This is the first in a three-part series to help you in the process of beginning therapy, maybe for the first time, or maybe you’re looking for a different approach to freshen or build on therapy you’ve already been involved in. So, you may be toying with the idea of “talking to someone” in a professional capacity to handle some stressors, life adjustments, or struggles that can be going on in your life. Or, you may be feeling checked out, disconnected, or have some traumas that might need to be addressed. Either way, maybe you’re wondering now how you should go about finding a therapist. There’s a ton of information out there, and so many different kinds of therapists who do amazing work. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. So here’s your go-to guide for some of the main things you should consider in finding a therapist for yourself!
Google and Psychology Today are probably some of the best guaranteed places to find a listing of local therapists who specialize in certain areas and take your insurance (if you’re choosing to use an insurance). It’s a quick way to generate a list of therapists to get into contact with, but please understand that what’s in someone’s Psychology Today profile is limited through character counts, so there’s not always the chance to capture exactly who they are as a therapist and how they work. It’s wise to continue your research into a possible therapist candidate through their websites, blogs, YouTube channels, business social media posts, etc. The whole point of therapists working so hard to create that content is so that you have a chance to connect with them and their communication style before actually reaching out to them, so use the content to your advantage! Do you feel like they’re speaking directly to you through this content? Therapists who are well-niched in private practice have worked hard to identify and market to their ideal clients. Feeling like they’ve connected with you before you’ve even spoken to them is a vital part of how they run their business and will let you know how invested and passionate the therapist would be in working with you. Somewhere there is a therapist who specializes in exactly what you need (even if you’re not fully clear on what that is yet yourself)!
Don’t: It’s poor boundaries to try to find out personal information about your therapist. Don’t try to comb through their personal social media profiles, don’t try to connect with them on LinkedIn, don’t show up at the office without an appointment (we don’t appreciate drop-ins and many therapists view this behavior as aggressive. This is the fastest way to guarantee you’ll be referred out to a clinic with security staff on hand). Don’t get too bogged down in client reviews (or lack thereof) online. Many governing bodies and licensing boards forbid solicitation of testimonials (even anonymous ones), and often clients (or former clients) leave negative reviews on social media despite warnings about their protected health information being compromised, as a passive-aggressive attack for the therapist setting a necessary boundary (such as not allowing the client to schedule with a significant balance that they haven’t made any effort to pay on, nonadherence to the attendance policy, refusal to accept clients due to inappropriate or threatening behavior on behalf of the client, etc.). Each client’s experience is their own! Be open to the possibility that someone can help you, which brings me to my next point…
You are the consumer. You’re free to “shop around” to find the right fit for you. The first therapist(s) you meet with might not be “the one.” Or, you may meet with one for years and just find that they no longer meet your needs because you’ve grown and your needs have changed. Just keep in mind that if you’re using insurance, you may only be allotted a certain number of intakes within a discrete period of time, and additional intakes might not be approved (resulting in out-of-pocket balances that you’re required to pay). That said, I encourage a minimum of 3-5 sessions with the therapist to really determine together if you’re ready for therapy, if it seems likely this therapist can support you in reaching your goals, and if their therapeutic style matches up with your needs and your communication style. A worthwhile therapist is likely to be forthcoming with you regarding your diagnosis (at least in the field of trauma work), and they should be keen to collaborate with you on treatment goals and formulating a clear treatment plan with measurable outcomes and actionable steps, alongside their clients.
Also, don’t forget to keep in mind basic therapist attributes. It’s perfectly acceptable to only want to meet with therapists of a certain gender, age, race, religion, etc. You may know, for example, that you relate to females better than males, or vice versa. Just know that this may limit your search, and sometimes being open-minded to something different can yield amazing results. So have a general idea of who your ideal therapist would be, but be open to some variations within those ideas.
These are just some of the guidelines to consider when searching for a therapist, and certainly is not an all-encompassing checklist of things to consider. Any of these factors can be influenced by location, insurance, schedule, etc. and these are also valid concerns. The goal of this blog post is to discuss some of the points which many clients who are reaching out for the first time may be unaware of!
Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC
Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.