The process of beginning therapy can be hard for many people. First, we have to acknowledge there is a problem or concern that needs addressing. Then we consider possible approaches to resolving our problem before we ever take any action steps such as beginning therapy.
Once we have decided to give therapy a shot and are ready to begin counseling, we have to figure out who to trust with our most personal thoughts and feelings, who can help us create the change we seek and who we can feel truly comfortable and open with (or who can do those things for our loved one). This can be a daunting task!
A parent recently asked me how people are supposed to know who is good in the mental health field. From her perspective, she had taken her daughter to several providers over the years and invested time, money, and trust with very few positive results.
She began calling mental health providers and asking them for data on how effective they are personally as therapists. She wanted empirical evidence that they are successful in their work with clients in order to best select a therapist for her child. She was frustrated to learn that it is very rare for a therapist to have that kind of quantitative data about their work.
Understandably she wondered how she was supposed to pick a name off of a list or a website and know that this person was a good fit for her family’s needs. It is easy to empathize with this mother’s desire to get effective treatment for her child and confusion about how to find a therapist who can help.
“Finding the right therapist can be a lot like dating. You need to have good chemistry in order for it to work.”
It’s not uncommon for people to be unsure about how to find the right therapist for themselves or their family. There are questions that you can ask and steps you can take to help ensure that you find a therapist who can meet your needs.
Know What Type of Service You Are Looking For
The difference between psychiatrists and psychologists and the alphabet soup of credentials after professionals’ names can be very confusing.
Psychiatrists (MD, DO) primarily prescribe medications whereas psychologists (PhD, PsyD, LPA), counselors (LPC), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) provide talk therapy where you learn new coping strategies or ways of thinking through problems and gain insight.
In some circumstances, medication and therapy together may be the best course of treatment for an individual.
Ask for Recommendations
Start by asking people you trust whom they recommended for counseling services. Your doctor knows you and is likely to be connected to mental health providers in your area.
They can provide you with a list of possible therapists based on their experience with that professional and feedback from other patients.
If you know someone in the mental health field, they often have good insight into the reputations and clinical skills of their colleagues. Faith leaders may also be able to provide you with information about local mental health therapists.
“Therapists are not one size fits all. Personality fit of the therapist and client matters in terms of comfort, trust, and engagement in therapy.”
Another great source for referrals is your own friends and family. Who have they seen and do they trust the care they received? Would they recommend the therapist or practice to you?
Always ask whomever you seek a referral from if they would refer their own loved ones to that person or practice so you know this is someone they highly trust.
Do Your Research
A little bit of research on the front end can help ensure that you find a mental health professional who can best meet your needs. You wouldn’t go to a fertility specialist to figure out your heart problem and you shouldn’t go to a therapist who is not trained or specialized in the area of your concern.
While many mental health professionals have a broad base of training and experience, you want to find someone who has developed a niche or expertise that fits your particular needs and uses evidence-based practices which are therapeutic approaches that have empirical evidence that supports their efficacy.
It is okay to ask about what graduate program they received their degree from and their training, experience, and success with particular populations or concerns.
You can also verify licensure status and see any board disciplinary action against a person’s license by contacting their respective field’s licensing board in your state, often via websites like this one.
Read Bios and Think About Fit
Finding the right therapist can be a lot like dating. You need to have good chemistry in order for it to work.
Ask yourself what type of personality you respond best to – Is it someone who is more soft-spoken and gentle in their words or someone who compassionately yet directly tells it like it is for example?
Therapists are not “one size fits all.” Personality fit of the therapist and client matters in terms of comfort, trust, and engagement in therapy. Collaboration between the therapist and the client through a positive therapeutic relationship are key ingredients for effective treatment.
“A little bit of research on the front end can help ensure that you find a mental health professional who can best meet your needs.”
Most therapists have bios on their websites that describe their therapeutic approach and a little bit about who they are. These can be a great starting point for exploring a possible match.
Sometimes doing a brief consultation either in-person or via phone with a potential therapist can help you determine if they are someone you may feel comfortable with. It gives you a chance to ask questions and get a feel for what they are like.
When I spoke with the mother who was searching for a good therapist for her daughter, they had started seeing a new therapist. As we talked about these strategies she identified that when she first sought therapy for her daughter she did not talk to anyone to get a recommendation because she was worried about what people may think of her family.
She had recently decided to reach out to her child’s pediatrician who was supportive and told her about an evidenced based therapy for her daughter’s concerns and gave her names of several therapists who specialize in that area.
She had done her research and found a therapist she thought her child would work well with and did meet with them briefly before beginning therapy services. While they are at the beginning of their work with the new therapist, the mother expressed that she and her child were both already feeling more confident and hopeful in this new treatment and therapist as well.
A little bit of preparation and research can help you connect with the right therapist for your needs. Therapy can bring about positive life changes when the therapist and client connect well and work together on mutually agreed upon goals that are tuned to the client’s specific situation.