A deep connection with a therapist who walks with you and helps you live your fullest life can be one of the most beneficial and healthy experiences of your life. But what if you never connect with your therapist? What if they offer helpful advice, but they don’t seem to get you? What if they’re straight up bad? Therapy is a unique thing, because it’s built on relationship between the provider and the client more than just about any other professional interaction. You can hate your neurosurgeon but trust him to do his job well. After all, how much are you really chatting while under anesthesia? But how you feel about your therapist and their intentions changes how you respond to their work with you.
So how do you find a therapist who’s truly right for you? Well, to start off, I can tell you it takes a little more work than googling “therapists in _____ city.” These steps are pretty simple, but can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
Determine Your Options
Therapy is an investment, both of time and finances. You might have a concern that just takes a few sessions to address, but if you want to work through past trauma or an illness, it could take months or even years (I’m not a big fan of encouraging clients to stay for years, but many therapists do). So how do you pay for it? And what kind of time commitment can you make?
As for the finances, most therapists work for an agency (a big counseling center run by an organization), are in private practice (including their own solo business and working with a private counseling center), or are online. Some take insurance, some don’t. As a general rule, most agencies and bigger centers take insurance. If you want to use yours, start there. It’s also helpful to find out how many sessions your insurance will pay for, and what percentage they will pay. Many people have a copay for psychotherapy. Best part? You might get most or even all of your sessions paid for. But you often don’t get to choose your counselor.
Some private practitioners take insurance too, but many don’t. The average therapy session runs about $100 an hour. So why would you pay that much? It gives you the freedom to work with whoever you want, and it also provides flexibility for how long you work together. Like I said, many insurance companies only pay for a handful of sessions per year.
I currently work with a provider network called SonderMind. These types of networks are getting increasingly popular, because they give therapists the ability to accept insurance but the freedom of having a private practice.
There are also lots of online directories that let you choose your payment method, location, specify your concerns to find someone with a specialty that matches you, and more. This can take a lot of your initial work away and is a huge time saver! A few of my favorite networks are Therapy Tribe, Therapy Den, and Denver Therapy Match. Psychology Today is another big one as well.
There are also many online companies now offering therapy through an email or Skype-like program. These are usually subscription-based and generally affordable. The drawback here is that, of course, it’s not in person. Sometimes this works great, especially for those who have concerns on and off and just want to know someone is there to talk when they need it. But this setup is definitely less personal.
Check out their website
From here, I’m going to address finding a counselor under the assumption that you are choosing your own, in-person counselor, either from a group of counselors at a center or someone in private practice.
Always, always check a therapist’s website. Not all therapists have a full site, but they will at least have a profile on Psychology Today’s website or a Facebook page. Hopefully, you can read a little about their theoretical orientation (the specific techniques they typically use with clients and why), learn about their background, see what their specialities are, get an idea of how billing works, and simply see how they decorated their site and what they seem to care about. It can tell you a lot! I wouldn’t rely completely on your website impressions, but a poor website can certainly turn people off early, and usually for good reason.
Call and talk to them before setting up an appointment
Many therapists will offer free consultations before you set up a first appointment, sometimes by phone and sometimes in person. Definitely take the therapist up on this consultation if it’s offered. During this short appointment, you can ask more specific questions about theoretical orientation and specialties, and get an idea of how they would want to work with you. It’s also helpful to share a bit about what you’re going through, because the therapist might be able to recognize immediately if it’s not their speciality or if their services would or would not be beneficial to you. A short consultation can get you excited about going to therapy, or help you avoid paying for a session with someone you already know won’t work out.
Try to stay open-minded the first few sessions
Building trust with a therapist is like building trust with anyone else. You both will say things that don’t make sense, you’ll have jokes that miss, you’ll misunderstand each other. The therapist may try different styles the first few sessions to see what resonates with you. Be open and share with them when something doesn’t work, and also share when something makes sense and feels helpful. Your therapist may also say something you don’t like whatsoever. Is it because they’re completely misunderstanding you, or because they’re touching at something you know is true and painful? If it’s the latter, try to keep working through it and explain to the therapist what you’re going through. It sucks at first, but that process is getting to the core of the reason you’re in therapy: to grow.
Don’t expect immediate results
The first few sessions with a new therapist can be boring. You’ll likely have to go through some sort of assessment, during which the therapist will ask you questions about your history, symptoms, and life experiences. You may talk about the goals you have for therapy, or what you’d like to work on. And, naturally, you and the therapist will be getting to know each other. If you immediately feel comfortable sharing vulnerable parts of your life, awesome! More power to you. But if that feels difficult or awkward, give it time. In some cases, you may have a pretty specific issue to talk through, you do that in a few sessions, and then you move on with your life. But otherwise, you will likely not feel less depressed, anxious, or have more stable moods after one, or even four or five, sessions. Depending on what you’ve been going through and how deep those experiences run, therapy can be a very long process, and moving forward an inch is a big deal. That’s absolutely normal.
Do expect to be seen
What you SHOULD expect immediate results in is believing the therapist cares about you and your wellbeing. Even if there’s a long way to go relationally, you should get the sense that the therapist is on your side. If you feel judged, interrupted, shut down, or consistently misunderstood, this therapist is probably not a good fit. And that’s okay. Sometimes it takes a few first sessions to find someone with whom you truly work well. But remember, it’s a big investment, and it’s your mental and emotional health we’re dealing with. It MATTERS. Really good therapy can be painful and difficult, but there’s a difference between that and the therapist piling more trauma onto you by how they treat you. It’s worth finding the right person to work with.
Next up in this series: What to ask your therapist before your first session. This is so key to finding the right therapist and is closely connected to this post! I hope you’ll check it out.