I will be the first person to acknowledge that it can be hard to find the right therapist, even in a market like Denver in which there are hundreds of therapists. A few months ago, I was looking for a therapist to help me work through a few things and I, who know the field, struggled. Here are some things that I’ve learned and a few tips that I hope will help you.
- Don’t Rely Solely on Looking for a Therapist Who Takes Your Insurance. Instead Look for a Therapist Who Works with Your Concerns: Unlike the medical profession, many really good counselors do not accept insurance and for good reasons, the most common of which is that insurance companies limit the therapy the therapist can practice. For example, insurance companies require a diagnosis, and frankly a diagnosis that falls under the perimeters that they will pay isn’t always possible. I work with clients who are struggling with some aspect of their lives, but often there isn’t a diagnostic code that encompasses what they are feeling. If there is no diagnostic code, there is no payment. (This is why therapists will use a general code such as an anxiety disorder.) Insurance companies often don’t pay for couples counseling or for people going through relationship problems. They may pay for a major depressive disorder, but once the disorder is under control, they are going to stop, even though therapy is not done yet as the client is still working through problems that contributed to the depressive disorder. So for example, if you are suffering from depression, first look for therapists who work with depression. If you desire to work with a faith-based therapist, look for therapists who incorporate your faith into their therapeutic methods. From there, you can narrow your choices.
- Ask for Referrals: Referrals for therapists don’t have to come from your medical doctor. Ask your friends if they know therapists. If you have a friend who has sought counseling, ask who they used and about their experience. Ask the clergy or lay ministers at your church for recommendations, especially if you are looking for faith-based counselors. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who is a therapist, ask him or her for recommendations. I have a list of therapists who I know and trust and have referred friends to them. I’ve also asked my therapist friends for referrals for clients who I know are out of their area of expertise
- Use Google: Google is great to help you narrow your search. If you are looking for a therapist near you to help with depression or life transitions, type in mental health counselor, therapist, zip code, depression, and life transitions into your search engine. If you want a faith-based therapist who is Christian or Catholic for example, add Christian or Catholic to your list of words. You can also use the common therapy sites such as Psychology Today, Good Therapist, etc. If you are looking for a faith-based therapist, you can go to Christian Counselor Directory, or Catholic Therapists for example.
- So now you have some names, how do you choose? Various studies have shown that the #1 factor in a client’s success with therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. That relationship begins with your first contact with the therapist. If the therapist has a website, read how she describes herself and her practice. If you are looking for a very personable therapist, does the write up convey this? Does the therapist write in plain, easy-to-understand terms, or is a lot of jargon, therapist-speak being used? Even the therapist’s picture is important as therapists choose a picture that conveys their personality for their profile picture. Does the therapist have a blog you can read? This will give you more information about the therapist’s convictions, practice style, and personality.
- Make or Break Details
- How quickly does the therapist respond to your phone call or email request? Industry standard is generally that the therapist should return your phone call or answer your email within 24 hours, but my personal policy is to return calls as soon as possible after receiving a call or email. It takes a lot of courage to contact a therapist and I recognize that and believe that a quick response is one way to honor your courage. Even if a therapist doesn’t have openings, he or she should still call you back.
- Your first impression of the therapist during the phone call. Does the therapist come across as interested in you or is he or she sounding rushed? Does the therapist ask questions about you and take the time to listen to some of your story or does she just jump into a sales pitch about her practice? This phone call is both for you to see if there is a connection with the therapist, and for the therapist to determine that her skills and expertise are compatible with your needs. If they are not, the therapist should try to give you referrals. I find my first phone calls with the client last about 15-20 minutes. I also offer a free 30-minute in office consultation to help the client decide if it’s a right fit for him or her.
- Specialty areas are important to consider.Most therapists specialize in some areas or have a “niche” that they market to. For example, I am a Catholic therapist and many of my clients are looking for a therapist who understands Church teachings and can apply this. I’m a military veteran and I also work with veterans who’ve experienced trauma or are having difficulty adjusting to civilian life. You want to search for a therapist who works with your areas of concern or whose qualifications/interests match your interests. Don’t feel that you have to be politically correct when choosing your therapist. As I mentioned earlier, the relationship between the therapist and client is the most important factor in whether or not healing happens, so you want to select a therapist in which you have a connection.
- Do you feel comfortable/safe with the therapist in his or her office? I bring this up because the therapist’s office is an extension of the therapist and therapists work hard to create an office space that reflects their personalities and which is conducive to healing. This begins with the little things, like the therapist offering the client a bottle of water or a cup of tea, to the comfort of the chairs and maybe a soft pillow to hug or a blanket to wrap up in. It can be tough to talk about your deep pains, so a space that creates that safe feeling for you is so important.
- Final Thoughts: Your therapist’s role is to not be your friend, but to guide you through the process of healing. In order to do this, you and your therapist have to develop trust and honesty, all wrapped with empathy. When I was searching for a therapist a few months ago, I emailed two therapists who did not get back to me. I also asked for referrals and received one, but this therapist was more direct in her approach and I knew that I needed a very empathic therapist. I didn’t need guidance as to what I needed to do; I just needed someone in which I could talk to and to release all the pain I was carrying inside me. I believe it is important to know yourself and to trust your gut. If the therapeutic relationship feels good, continue. If it doesn’t, then it’s okay to say this isn’t working for me and to talk to your therapist about what you need.
If you would like to talk more about how to find a therapist, please message me or call me at 720-707-9119.