Finding a therapist can feel really overwhelming. Those who don’t know much about therapy, therapists, or what they really need from therapy, can struggle the most with this process. Today, I’d like to give you some clear guidelines on how to get started in that process.
First, release yourself from the idea that you need to fully understand yourself, inside and out, in order to select the best therapist for your needs. This is too much to ask of yourself. Your therapist can help you work this part out once you get into therapy. If you know what your goals are, great. If you don’t, that is fine too. A therapist can help you define goals that are meaningful for you.
Second, identify what is not working in your life; try to pinpoint what needs to change. Make a list of the things that make you unhappy, cause you pain or discomfort, or feel unacceptable in your life. A sample list might look like: “I feel unhappy with my relationship. I feel sad a lot. I can’t stop thinking about my ex. I feel stressed all of the time and don’t know how to get relief. I don’t like my job. I have trouble sleeping because of bad dreams and nightmares. I wonder if my childhood was as bad as it felt. I feel like I’m losing my mind or am easily overwhelmed. I think I have depression. I don’t know what to do with the changes in my life. I can’t stop eating, drinking alcohol or caffeine, looking at social media, or playing video games. Certain things make me really anxious. I don’t like the way I react to my partner and my kids sometimes.” Maybe your list is shorter or longer. No judgement. Just jot down the issues and try to not consider what it means about you as a person that you have these issues. Your therapist will help you explore this further.
Next, use a site that allows you to search for therapists that can work with what is on your list. Two of these sites are Psychology Today (psychologytoday.com) and Mental Health Match (mentalhealthmatch.com). On a site like this you can enter many of the things that are important to you, such as location, insurance, issues they work with, gender, etc. You can also choose whether you want in-person sessions or telehealth or someone who does both. There often will be a note as to whether they are currently accepting new clients or not. In this era of high demand for mental health services, many therapists are booked up. Knowing whether they are currently taking clients, can save you a phone call and waiting for a response. With the search tool on these sites, you can narrow your search quickly without having to make a telephone call to every therapist in a 25 mile radius.
Let’s think of it this way… If you really wanted a female gynecologist in your town, who can help you understand your birth control options, then a male orthopedist who repairs fractures in another state is not going to work for you. So it is with therapists. This is similar to therapy in that experienced therapists tend to specialize in a few areas. You need to find the one who has experience in the issues you are dealing with.
Once you have a list of 5-7 therapists, it’s time to start sending emails or making calls. If you send an email, you can forward your list. Mental Health Match allows you to select items from a menu that are of concern for you. Before you start calling, think about when you’d like to start therapy. If you feel like your need is urgent, you may not want to be scheduled for an appointment a month from now or end up on a wait list. If your need is less urgent, you may be okay with being scheduled a bit further out. Consider contacting all of the providers on your list but keep notes about who you contacted so that you can keep track of who best fits your needs. If a provider calls you back and says they don’t work with your particular issue, cross them off your list.
If the times they have available are a complete mismatch for your schedule, cross them off the list. If you work night shift and need to sleep from 8 am to 4 pm, a noon appointment is going to be very difficult for you to keep on a regular basis. Don’t try to force it, if it really doesn’t work with your needs. On the other hand, if you could alter your schedule slightly to fit in an appointment, it will be worth it.
Lastly, don’t commit to the first therapist you meet with. Often therapists will do free initial consult phone calls. This is a time to ask questions about how they do therapy and what you can hope to experience through doing therapy with that therapist. Even after the initial session, continue to ask yourself, am I getting what I need from this? Does this feel like the right fit for me? It can be hard to think about doing this process of deciding on the right therapist for you, but therapy is an involved and personal process. It takes time, and the healing you can get through doing therapy with someone who is a good fit for you and your needs can be transformative. When the fit is not good or even bad, the process can feel unproductive or frustrating. Don’t delay your healing by staying with the wrong therapist just because they were the first to call you back. You deserve to recover, and finding the best therapist for you, can make that process much smoother and more fulfilling. I hope this helps!