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A Roadmap to Finding the Right Therapist: 6 Key considerations and tips

Embarking on the journey of therapy is a significant step toward personal growth and well-being. However, finding the right therapist involves careful consideration and a willingness to invest time in building a strong therapeutic alliance. In this list-style blog post, we will explore seven key considerations to guide you in finding a therapist and emphasize the importance of cultivating a meaningful connection over time.

1. Identify your needs and goals.

Before seeking a therapist, reflect on your specific needs and goals. Whether you're dealing with anxiety, depression, or relationship issues, understanding your objectives will help you find a therapist with the expertise and specialization that aligns with your concerns. When you eventually find yourself in a therapist's office, time will be spent collaborating with you on goals you wish to address and resolve. While a therapist can help you formulate and clarify therapy goals, there is value in contemplating this even before identifying who you wish to see for treatment.

2. Do some research.

Utilize online therapist directories, recommendations from friends or healthcare professionals, and reputable mental health websites to create a list of potential therapists. Resources like Psychology Today and TherapyRoute can be valuable starting points when seeking a therapist. Most profiles will list specialties and expertise, which can help you narrow down who can best address your concerns and needs. Finding a licensed professional is important. Licensing information is made available to the public through the appropriate licensing board. Social workers, Counselors, and therapists must be licensed through the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board (CSWMFT). You can verify professional licenses and their status on the appropriate board website.

3. What is the therapeutic approach?

Therapists employ various therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and motivational interviewing, to name a few. You needn't study these approaches but familiarize yourself with those the therapist utilizes or may specialize in. It's not one-size-fits-all, so you may benefit more from a therapist whose knowledge is more diverse unless a specific approach best addresses your concern. For example, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it may not necessitate specifically seeking out a therapist certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Those struggling with PTSD may want to narrow their search for an EMDR therapist, though many therapists can address those issues without the use of this specific approach. Many therapists are trained to use an "eclectic" approach, integrating various methods to customize the therapy according to your specific needs. Once you find a therapist, they can also help guide you to the best approach, as some may be more or less effective depending on the individual.

4. Consider what type of therapy might work best for you.

You may be asking yourself how this is different from the previous section. There, we discussed the therapeutic approach, whereas the type of therapy can be better thought of as the treatment method or modality. Simply put, this refers to whether you're involved in individual, group, family, or couples therapy. We want to avoid getting too into the weeds by going into other forms of treatment, such as inpatient or intensive outpatient programs (IOP), as they are often specialized and likely used by individuals already participating in therapy.

It will be helpful to consider the first step in this list to answer the question of whether one of the forms of therapy is best for you, and some may find it difficult to answer without the guidance of a therapist. People often mistake group therapy as playing second fiddle to individual therapy. It can be just as effective, though the scope of the treatment is often not as diverse and instead focuses on a single topic or topic cluster. Individual therapy lends itself more to exploration.

While individual therapy involves a single client, there are circumstances where a partner, friend, or family member may join a few sessions to target a treatment goal involving interpersonal relationships or provide that person with psychoeducation about a diagnosis, symptoms, or something otherwise related. Couples therapy involves romantically involved or married partners, and family therapy addresses the concerns of a family unit. Family therapy can include combinations of parents, guardians, siblings, or extended family. While group therapy does boast anywhere from 6-10 participants, these individuals likely do not know one another but share a common concern or mental health challenge.

5. Consider their cultural competence.

Although all therapists undergo training to sharpen specific skills, having a therapist from your community or experience working with individuals from your community can be impactful. Many individuals find it easier to open up to those who understand their experiences, especially if they belong to oppressed or marginalized groups. For instance, if you're part of the LGBTQIA+ community, connecting with an LGBTQIA+ therapist or one explicitly supportive can enhance your comfort. Factors to consider include gender identity, racial or cultural background, and specialization in LGBTQIA+ issues.

Ultimately, the key is finding a therapist with whom you feel the most comfortable, emphasizing a relationship-based decision-making approach over assumptions about their background. With all this being said, allow yourself to remain open to a new experience, as therapy is an emotional experience. There are instances where it can be potentially healing to see a therapist who may identify differently. To illustrate this point, there may be someone whose trauma involves a woman, and sharing a safe, validating relationship with a therapist who is a woman may enable healing and learned trust that can then be duplicated in future relationships.

6. Ask questions before and during the initial session.

As with any professional relationship, asking questions and advocating for yourself is important. It's understandable for many to be nervous when first meeting their therapist, but questions are expected and welcomed. If your experience is the opposite and your therapist discourages questions, that may be the equivalent of a red flag. A good therapist will anticipate questions and likely encourage their clients to ask or consider questions they may have. Even before the first session, it's important to ask questions to be sure your insurance will cover your services or if the mental health practice even accepts insurance. As a courtesy, many practices will verify your benefits and follow up with coverage details. However, it is in everyone's best interest to access their insurance portal or contact their insurance company by phone to verify your cost responsibility and what is covered. It will allow you to go into the process with greater peace of mind when you know what to expect.

Below, you'll find a list of what we believe are important questions for clients to ask and consider:

  1. What insurance providers do you accept?

  2. Do you have a sliding scale fee, and how do I qualify (should that be something you need)?

  3. What is the cost per session?

  4. Ask for a copy of the consent to treatment paperwork if one is not provided to you as this details important information such as the cancellation policy and related fees.

  5. Do you have any recommendations for me regarding therapy?

  6. How effective is this therapy for treating my problems?

  7.  How often should we meet?

  8. How long are sessions?

  9. How long will therapy last?

  10. How can therapy help me?

  11. What will a typical therapy session look like?

  12. What is your approach to therapeutic homework?

  13. How often do you assign homework?

  14. How should I prepare before session?

  15. Could medication be an option?

  16. How will I know if therapy is working?

  17. What do I do if I see you outside of our session?

Finding the right therapist for you can take some time, but it's worth the effort. Don't spend too much time looking for the perfect therapist. Remember, you have the option to end therapy if you realize you and your therapist are not the right fit, though give it a few sessions. Determining a connection with your therapist may not be immediate. Good rapport refers to feelings of connection and engagement that promote harmony and it takes time to build. But qualities like empathy, respect, honesty, and warmth often lead to feelings of connection with therapists. Do your homework, ask questions, collaborate, and trust your gut. Keep your goals in mind as you embark on this process. Once you've found a therapist you find suitable you can work together to formulate a plan for addressing your goals and concerns.

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