Written by: Lindsay Buvel, LPC
Finding the right therapist to work with can have a profound impact on the success of the client and overall prognosis of treatment. While exciting to finally take the step toward seeking support, the process can be quite anxiety provoking and full of uncertainty. The robust amount of therapists and therapy-related jargon used to describe their background often leads to individuals giving up on the search or scheduling with a provider who may not be the best fit. I’m often asked by friends and family, “what’s the main thing I have to look for- I don’t care what they do as long as they’re good and I like them.” It’s important to know this is a very different relationship from a medical provider in that you are building a professional relationship based on rapport and frequent sessions together. It should be a partnership that you feel heard and supported on, while continuing to grow and learn. It’s okay to take the time to find the right therapist, and terminate ones that don’t feel helpful. When I’ve had to refer clients or help match clients to therapists, I focus on three main aspects:
- The first thing to remember is it’s all about YOU!
What brings you to therapy? What are you hoping to get from meeting with someone: skills, space to talk, a specific behavior or goal you’re working on? Having a sense of what is leading you in your search can greatly narrow down the list of therapists. Connecting with what you’re feeling emotionally and physically can be even more helpful. Often times, clients may feel physical symptoms in their body and not recognize it as a symptom of an emotional response. Someone who is also living with chronic illness or chronic pain may also want additional support in how to adjust to their new normal. Understanding the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of your motivation for therapy can increase the likelihood you’ll find a therapist who is willing and able to support your goals.
2. …then it’s about the Therapist
Once you are in touch with what you want, start to consider what characteristics and experiences you hope to have in a therapist. Most therapists will have a profile you can read to learn a bit more about them. Be aware that this tends to be a snapshot of the provider and may not give the full picture; however, it can be a good indication of what to expect. You may want to consider the demographics of the therapist you are looking for- be mindful of any ethic, racial, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, etc that feel important to you. I also recommend considering what type of personality might be a good fit. For example, I really appreciate direct and to-the-point responses, so a therapist who is too passive would not work well for me. Most importantly, be comfortable asking your therapist questions (within reason) to learn more about how they practice therapy and what clients they work with best. As much as this is a professional service, there is still a human experience that exists and ensuring you are in a space that fosters growth is important. If you’ve been in therapy before, remember the parts that were helpful- a particular treatment approach, scope of practice, etc. Most therapists offer a 10-15 consult for both parties to determine if coming in for a full initial session makes sense. Take advantage of those consults and note anything you liked or didn’t like for future consults.
3. Other aspects to consider when getting started:
There are a few admin components to consider that are important to be mindful of before selecting a provider. These are the pieces that often are recognized after-the-fact and can lead to having to start the search over, so I always encourage paying attention to these items up front so you can be more proactive in your search.
- Does the therapist accept you insurance. If you’re self-pay, is their rate feasible for you?
- Does their availability fit your needs? Do you prefer a consistent day/time, or do you need more flexibility?
- How are you able to participate in sessions? Most therapy occurs in-person, however there are options for telehealth via video or phone. If you’re someone who travels often or often has last minute tasks pop-up, you might want to consider someone who can facilitate sessions in both in person and telehealth.
- Location: make sure the location of your provider is manageable. Most therapists meet with their clients weekly or biweekly to start. Be sure that the location is not going to be an issue a few weeks in.
In situations in which you have no idea what you’re looking for but you know you want to start going, plan to meet with a few therapists and listen to your gut! As cliché as that may sound, science has shown that our gut instinct is an indicator for connection. How did you feel during session? How did you feel once you left the session? Did you feel respected and heard? Did you feel like the therapist understood why you were coming to therapy or did they just tell you what was wrong? At the end of the day it’s all about you and your needs. The truth is, there are many different therapists that are able to offer the same level of expertise and knowledge but do it differently. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for recommendations if they like someone, or call a group practice (like Charleston Counseling Center) to do an initial consult and get support with matching.
I hope this provides some level of guidance as you pursue your search to therapy. Wishing everyone much healing and growth on your journey!