Simplifying the Journey to Finding the “Right” Therapist

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From primary care providers to life partners, finding “The One” can be a difficult journey filled with trial and error. A collective of search engine tabs and lists of referrals can become overwhelming to sort through but don’t fret! Here are three things to be mindful of when finding a mental health professional to meet your therapeutic needs.

Outline Your Presenting Issues & Target Goals

Determining your mental health needs is a great place to start. There are a number of reasons to seek therapy but what is yours? Begin to take an active inventory of the life experiences, memories, and cycles that impact your overall functionality.

Struggling with self-defeating thoughts while on the job? There’s a therapist for that. Looking to strengthen your relationship with your children but want to heal from the emotional scars caused by a parent? There’s a therapist for that as well. Really dig deep and leave no stone unturned. It’s time to unpack what has become an obstacle to where you’re trying to be, both mentally and emotionally.

And for clarification purposes, there are no qualifications for therapy. Meaning: one does not have to have to be suicidal, homicidal or struggling with some form of traumatic experience in order to start therapy. That’s not how that works. As a matter of fact, all of us can use some level of consistent mental health maintenance from time to time. So don’t feel discounted or unfit in any way.

Determine Your Budget

Let’s be honest, money can be a huge factor when it comes to the items we purchase and the services that we are willing to spend our money on. I can not reiterate enough how much of an investment therapy is. That’s why it is important for you to determine, early on, how you intend on funding the cost of treatment.

Are you insured? Explore which therapists are within your network by searching the online directories provided in your member portal. Although I find that some of those lists are not always up to date, I highly recommend contacting the office of that provider directly to confirm whether they are still in-network. I come across many clinicians that are transitioning off of insurance panels and are becoming self-pay. Whether you’re willing to pay out of pocket is another decision that you’d want to consider as well as what that budget would look like. And if you happen to find a therapist that is out of network but you are still interested in their services, inquire about whether they have sliding scale rates.

Not insured? That’s cool too! Check out local and online resources that will steer you in the direction of cost-effective services such as crisis hotlines and support groups. I definitely encourage you to consider group therapy as well, which can be cheaper than individual therapy since you would be sharing that experience with multiple group members. Don’t forget your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is something that many employees fail to take full advantage of. This is a work-based program that provides short-term counseling in the form of about 5-6 sessions. Other services that EAPs provide include confidential assessments, referrals to mental health providers and facilities, and even follow-up for not only the employee but sometimes family members as well.

Remember, therapy is a long-term investment. Let me put it this way: finding a quality therapist is like finding a skilled eyebrow threader or a reliable barber. You don’t want to leave worse than when you came and you definitely don’t want to be left paying for something that you don’t feel 100% about. It’s just that serious, people.

Researching Expertise & the Miscellaneous

As you’re building your list of prospective candidates, I’m sure you’ve come across a melee of acronyms that will leave you wondering what you have gotten yourself into. Trust me, I get it. I sometimes get caught off guard by a few of them myself. Those letters behind their names are their licensure titles, certifications, and specialties; all things that I highly encourage you to look into. In the mental health realm, you can find some of the following (in no particular order):

  • Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
  • Associate Professional Counselors (APC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
  • Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists (LMFT)
  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Addiction Counselors (CADC or MAT)

Even with this knowledge, sometimes we don’t know what we need until we truly need it. As you’re browsing through every profile and “About Me” section of a clinician, quickly google what their certification entails. If you’re interested in working with someone who is trauma-oriented, you may want to consider a certified clinical trauma professional (CCTP) or someone who is skilled in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). By the way, this is just an example and not a recommendation.

This will probably be my third time saying this but once more for the road:

Therapy is an INVESTMENT.

There is nothing like the therapeutic process. In it, you’ll discover the innermost parts of the self and develop a level of intimacy with another human being like never before. It is highly encouraged that you put forth some level of intentionality and effort to find a skilled professional to help you work through things that foster both vulnerability and resiliency.

Get creative with your list of therapeutic needs. There’s no requisite too unrealistic or question too ridiculous to inquire about. Here is a list of just a few considerations that may weigh in on your therapist selection process:

Experience: How many years have they been in the field? What populations have they worked with?
Distance: How far are they from my house or place of employment? Am I willing to drive that far? If so, how often and on what days?
Hours: What is their availability? Are their operating hours in alignment with my scheduling needs?
Supplemental Services: Do they offer telemental health services? How often can that be used and what platform do they use? Do they provide support groups or workshops that I can attend?

Anything missing? Drop your list of considerations that you plan to keep in mind when looking for your therapist. And for those who are currently in therapy, what were some things that you remained mindful of on your search?

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