Choosing The Right Therapist
Searching for a therapist may be the most challenging part of therapy. Each part of the process presents obstacles that need to be overcome to proceed:
Motivation to start the search.
Finding the time to look, research, read profiles, and identify candidates.
Enduring cycles of searching and lethargy when no one appeals to you.
The discomfort of writing the email or making the phone call once you identify the candidate.
The feeling of rejection when they don’t take your insurance, they don’t have a time slot that works, or they simply never respond.
For good reason, this is not as simple as swiping right. While that approach may work well late on a Friday night, it’s not necessarily the person you want to trust long term. For therapy to be successful, you need to find the right match. The better way to get there is by identifying some glimmers of shared interests while reading through profiles or getting a referral from someone you trust.
TRUST. SAFETY. SECURITY. COMFORT. These are the are some of the most important factors for the success of therapy, other than your own motivation. You need to find a therapist that you trust with your thoughts and feelings. A therapist needs to provide a feeling of safety so that you can be vulnerable. You need to have the security that you won’t be judged. You need to be comfortable with both the therapist and the space so you can relax and open up.
Here are some strategies for identifying the right therapist for you.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
You should have some understanding of why you’re seeking therapy. You don’t need to understand the root cause of the issue, that’s what therapy is for. You just need to be able to identify the feeling or behavior: anxious, depressed, loss of interest, lack of focus, more introverted, etc. This will allow you to identify keywords in a filter search, or to describe in an email or on a phone call.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE?
Let’s face it, we are more comfortable talking to people similar to ourselves, especially when talking about uncomfortable topics. If you are 75 years-old and just lost your spouse, chances are you’re going to have a hard time relating to a 26 year old who is in the thick of the dating scene. Factors such as gender, race, sexual orientation, age, etc. may play into how deeply you discuss yourself. If you worry about your therapist being biased, talk about it in therapy.
DO YOU NEED A SPECIALIST?
Not all therapists are the same. Just like medical doctors there are therapists who are specialists. A therapist that specializes in addiction may not be a great fit for someone with an eating disorder. If you have a specific issue that you want to work on, try and identify a therapist with that specialty or interest.
WHAT TYPE OF THERAPIST IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
A Psychotherapist is a general term that covers any licensed mental health professional. These licensed professionals are broken down into the following groups of education and licensure:
Ph.D. - A Doctorate in Psychology with training in clinical work (talk therapy) as well as psychological testing, and research protocols.
Psy.D. - A Doctorate in Psychology with training in clinical work (talk therapy) and psychological testing, but with less emphasis on research than a Ph.D..
Psychiatrist - A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) having attended 4 years of medical school followed by a residency. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication. While some psychiatrists provide psychotherapy services, they are more likely to understand your feelings and behaviors through the lens of regulating brain chemistry.
LCSW - Licensed Clinical Social Worker - Achieved a Masters Degree in Social Work with a focus in clinical work (talk therapy) and can help patients find and obtain resources they need to improve or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
LMFT - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - Achieved a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with a focus in family and other relationships.
LMHC - Licensed Mental Health Counselor - Achieved a Masters Degree in Counseling with a focus in clinical work (talk therapy).
LPC - Licensed Professional Counselor - Achieved a Masters Degree in Counseling with a focus in clinical work (talk therapy).
WHAT STYLE ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH FROM YOUR THERAPIST?
Are you analytic or conceptual? Do you want your therapist to be active or passive? In therapy, there are many different styles and techniques (termed modalities in psychology). Amazingly, they all work! But, they only work when you mesh with the style that is right for you. Having an awareness of the different types of therapy is helpful when selecting a therapist. From the descriptions, you can choose the type of therapy which you feel will be most effective. Below are a few of the primary modalities.
CBT - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - Believes that psychological issues come from patterns of unhelpful behavior and unhelpful thinking. A CBT therapist structures a therapy plan to change these patterns, which may include in session exercises as well as out of session “homework”.
DBT - Dialectical Behavioral Therapy - Provides patients skills to manage their emotions and decrease relationship conflicts. It is broken down into 4 skill sets: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy - Is an action oriented theory that grew out of DBT and CBT. Patients learn to accept that their feelings are appropriate for certain situations, and choose to make changes in their behavior to move forward, regardless of how they feel.
Psychodynamic - Focuses on a patient’s unconscious processes and how the manifest themselves in behavior. The goal is to increase a patients awareness of the past and how it influences the present.
Psychoanalytic - Focuses on exposing patients deep seeded memories, often unconscious or repressed, so that they may be examined in an understanding of how they influence present.
WHAT CAN YOU AFFORD?
Be comfortable with what you can afford. You don’t want to skimp, but the cost also shouldn’t burden as to make you evaluate the immediate return on each session. Remember that this is a long term investment in yourself. Appreciate that therapy is a long term commitment that typically is a minimum of 12 - 26 weeks. A therapist can help you understand your health insurance. You can also read our post on insurance.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Your therapist’s office needs to be convenient so that you can arrive relaxed, and leave without feeling rushed. Therapy is supposed to be a safe place, so consider the getting and leaving there as part of your decompressing ritual. Most offices have a waiting room. Consider getting there 5-10 minutes early to sit, relax, and reflect. Another important component is the office setting itself. Are you comfortable in the waiting room and office? It’s a lot easier to relax when comfortable.