Choosing The Right Therapist

I have recently had a personal experience that reminded me of how hard it is to find a therapist.  Hard is maybe too light a word, terrifying, confusing, exhausting...those actually fit a little better.  Finding a therapist for the first time, or finding someone new, can be a daunting task.  The truth of the matter though, is that the work that it takes to find the right therapist is worth it - there are bad therapists out there, just like there are bad doctors and teachers.  There are also great therapists out there who just aren't quite right for you and your needs. And then, there are great therapists out there who will see you for who you really are, who will hear you, support you, help you, guide you.  So, take your time trying to find someone, here are a few ideas on how to get started.

If you have a friend who works in the mental health field you (ethically) can't go to them for therapy (sorry, guys), but they can be great resources for referrals.  If you don't mind asking them for their input, they are probably your most valuable resource.  Not only will they know tons of therapists in all sorts of specialties, they also know you and are probably the best suited to find you a good match.

I would also recommend asking close (trusted) friends if they see anyone, and if they would recommend that person.  A personal recommendation is by far the easiest way to get started.

If these options aren't available to you, it's time to go online.  Use online search engines (PsychologyToday, GoodTherapy, local counselor or therapist organizations, etc) to pull up a list of people in your area.  Many of these search engines allow you to search based on location, fees, insurance, and specialties, so that you can find a good fit.  This will at least give you a group of people to choose from that you know you can afford, or that take your insurance, or have an office in your area.

The next step is narrowing down this group (which could be only a handful of professionals or a ginormous list, depending on your location and needs).  It is likely that you will come across several different kinds of professionals, and knowing the difference between them could be helpful so you don't get overwhelmed.  The likely professions you will come across are:

Psychiatrist: MDs who specialized in psychology/psychiatry.  This is who you will need if you require medication.  But be aware, psychiatrists typically schedule people for less than 30 minutes, do not counsel, and cost the most.  A psychiatrist is often mostly focused on medication management - some still actually counsel their patients, but it is rare.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: An NP (nurse practitioner) who did a psychiatric internship.  These nurses work with psychiatrists and can prescribe medication - they also are more likely to counsel and often cost less than a psychiatrist.

Psychologist: PhD level therapists.  They have had more education and typically cost more.  Sometimes they do research.  More education could mean better therapy, but doesn't necessarily mean it.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): Masters level social work therapists.  Social work programs typically focus on community health and meeting day to day needs, but more and more the programs also spend a good deal of time on counseling and psychology practices as well.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC):  Masters level counselor.  This is your standard masters level counselor/therapist.  They have studied psychology, counseling theories, and counseling techniques.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): A Masters level therapist with a specialty in marriage and family therapy.  This is basically an LPC with a specialization in relational therapies, also known as systemic therapies.  This therapist is more likely to talk to you about your family, relationships, work and living environment to get a sense of your whole life "system".

You might also see therapists that call themselves "interns" or "associates".  That means that they have a masters degree and have passed their licensing exam.  For a period of 18 months to several years, they meet with a supervisor and document the time spent with clients and in continuing education.  This is a typical licensing process everyone must go through.  Interns and Associates are often the most inexpensive ways to receive therapy.

So, you have a list of potential therapists, but how do you choose??  My suggestion would be to go to each individual therapist's website and read a little about their approach, who they are, and who they see.  Every therapist will specialize in certain kinds of therapies and also certain kinds of problems.   Pay attention to things that resonate with you.  Go with your gut.

Also on their website it should say whether they engage in a free phone consultation, or perhaps a free initial face-to-face meeting.  Take advantage of those things.  If you are able, set up a few first sessions with the therapists that stood out to you the most.  Go meet them, or at least speak to them on the phone.  The most important factor in successful therapy is the relationship between you and the therapist.  If you don't like them, or you don't feel you "click"...move on.

Choosing a therapist may feel daunting, but it is entirely worth the process to find the "right one".  What I have personally experienced, and what I hear over and over from clients, is that picking up the phone and making that first appointment is the hardest part of all.  Get over that first hurdle and you could be stepping into one of the most significant relationships of your life.