As individuals are continuing to become more open to receiving therapy, I’ve noticed that even though many are mentally to begin therapy, they may also be emotionally overwhelmed around the process of looking for a therapist. I often tell prospective clients that looking for a therapist is like dating. You may have to chat to many before you find the right fit. In this article, I am going to share with you, some of the variables to consider, as well as general tip on how to go about looking for a therapist. This is not a sponsored posts, so any links I share is because I just believe in them to be adequate sources.
Understanding the therapeutic framework(s) that your potential therapists believe in and operate from is somewhat equivalent to understanding the family or values that has shaped a friend or significant other. There are over 50 therapeutic frameworks and most therapists pull from several. When a therapist goes to school, no matter if they’re background is social work, psychology, clinical counseling or marriage and family therapy, they are taught about human behavior from various perspectives. Those perspectives guide their approaches, tools, and understanding of a clients’ particulars needs and limits/strengths. For example, I am very introspective based, therefore my sessions are not typically venting spaces. I ask my clients a lot of questions, and provide deep dive questions and worksheets outside of session.
When you inquire with a therapist, ask them about their approach, and how they may go about supporting you. Here is a great list of various therapy approaches .
Are you looking for therapy for a child, adolescent, adult, couple, partner arrangement or family? Are you looking for in-office sessions, online therapy, or in my case, eco-therapy? All therapists don’t serve all populations. There are some therapists who are strictly online. There are some that are just in-person. There are others who offer both for flexibility. For myself, as a mindfulness focused practitioner, I offer sessions outside, which we refer to as eco-therapy.
Private Practice or Community Based
There are therapists that work in private practice and therapists that work in community organizations. Those who work in private practice tend to have higher fees, whereas those in community organizations may offer lower fees or no fees at all. Community organizations typically receive financial support from local, state and federal agencies to provide mental health resources to the community. Those in private practice may take insurance or allow for private pay. Community organizations will often have public resources to offer you, in supporting your psychological needs. Those in private practice may make outside referrals, and share private resources with you.
Costs/ Forms of Payment
All therapists have different payment systems. If you have insurance, you want to check if your therapist takes your insurance/ are in network with your provider. If the answer is no, you can also inquire if your therapist provides superbills, or if your insurance provider accepts superbills. Superbills are summary of your services, and some insurance providers allow you to pay out of pocket, but may reimburse you up until a designated amount, for the services rendered. For example, if the therapist charges $150 for a session, and you find out your provider reimburses up to $75 or 50%, you will initially pay $150, but after submitting your superbill, your insurance company will send you a check for $75. When neither of these apply, you will have to pay cash. You may see the words cash pay, private pay, or out-of-pocket on a therapists’ website or therapy profile. For clinicians that take private pay, they will likely have an online payment system set up.
It is often known that costs can be a barrier to some people having access to therapy. Most therapists base their fees on the average of their city, the cost of living, their educational/credential level, as well as their demand. When it comes to therapy, there are some therapist who have a public price, and some may offer limited sliding scale (income/situation based) fees. There are also therapists who offer pro-bono services.
Professionals use the term therapist or psychotherapist, however, there are different types of clinicians, and many certifications. There are professionals who are licensed and those who are pre-licensed. Those who are licensed have gone through years of practice under the supervision of a licensed clinician, and have passed a necessary state board exam. Those who are pre-licensed have not completed their board exam yet, but may be working towards it. People may have different reasons for this, however its important to know that both can support you. There are Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), who are Masters level Social Workers. There are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) who have a Master in Marriage and Family Therapy , Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) are Master Level Clinicians and Psychologists (PsyD or PhD Psychology, Clinical Psychology,) who are Doctorate Level Clinicians. There can also be individuals who practice with Doctorates in Marriage and Family Therapy or Social Work. Due to the additional certifications in various theoretical approaches or working with specific mental illness diagnosis, someone can acquire additional credentials within their field over the years.
Experience working with your presenting issue
Its ok to inquire about a therapists’ experience in working with specific psychological issues and challenges. Because there are over 300 diagnose-able illnesses, its important to know that therapists have more experience, comfort, and focus on working around specific illnesses. Ethically, someone should not be working outside of their scope of practice, which refers to experience. It may be important for you to compare experience between various practitioners. Some therapist have really carved a niche out for themselves, and have emphasize certain psychological challenges on their websites/ therapy profiles. If you have a really transparent therapist, they may even disclose why they have leaned in on a particular niche.
