I have noticed that many people have never worked with a psychotherapist before and all they have to go on is recommendations from others and images portrayed in the media (usually mocking and making fun of counseling and therapy OR portraying psychotherapists as unethical creeps). There seems to be very few media portrayals that offer a more realistic idea of the therapeutic relationship. One of my favorites is Robin William’s character as the therapist in Good Will Hunting. Aside from that movie, I cannot recall other films or shows showing anything about the process of how to find the right therapist for you and your needs.
So, what do you do when you decide it would be beneficial to enter counseling and/or therapy? Many people start with their medical insurance coverage and select somebody from a list of preferred providers who have consented to be included “in-network”. The preferred providers on insurance panels consent to accept a lower fee from the insurance company (and you) in exchange for being included on the insurance company’s preferred provider list. There are trade-offs for each party involved. In exchange for accepting a reduced fee, the preferred provider psychotherapist gets a higher volume of client referrals from the insurance company. But, what if you aren’t covered by medical insurance? Then, you probably go to trusted friends and/or the internet and do some research based on key words (such as therapist, psychotherapist, counselor, counseling, psychology, and so forth). There are several good websites for doing more in-depth research to learn more specifics on potential providers (specifics like license, location, hours, fees, areas of focus, populations worked with, areas of special training, and more). Some reliable websites for doing preliminary research include:
CAMFT.org (California specific)
BBS.CA.gov (California specific)
Based on my experience as both a client who has worked with a few different therapists AND as a practicing marriage, family therapist, here are my suggestions for how to go about finding the right counselor/therapist for you:
1) CLARIFY – Stop and consider whether you have a clear sense of what is going on for you right now that is prompting your desire for counseling/psychotherapy. Here are a few possible reasons: General discontent and confusion associated with relationships? Specific thoughts, emotions, and/or behaviors getting in the way of your living a peaceful, joyful, productive life? Having identity confusion/crisis? Experiencing specific, intense, and perhaps irrational fears? Have there been any significant losses or major life changes such as death of a loved one, injury/illness, job, home, adoption, … that you seem fixated upon, worried about, or plagued by? Recently traumatized by frightening and/or violent events? Feeling stuck in your life? Having a spiritual crisis? Experiencing any “isms” (racism, sexism, ageism, or other prejudice) that keep you feeling marginalized and separate? Legally compelled by a judge to seek therapy? Needing to speak with someone that will truly listen and not judge or try to “fix” you? Want to explore aspects of your past and how they may be influencing your present in unpleasant ways? Experiencing a lack of meaning, motivation, or direction in your life? Something else?
2) RESEARCH – Read up, ask around, and take advantage of free telephone consultations. Ask questions about each possible therapist’s theoretical focus, ways of working with clients, scheduling flexibility/availability. Check if the therapist’s license is clear and up-to-date. Ask if the therapist has positive experience working with challenges like yours.
3) BUDGET – While money is usually a major factor in choosing a therapist, do not let that be the primary deciding factor. Sometimes the right therapist for you may not be in your health insurance network. If your sense is that a therapist outside of the network is a good fit for you and their fee seems unaffordable for you, ask if there’s a sliding scale and notice if the therapist is willing to negotiate for a win-win situation. Also, budget time. Your schedules must be compatible so sessions can occur on a regular basis In general, the average agreement is to meet for 1 session per week. Intense and/or crisis situations may call for 2 or more sessions per week. When your situation has improved and the improvements seem steady and lasting, often the need/desire for therapeutic support declines. Then, often by mutual agreement sessions are scaled back to 1 session every other week or perhaps 1 session a month toward short-term goalsof ending therapy, experiencing a healthy closure process, and engaging in life “after therapy” with helpful insights, skills, perspectives, and behaviors.
4) NOTICE – Making the right connection for YOU is vital. But how to know when it’s the right connection? The right connection for you will elicit one or more pleasant feelings. Do you feel hopeful, curious, excited, relieved, or just calmly sure? It’s important that you feel a sense of safety, respect, caring, and attentive regard from your therapist. Do they make comfortable eye contact? Do they demonstrate that they are listening to you and seem genuinely curious about your situation and your goal/s for therapy? Look for a therapist who wants to partner with and be of support to you on your therapeutic journey. Notice and be leery if the therapist postures as an authority or the expert of you.
5) DECIDE – Eventually, you must trust yourself to make a choice. Remember that the therapist is there to support YOU on YOUR journey of healing and discovery. Also, keep in mind that while counselors and psychotherapists and other mental health professionals cannot “fix” you or your situation, they are educated for, trained in and experienced with supporting you to find your path to improved mental health, more effective and joyful relationships, and reaching a place of ongoing personal empowerment and efficacy in your life.
Happy trails to you…