Finding the Right Therapist by Clayton Isiminger, LPC-Intern, Supervised by Shelley Zavodny, LMFT-S, LPC-S
Finding the right therapist can feel like a daunting task. For many, it's already a time of great stress, and stopping to consider relevant factors in choosing a therapist can be overwhelming when you may already have so much going on that's causing you to seek therapy to begin with. Yet, there are some important things to consider to ensure you get the help you need when searching for the right match. First and foremost, it's important to verify that your therapist is indeed licensed, which you can check by going to the first link listed below. You can also check to see if they have had any disciplinary taken against them by the state board in the second link.
https://vo.ras.dshs.state.tx.u... to check licensure
https://www.tsbep.texas.gov/bo... to check for disciplinary action
Next, don't be afraid to ask about the counselor's professional credentials and work experience. Finding out if this person has experience with the specific issues you are dealing with is a good way to quickly rule out if someone is going to be able to help you. By checking with the therapist on their areas of expertise and experience with your specific areas of concern, you can feel confident that you are getting someone who will make good use of your time. Be sure to ask what treatment approaches the therapist uses, and if these methods have been proven to be effective. While there are many different approaches to therapy, not all of them work equally well treating everything or for a specific person. It's also important to understand the approach the therapist uses and get an appreciation for whether or not it suits your personality and situation.
If you don't have an idea for what type of therapy would work for you, ask about it when you meet them. Many therapists will give you a solid answers and make sure you understand what their approach entails, rather than giving you a short answer such as “I am a behaviorist,” without further explanation. When you visit a prospective therapist for the first time, try to come up with a short list of questions to ask them. Pay attention to how you feel as you speak with your new therapist. Do they make you feel as though they are listening to you, and providing complete answers? Or are they in a hurry and not making you feel comfortable and understood? At any point you feel they might not be a good fit for you, tell them. Express what it is that you're looking for and what it is you feel is missing. This can help them to provide a good referral for someone who may be a much better fit. Most therapists understand that therapy is about relationship and connection, and therefore, are willing to help find a therapeutic match.
For example, perhaps the dynamic between you and your therapist is a little off. Perhaps you find they are not giving you enough direction within the session and you feel a bit lost as to what to talk about or how what you're doing is going to be of any help to you. In this instance, you may feel more comfortable with someone who uses a more “directive” approach. If the opposite was true and you found the more structured approach to feel too impersonal, you may do better with someone who is less directive and more empathetic. These are a few facets to therapy that can sometimes feel like opposites. How often a therapist challenges or confronts will feel very different than when a therapist offers empathy and support. This is not to say that a therapist cannot provide both of these things when needed, but it can be useful to be mindful of what you need and whether your therapist has a style which can fulfill that need.
The next practical consideration may be to find out if the business side of things are going to work for you. Does who you're looking at take insurance? Are they in your network with your insurance? What would be your out-of-pocket fees? Are the appointment times open, available, and compatible with your schedule? These are important questions because no matter how great the match might be otherwise, the answers to these questions will determine if meeting with a therapist is even viable. If you prefer to cash pay, is the potential therapist's cash pay rates in your budget? Do they offer a sliding scale of some kind for cash paying clients? If you find a therapist you like and the rate is more than you can afford, don't hesitate to ask about sliding scale fees or express any other concerns about affordability. Many therapists will work with you or give you a referral to someone who is within your budget.
Next to consider are issues relating to gender, and cultural background. For many, it feels natural to find a therapist who is similar to ourselves. Sometimes, it can be easier to feel understood if we share some common background with our therapist. Other times, we may want to go outside this area of familiarity for one reason or another. Sometimes there may be specific issues you are dealing with that would make you uncomfortable working with someone of a specific gender. Either way, it's important to be mindful of your preferences and listen to your gut. If you have any concerns about your relationship related to gender or background, don't hesitate to discuss them with your prospective therapist and talk about what might be special areas of concern that could negatively effect your ability to communicate honestly and openly. Remember, therapy is a collaborative venture between both you and your therapist, so choosing a therapist you feel comfortable with is what sets the stage for all your future work and success. Personal comfort is what matters. Without good rapport and the feeling you can truly open up to your counselor, therapy isn't likely to be very helpful.
Following these steps isn't a guarantee that you'll find the best counselor on the first try, but hopefully this will help you make a more informed choice, and in some small way assist you in finding someone who can help you more quickly and painlessly.