you can make the process of finding a therapist more manageable and increase your chances of finding a therapist who can help you achieve your mental health goals.
1. Determine the Type of Therapy You Need
The first step in determining how to find the right therapist is to look at therapy options from the perspective of which technique addresses the specific problems or symptoms you are dealing with. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) highlights that there are five broad categories of psychotherapy:
- Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies: These therapies focus on exploring unconscious thoughts and emotions to help individuals gain insight into their behavior and relationships. They may be good for individuals who have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships or those who struggle with deep-seated emotional issues.
- Behavior therapy: This therapy focuses on changing problematic behaviors through the use of reinforcement, conditioning, and other behavioral techniques. It may be good for individuals who struggle with phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other behavior-related issues.
- Cognitive therapy: This therapy focuses on changing negative or distorted thoughts and beliefs that contribute to emotional distress. It may be good for individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mood-related issues.
- Humanistic therapy: Focusing on helping individuals develop a sense of self-worth and personal growth, this therapy may be good for individuals who are seeking personal fulfillment or those who struggle with low self-esteem.
- Integrative or holistic therapy: This therapy approach incorporates multiple therapeutic techniques and philosophies to address the whole person, including their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, such as radical acceptance or breathing techniques. It may be good for individuals who are seeking a comprehensive approach to mental health treatment.
To know which therapy is right for you, it is essential to identify your symptoms and problems first. You might do this by consulting with your doctor or mental health provider, who can help you get their professional opinion on the type of therapy you should seek. You can also do your own research. Various resources are available online to help you research different types of therapy, such as books, articles, and mental health websites. You can start by making a list of your most prevalent issues and seeing which therapies might be a good match.
2. Consider Your Preferences
First and foremost, regardless of what kind of help you need, deciding how to find the right therapist is about building a certain rapport. You want to feel both supported and secure when you disclose things to your therapist. Some people might prefer a therapist of a certain gender, age, or cultural background. Contemplate what kind of therapist would make you feel most comfortable and what factors might affect this sense of comfort, such as whether or not you prefer to see a therapist in person or remotely.
The National Institute of Mental Health recommends that you always have a preliminary conversation with a potential therapist before making your decision. This can help provide the opportunity to ask key questions about the methods and techniques used, to get a feel for how the interaction feels, and ensure that the individual has the right experience to help work on your issues.
3. How to Find the Right Therapist: Get Referrals
Once you’ve established what kind of help you need, you will likely need to get a referral to move the process forward. A mental health referral is a recommendation from a healthcare provider for a person to seek treatment from a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist. Referrals can help individuals find the right therapist and access the appropriate mental health care needed for their specific needs.
To get a mental health referral, there are several options you can try:
- Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider: Your primary care provider can evaluate your symptoms and recommend a mental health professional if necessary.
- Speak to your insurance provider: Many insurance providers require a referral from a primary care physician before they will cover mental health services. You can call your insurance company to find out more about their referral policies.
- Contact a mental health professional directly: If you know of a mental health professional you would like to see, you can contact them directly and ask if they require a referral. Some therapists may accept self-referrals, while others may require a referral from a primary care physician.
- Reach out to a mental health organization: Mental health organizations may offer resources to help you find a mental health professional and obtain a referral.
Overall, the process of obtaining a mental health referral can vary depending on your healthcare provider, insurance, and personal circumstances. But it’s important to prioritize your mental health and seek the appropriate care needed as soon as possible to address any mental health concerns you may have.
4. Make a List of Potential Candidates
If you have health insurance, check to see what kind of mental health benefits are available to you. This can help narrow down your search to therapists who accept your insurance. You can review your mental health benefits and understand what is covered and what is not. Determine if you have a specific mental health network or if you can see any licensed therapist. Find out if there are any limits on the number of sessions per year or any out-of-pocket expenses. Once you have an idea of what is covered, you can start to look at the specifics of each therapist.
