5 Insider Tips On How To Find The Right Therapist For You!
Finding a therapist can be anxiety provoking! Deciding that you need a therapist is actually the easiest part. When I was shopping around for my first therapist, I wasn’t sure what to expect, what to ask or even what I needed. I hired the first therapist I met and dove right into whatever it was that was bothering me at the time. As a newcomer to the US and a foreign student, searching for a therapist was even more of an anxiety-provoking task because of the language barrier, but my confusion as to what kind of therapist I should see ended with a therapist who claimed to be an eating disorder therapist. Seven month later, I realized that my therapist wasn’t an expert in eating disorders. She had treated about 10 clients with disordered eating and therefore she considered herself an “expert” in the field. I also realized that after seven months, I was just as sick as when I first came to her, so I started questioning myself. I ended up on the internet searching for a new therapist, and I realized finding the right person was possible — but there was a lot I had to learn.
Hours of research opened my eyes to a whole other world and helped me have a much better understanding of what types of therapists were available to me, what I needed to look for and, most importantly, what questions to ask when interviewing a therapist. Yes, you heard me right…YOU interview your therapist. Here are some of the things I wish I knew before looking for a therapist all those years ago.
Tip #1 ALWAYS Listen to Your Gut Feeling
Don’t be intimidated by therapy. Even if you have never met with a therapist and you are apprehensive about the process, it’s important to trust yourself. While it may be challenging to get a good read on a therapist or even develop a gut feeling simply by talking on the phone, you can do your homework beforehand and research as much as you can about the particular therapist you are interested in meeting with. Start by looking at the therapist’s name, bio and photo — what are your initial feelings? From years of working with people and from serving in the Israeli army, I learned that one can learn a lot from looking into the eyes of another person. When you meet your potential therapist for the first time, pay special attention to how that person makes you feel in the first 30 seconds.
Do you feel a connection? Is there something making you uneasy? You may feel uneasy about the idea of therapy in general, but try to decipher on a human-to-human level, what your reaction is to your potential therapist. If your gut doesn’t feel right, I recommend continuing on with your search.
Tip #2 Do your research on types of therapists
Understanding the various types of therapists and their education is important, but knowing that talk therapy is not the only option is just as important. You might be familiar with psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychotherapists and mental health counselors. You might also wonder what the difference between them is and which one will be the right one for you. This can be very overwhelming for someone who hasn’t studied psychology or ever had an experience with counseling. You might think any psychologist will work for you. Right? Wrong! While they all provide therapy they all have different education and training and each is best suited to work with a different population. Yes there is some overlap, and clearly most licensed professionals in the mental health field can work and help people, but my aim is to empower you to find the BEST fit. Not just any fit. So here is a general overview, so you can at least be familiar with the vocabulary when you start searching.
Psychiatrists: We hear about psychiatrists often. They have medical degrees and therefore can prescribe medicine. Psychiatrists often work alongside another type of therapist who handles the therapy. Some psychiatrists also provide therapy for the clients, as some clients and psychiatrists believe that it is best to keep the treatment at one place. I have worked with some exceptional psychiatrists who also provide therapy, but if you are seeking therapy without prescription management then you will most likely choose a therapist from one of the other categories.
Psychologists: There are doctoral level psychologists (Dr before their name) and masters level psychologists (MA, MS, LGPC, LCPC), but neither can prescribe medicine. An “L” means they have completed license requirements, which often involve state board exams and supervision hours. Psychologists are usually very specialized, and so there are a wide array of options for finding one in a particular area of interest. Psychologists can diagnose and offer counseling. Within the psychology degree, there are also some variations, and some psychologists, such as organizational psychologists, are not clinically trained (and therefore not a good fit if you are seeking mental health therapy).
Mental Health Counselors: Relatively new to the therapy world, mental health counselors are one of the fastest growing professions. These professionals provide counseling to individuals as well as couples and families on a variety of problems regarding their mental health and general well-being. Often, mental health counselors focus on a “wellness model,” choosing to highlight and develop clients’ strengths, rather than focus on illness.
Social Workers: They will have an “SW” in their title and have completed a Masters program in clinical social work. They can diagnose and offer specific therapy, but cannot prescribe medicine. Once an LMSW has completed their hours, they become LCSW which means they are able to work in their own private practice. There are even some variations within the social work world, but I won’t delve into all those details.
Marriage and family therapists :They are designated with either MA, MFT, LMFT, LCMFT and must complete a masters program in marriage and family therapy. They can diagnose and offer counseling, but cannot prescribe medication.
There are also art therapists, dance therapists and several other types of therapists who work with specific populations that express themselves better via other forms of communication. I remember working with a 17-year-old girl with anorexia, and after I realized that she preferred to communicate to me how she felt using drawing, I referred her to an eating disorder therapist who is also an art therapist. While I could have potentially worked with her and helped her, her best form of expression was through art and I knew that there was a therapist who specializes in that specific form of communication.
