This is a question I get from acquaintances often. It's a very simple and very complicated question.
First let's talk basics:
Before you look for a therapist you need to consider a few things:
1) Am I ready for therapy? Sometimes you don't know. In that case, I'd recommend consulting with one. We can help you sort this out. Do you think that you can handle facing your fears (with guidance?) Do you feel that you are actually willing to WORK on your problem? Most of us will talk to you on the phone or in person free of charge before you make an appointment. We want you to get help even if it isn't from us personally! (Though, obviously, we'd prefer that)
2) Am I trying to work on a specific issue? Do you feel that you just need anybody to do general supportive therapy, or is there something that a specialist is needed to help you with?
what do you want from therapy? That’s going to dictate a bit about what you seek. Example: if you’re an addict, you want someone tougher and different than if you’re doing exploratory therapy for family issues. A postpartum specialist isn’t likely to be a good fit if you want something different from that, etc.
3) What is your budget? Don't let this one scare you! (Secret: It scares us too!) Most of us are constantly struggling to find that happy place between keeping the lights on and making sure that people get help. It's a tough place! If you know your budget it can help you narrow this down. Talk to us- if you REALLY want to work with us, and are motivated, many of us have a specific amount of sliding scale clients that we can take.
If you want to use your insurance, I recommend you call them and ask for an “in network” provider. They’ll have a list of who is on their panel. You may also find someone you like who isn’t in network, so ask about “out of network benefits” if you get to that place. If you work, they may have an EAP program or employee assistance. Often they’ll pay for multiple visits and they’ll have a list too. ALL of us are on Psychologytoday.com . They verify licenses and are the go-to for us to advertise. You can narrow by discipline, type of therapy, and insurance.
4) What am I looking for in a therapist? This is IMPORTANT! Just like any other job, therapists have all kinds of personalities. Do you need someone who is straightforward or takes a gentler approach? Do you need a specific gender? What values do you want the person you work with to share with you? Honesty is important here- you're going to be emotionally naked with this person. It needs to be someone you're comfortable with and who you can trust.Think about what personality you want. Don’t just try to find someone like you. You may want someone complementary. Think about the attributes you want in a therapist.
So- once you consider these things, what's next?
- Word of mouth- ask friends and family. I'm a big fan of just being open about it, but that's because I don't believe in the stigma that comes with mental health. Ask someone you trust if they know or trust someone that they can recommend, or if their friend's friend who got therapy once has one. You can also ask church or even ask your work if they have an Employee program. Often they do and can recommend a therapist. Personal recommendations are always best!
- Insurance company- You can call your insurance company and ask them for a list of providers that are "in network." They can send you a list of who takes your insurance so you don't have to cold call and guess. A side note about this: Insurance is difficult to deal with; especially for a small office. Many therapists don't take insurance but will help you file yourself or adjust their price accordingly. Some even work on a sliding scale. So don't let "I'm sorry, I don't take insurance" be the end of the conversation!
- Ask the almighty internet!- Use search terms like "LPC" (that's a "licensed counselor"), "mental health," "veteran," "depression (or whatever specific issue you're seeking)," etcetera. "Specialist" is another good one! You can seek with your specific geographic location and insurance company name as well. The more specific the better.
- Research us. We want you to!- look at our website, Linked In, Facebook, Yelp, Online Reviews, etc. Call our office and state that you are seeking help. If you have to leave a message, be patient and give us a moment to call you back. (This is also a good measure. If it takes four days to call you back, that may not leave a good impression on you.) Feel free to ask us about our credentials- many of us have this listed on our websites, but ask if they are licensed by the "State Board." They'll know what that means and can even give you the license number to look up in the public verification search.
- Look at the website. Do you connect with it? Check Facebook and Linked in. Do they have a blog? Does it speak to you? Many of us have podcasts now too, which means you can decide from that if we sound like someone you like! ** The one thing I’ll tell you here is that our ethical guidelines don’t allow us to ask for testimonials (because of the power dynamic) so you’re not likely to see those like you would for other businesses. Call them. Do they return your call in a timely manner? What’s their outgoing voicemail like? Can you email them if you want to? Do they answer promptly? When you speak to them (or front desk- our gatekeeprs say a lot about us!) do you feel okay? Listen to your feelings. When you talk to them, ask if they’ll set aside some time to meet with you and answer some questions. This is someone you’re going to bare your inner thoughts to. You need to be able to connect with them! (When you call, the first question should be “are you accepting new patients?” That’ll save you some time.)
When you meet them- have questions ready. “I’m having trouble with anxiety. Are you experienced in this? How would you walk me through treating this? I have a history of X, can you work with that?” and Be honest! “I’m a flaming liberal, cussmouthed feminist, with no kids! Can you work with me?” LOL If the answer is no, we will refer out. You’ll find someone who can! ;)
My other advice is be patient. Wait to do the work until you find someone you think you can connect with. Many people, because they don’t know how to do this just pull out a name and get started. There are therapists, and there are GOOD therapists. ;)
Don't let not knowing where to start scare you off. We are ALWAYS brainstorming ways to let clients know we're here. We WANT you to find us so we try to make it easy for you. It's okay to be nervous when you call. We're trained for that. ;)