Keep in mind that psychologists are just one of many options. There are also psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, and psychiatric nurses who may be able to offer similar services. You can find a breakdown of these options on the National Alliance of Mental Health, which also has a range of resources on the topic.
If you don’t have mental health coverage with your insurance provider, you might also look at a wider field, such as with your school or university, to see what services or programs they offer. You might also find local practitioners through your state website or through a national advocacy organization. A national advocacy organization is a group or association that works to promote and protect the rights, interests, and well-being of a particular group of people or a specific cause at the national level. For instance, you can try:
- Mental Health America
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Treatment Advocacy Center
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- National Alliance on Mental Health
These groups sometimes have directories for mental health services at a discounted rate for certain groups. Lastly, you might also take a look at online services, such as apps, and online or telephone therapies which may be cheaper than in-person sessions.
5. Check Experience and Credentials to Find the Right Therapist
Once you have a list of potential therapists, research them online. Look for reviews, ratings, and any other information that might be helpful. Check their credentials and experience, find online reviews and ratings from former clients, and look for their therapy style and approach on their websites or social media profiles.
Your friends or family members may have a therapist they can recommend. Or, your insurance provider may have a provider directory or referral service. However, if they aren’t able to make a recommendation, you can find online therapist directories or search engines to find licensed therapists in your area, such as:
You can cross-reference therapists found on these sites with their relevant academy, board, or association. These vary depending on the type of service or professional. For instance, for CBT, this might be the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy. You should be able to see in the directory what association a medical provider is with and then simply google their credentials on that database. Local states will likely also carry these lists because they are responsible for making sure that therapists have the credentials to provide the type of services they offer.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that even if a therapist has the right skills and background, this won’t automatically mean they are a good fit for you. The APA advises that “choosing a therapist is a very personal matter. There is no one therapist that is good for everyone. It is important that you feel a sense of trust and that this therapist can help you.”
6. Schedule a Consultation
After receiving your referral and deciding upon which therapist you want to move forward with, the next step is to make your first appointment. We mentioned earlier that having a phone consultation might be a good idea before starting your session. Many therapists offer a free consultation, which can be a great way to get a feel for their approach and determine if they’re a good fit for you.
You can usually find the contact information for a therapist’s office on their website, in a directory of mental health professionals. Once you have the contact information, you can call or email the office to schedule a consultation or appointment. Conversely, if you go through your doctor or insurance provider, they may help arrange this appointment for you.
Your first appointment is a time to ask questions and be honest about your issues. You might ask:
- What is your experience treating people with issues similar to mine?
- What type of therapy do you typically use to treat these issues?
- What is your approach to therapy?
- How long do you usually work with clients, and how often do you recommend sessions?
- Have you worked with people who have had similar concerns about therapy or treatment before?
When it comes to therapy, it’s crucial to feel at ease and comfortable discussing any concerns or questions you may have with your therapist. One way to approach this is to be straightforward and honest about what’s on your mind. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. You can also share any apprehensions you have about therapy itself, such as feeling uncomfortable or judged.
Remember that your therapist is there to help you, and they are part of a collaborative process that aims to address any issues that come up. Additionally, it’s beneficial to ask the therapist about their take on the concerns you raise, as this can provide insight and help you develop a stronger therapeutic relationship.
Trust Your Instincts
Ultimately, the most important factor in finding the right therapist is your gut feeling. If you feel comfortable and connected with a therapist, that’s a good sign that they’re the right fit for you. On the other hand, if you experience signs of incompatibility, it’s important to look out for these as well:
- Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe with the therapist
- Lack of progress or improvement in treatment
- Inability to communicate effectively with the therapist
- Feeling judged or criticized by the therapist
- Not feeling heard or understood by the therapist
- Differences in values or beliefs between the individual and the therapist
It’s important to note that a bad therapeutic match doesn’t necessarily mean that the therapist is a bad therapist or that you can’t benefit from therapy. Sometimes it simply means that the therapist’s style or approach isn’t a good fit for your needs. If you don’t feel a connection, it’s okay to keep looking until you find someone who feels right.
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