It’s very important to understand the different types of therapists out there and what their credentials are before making your decision.
Tip # 3 Research the orientation/ approach used by the therapist and be aware of which treatment modality is best to treat your condition.
Therapists use various modalities of treatment when working with clients. The most popular modalities are psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, person centered therapy, internal family system therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and group therapy. Some therapists combine a variety of approaches with clients (“eclectic”) and some are more specific in the modality of treatment they use. As a potential client, it is important to be aware of the different treatment modalities as some are known to work better for different psychological disorders. Also, some modalities of treatment can fit best to different people based on their personality.
For instant, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which is a specific form of cognitive behavior therapy developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, is best known for the treatment of borderline personality disorder. This type of therapy emphasises the psychosocial aspects of treatments. In DBT, the therapist includes homework assignments and the client is an active participate in the treatment. DBT has also been adapted to treat other psychological problems including eating disorders, suicidal and self -injurious behavior in adolescents, substance use and treatment resistant depression.
Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, is the oldest form of therapy (think Freud!) and it focuses on unconscious processes as they are manifested in a person’s present behavior. The goal of this therapy is for the client to be aware and understand the influence of the past on their present behavior as well as to examine unresolved conflicts and symptoms that arise from past dysfunctional relationships.
Furthermore, when seeking a therapist, you might want to think about the length of time and commitment that you are willing to invest in your treatment. CBT for instance will require anywhere from 12-30 sessions in order to see a change in behaviors, and psychodynamic therapy might require the client to remain in therapy for several years. If you are not sure what type of therapy will work best for your problem, I suggest doing some research before meeting your therapist.
Lastly, when calling therapists you can ask for their typical orientation of treatment so you can make a more educated decision. Last year I started working with Max, a 55-year-old who had been seeing the same therapist for 20 years prior to seeing me. One of the first questions that I asked him after he said that he had another therapist was what insight he had gained or what skills he had learned from his work with the other therapist. The only answer that Max gave me was that he enjoyed speaking with another person and wanted to continue sharing his past and present experiences. It’s important to note that Max was seeking therapy because he wanted to create meaningful relationships in his life and learn to be happy. However, 20 years after being in therapy he was still unhappy and without any meaningful relationships. After learning as much as I could about this client, I found that the best treatment for him was cognitive behavioral-mindfulness based therapy.
What this client needed most after gaining insight into his challenges was some concrete solutions that would help him lead a happier more fulfilled life. After he realized that his thoughts affected his emotions and behavior, he gained more control over his life, and using mindfulness techniques, such as learning to be in the present moment without judgment, he was able to find happiness. He is now dating and practicing what he learned.
Even after finding a therapist, it’s important to reflect on how you are progressing from session to session. Just because you enjoy the person you are talking to, it’s important that you are making changes and actually working through the problems that led you to therapy in the first place.
Tip # 4 Make sure your therapist is professional and honest and displays a non-judgmental approach when you relay information.
When I was actively binging and purging 18 years ago, I remember gathering the courage to tell my therapist about it, and her reaction was, “Why can’t you just stop? That is so unhealthy for you.” She went on to remind me of all the medical implications that could result from me doing what I was doing to my body — as if I wasn’t fully aware already. I just remember feeling so judged and humiliated, and as a result, I began to hide other things that I had done that I felt shame over. Of course I would later realize that concealing my problematic behaviors from my therapist was counterproductive, but at the time I didn’t know any better. Most importantly, when it comes to evaluating your therapist’s character, you want to make sure he or she has your best interest at heart, and never makes you feel shame or puts blame on you.
Tip # 5 Shop around and contact/interview at least 3 therapists to find the right price
Unfortunately, therapy can be very expensive, but before you write it off as some kind of luxury, consider what your mental health is really worth. Our well-being and happiness shouldn’t be an after-thought. Think about all of the things you spend money on. If you aren’t willing to invest in yourself and your family, what are you willing to invest in?
While you obviously want to find the best therapist for you who is also priced reasonably, you might be disappointed when you start looking. There are many therapists out there who are excellent and also take insurance or only charge a low fee. However, what I found from years of working with both clients and therapists is that the more experienced therapists who also have a speciality tend to charge higher fees.
As I mentioned earlier, in my early 20s while recovering from an eating disorder, I didn’t have the best luck working with qualified eating disorder therapists. As I progressed with my education and started shopping around for psychologists, I realized the importance of being an educated consumer, but at the same time, I had financial limitations that didn’t allow me to hire therapists who fit my needs at the time. I will say that if you want to invest in yourself, then paying for an excellent therapist can make a huge different in your recovery time and quality.
Finally, let me pose this question: If you knew that you could work with someone for 48 weeks paying $75 a session or work with someone who is more qualified/experienced/a better fit and pay $450 per session, but make the same progress that you would have made in a year, which therapist would you choose to work with?
By automatically going with a lower fee, you could end up doing more harm than good, so it’s important to not jump at the cheapest option available.
If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!