So, you're thinking about finding a therapist. But where do you start?
I was on my Instagram this past week talking about shopping for a therapist. Turns out, a lot of my followers struggle with this process. Either they don't know where to start, they don't know what makes a good fit, or they don't know how to find a new therapist.
Good news, my friends: I am HERE to DELIVER.
The right fit between a therapist and a client is the most important factor in the therapeutic process. You could have a therapist who technically says all the "right" things and does all the "right" interventions, but if you don't feel connected to them you'll have a hard time trusting them and enjoying your time with them.
Here are the tips for how to shop for a therapist who's a good fit.
Consider your history - and current circumstances.
Think about the experiences you've had up to this point in your life. What have life's ups and downs been like? Has it been pretty smooth sailing for you, or have you had a traumatizing experience or childhood?
We all talk about nature vs. nurture and there is no doubt that past experiences contribute to how you experience life in the present. If you look back on your life and realize that you've experienced severely traumatic things, that's an important thing to think about when looking for a therapist.
Relationship issues? Find a therapist who specializes in relationships. Gottman-certified therapists is one place to start.
Issues related to physical intimacy and sex? Find a certified sex therapist.
Postpartum anxiety or depression? Find an experienced postpartum therapist.
When you find someone who specializes in your specific struggle, you'll have more confidence that they can help you because you know they can understand you from the start.
Think about your preferences.
If you could pick your perfect therapist, what would they be like? The "perfect" therapist doesn't exist but this helps you narrow your focus from the get-go and it helps things feel less overwhelming. Think about your preferences and go from there! Here are some common preferences to think about:
Male or female therapist?
Insurance or private pay?
Older or younger?
In-person or online?
Someone close to your residence or would you enjoy a bit of a drive?
You may not find someone who perfectly fits all of your preferences and that's okay! This at least gives you a starting point of where you'd like to start or which types of therapists you want to explore.
Start the search.
Option 1: Google.
Search "therapist in [your city/state] for [your specific concern]". It could be "therapist in Kansas City for anxiety", "anxiety therapist in Kansas City", or any other mashup of those main components. Many therapists have websites these days so there will likely be a lot of options for you to browse. (This is a good thing!)
Option 2: Psychology Today. There are many therapist directories out there these days but this is the most popular one. You can filter the search results tailored to your preferences you've already explore in the previous tip, i.e. by insurances or gender.
Option 3: Ask around! I know therapy is stigmatized so it can feel awkward to ask around at first. BUT! I promise you that everyone is looking for a therapist right now. Some therapists have waitlists a mile long and caseloads have been filled this year. More people have been to a therapist than you think. Ask someone you trust in a relaxed and nonchalant way, like, "hey, have you heard of any good therapists around here?" Don't invite awkward to the party! If you are relaxed about it they'll likely be relaxed, too. You may be surprised at their responses, and word-of-mouth referrals are always comforting!
Have a phone call.
Do not budge on this!
It's highly important that you have a voice-to-voice conversation with your therapist to ensure a good fit.
Therapists have different names for these types of calls. Often they're called a "consultation" call but I've heard it also framed as a "get to know you" call or a "discovery" call. I personally spend just 10-15 minutes chatting with the potential client about the following:
A *brief* rundown of their current struggles (to see if it's in my scope of practice)
If it's in my scope, I talk to them about how I can help.
If it's not in my scope, I refer them to someone who'd be a better fit.
My payment policies (my rates, cancellation policy, methods of payment, etc.)
Steps for scheduling an appointment & paperwork
Answering any questions the potential client may have
Phone calls are the single most effective way that I book new clients. They get an idea of my approach and my tone of voice so they can easily make a judgment on if I'm a good fit - if I'm someone they can get along with and trust!
I know it's hard to know exactly what you need or what you're looking for. At the same time, being your own advocate is just as important in therapy as it is in a doctor's office. Be upfront and directive with what you need and the help you're looking for!
If you're looking for a therapist to help process past experiences, say that.
If you're looking for a therapist to talk deeply and abstractly with, say that.
If you're looking for a therapist to give you hands-on tools and strategies, say that.
Every client looks for something different in therapy. And while therapists should do a pretty good job of helping you to realize that, it's also important that you speak up early and often so that you're together on the same page.
*Disclaimer: sometimes you don't know what you're looking for. That's okay! Say that, too.*
Know the therapist's policies.
Knowing your therapist's policies helps you know what to expect from working with them. You can get this information either during the consultation call or the therapist's Informed Consent paperwork. Know how their scheduling, payment, and cancellation policies work. Understand if they're available all the time or just during your sessions. Know the best ways to get in contact with them.
It's not absolutely imperative that you know all of this information upfront! But if you're nervous about the therapy process and what to expect, knowing the policies can take away some of the guesswork.
Hit a roadblock? Ask for a referral - ALWAYS.
If they're full:
Sometimes you find a therapist you think you'll really like, but you get bad news: they're full.
This means they have reached the capacity of their caseload and they don't have room in their schedule to take on another client. This is happening more and more since 2020 so it's pretty common to run into.
You have two options here:
1) Get on the waitlist if they have one. That appointment will come quicker than you think! It's worth it for a good-fit therapist. (If you're struggling with something time-sensitive, try finding someone with more immediate availability.)
2) Ask the therapist for referral options. Any ethical and sound therapist will have referral sources ready to give you.
An example of this: let's say you're looking for an OCD specialist, but the best one in your city is booked. That OCD specialist likely knows other clinicians who also specialize in OCD, so you can ask them who they personally recommend.
You can ask in various ways for other referral options:
"Do you have any trusted colleagues whose information you could share with me?"
"Whose contact information could you give me that you think might be a good fit for what I need?"
"Who do you suggest I call next?"
If you take nothing else from this article, hear me say this: do not hang up that phone without getting another name and number you can call.
If you don't feel it's a good fit:
Sometimes you'll have a consultation call and think, "I don't feel connected with this one."
That's okay. It's totally acceptable to have a consultation call and not book an appointment. Here are some good responses for you to say depending on your situation:
"Thank you for the information, I'd like think about it."
"I'll give you a call back if I decide to make an appointment."
"I'd like to find a better fit elsewhere."
Take it slow.
Don't burn yourself out - take it slow! If the process feels overwhelming to you, start small.
Break it up into small chunks, like searching for 30 minutes at a time.
Commit only 1-2 days a week browsing therapist websites.
Spend a week getting some names and numbers, asking around, and from there, call one therapist every couple of days.
You are not finding a therapist whose mold you fit. You are finding a therapist who fits YOUR mold.
You are in charge: you’re doing the hiring and the firing.
And that's the way it should be.
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Greta Aronson Licensed Professional Counselor
Greta manages her own private practice in Blue Springs, MO providing therapy to women who struggle with anxiety and perfectionism. When she's not working, you can find Greta watching Big Brother with her husband or cuddling with their golden retriever.