What are you bringing to the experience?
Having some type of understanding around what is bringing you to therapy, what is your idea of therapy, as well as what you want to get out of it, can be key. Clients can often walk away believing therapy was a waste a of time or that they didn’t get much from it. During consultations I ask 3 important questions: what’s bringing you to therapy? What has your experience with therapy been like? Or “what is your understanding/belief of the therapeutic process? Lastly, what do you want to get out of therapy or walk away from therapy with? Its important for you to be aware of your expectations, and voice them to the clinician.
Do you know the frequency and times you want therapy? Check if your availability and that of your potential therapists line up. Timing is everything. Don’t schedule times that would cause stress or be difficult to maneuver. Some clients like to schedule sessions on the weekends, and others want it during the week. Be honest with what’s comfortable for you. Sessions are typically 45–50 minutes, so when are you able to dedicate time for that? Are you able to process thoughts and emotions in the morning, afternoon or evening? If you work, consider the time of day you do it, while keeping in mind the mental task of work. Inquire what the scheduling process looks like. Also inquire about your potential therapists’ cancellation policy. For a therapist with a fuller case load, it may be challenging to move their schedule around, and if you’re someone with a fluid schedule, its something to take into consideration.
Identity markers that may matter
One of the most under-the-radar topics to discuss in reference to therapeutic support is exploring the importance of identity markers in your therapist. There is no right or wrong way to approach this. What is important to ask yourself is, does this matter? Identity is complex and for some people, they have traumas connected to various aspects of their identity. Therapy and the relationship with your therapist will not always feel comfortable, but you should always feel safe, seen, heard, and understood. I say that the relationship may not always feel comfortable because clients may experience transference, which is the psychological experience of a client, transferring their emotions about or emotional experience in relation to someone in their life, to their therapist. Your therapist may have identity markers that remind you of someone pleasant or unpleasant in your life. This can either help the therapeutic process or taint it. Some of the biggest identity markers are ethnic identification, gender, or age. There are parts of your therapist you may never actually know such as sexual orientation, religious/spiritual or political affiliation. You can ask about the hidden aspects of their identity, but please note, all will not share. Therapist are trained to be unbiased, as to not allow their personal experiences or practices to impact the therapeutic relationship, but therapist are human, and sometimes identity can impact therapy. Also, some therapists are so good, that they can successfully hold a safe and affirming space for client, even without sharing similar identity markers. Nowadays, most therapist have websites or profiles on therapist directories, so you can get to understand their approach and background. You may also be able to gage your comfort with them during consultation.
Where do you look for your therapist?
This is probably the most stressful question for many who have never had a therapist. Therapy can seem like an elusive world to maneuver. In 2020, its easier than ever to find a therapist. If you have insurance, this will be your fist starting place. Contact your insurance company to search for available providers in your selected area or state (if you’re open to online therapy, a therapist can provide services to any resident of that state). Sometimes people can’t find what they want within their network and have to step outside, for a variety of reasons (full caseload, availability, or identity markers). Word of mouth referral can be useful. You can tap into your network and ask for referrals. Do you have a friend or family member that you know that has or has had a therapist? If you’re comfortable disclosing that you need help looking for one, this is the best place to start. If this isn’t an option or you’re not comfortable asking, then you can also use one of the many directories that exists. Nowadays, there are many online directories that even focus on therapists who represent or work with BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) and LGBTQIAP (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Asexual Pansexual). More therapists are utilizing social media so you can tap into the power of the hashtag, and run a search that way as well. Lastly, there are also therapy apps, and you can obtain services through them now.
Now that you have a bit of a guide, I want to acknowledge your bravery in seeking to do this for yourself. To enter a journey and explore challenges and blind spots is not easy. Therapy will not always be comfortable, and depending on what you’re working on, may have you feeling worse before feeling good. Try to give it at least 5–7 sessions because the first 2–3 are rapport building. Be patient and kind with yourself. Advocate for yourself. Be true to what you need. Try to show up being open-minded, honest, and transparent. Being resistant and guarded can get in the way. You’re in for a journey. I hope you can embrace it.