How To Pick A Therapist
May is all about mental health awareness, so naturally it's my duty to take advantage of the month's first post and provide you with information on how to ask for help. Before I lay out how to select a therapist, I think it’s important to know when you may need to reach out to see one. Why? Because if your brain is not working, neither are you.
When To Go To Therapy
This can be a bit of a complex topic and will vary by individual, professional opinion, etc. In short- I believe you should consider going to therapy when you are overwhelmed with your thoughts. Your decision making might be off, your emotional responses are different than what they generally are (your day-to-day), talking within your support network isn't working, and/or your usual coping mechanisms no longer serve you.
So. Now that we are here, let’s talk about the process:
Therapy can run you anywhere from $0-$175+ a session. Let’s not kid ourselves and dance around discussing money. It is often a deciding factor in selecting a therapist. I get it. The cost of your therapy, however, is not directly related to the quality of services you receive. A therapist who charges $50 a session can be 3 times as good as a therapist who charges $200 a session. A lot of what will work for you revolves around fit- but I’ll talk about that below.
Q: Do you have insurance?
If you do, call your provider and find out what your mental health assistance is and what network you can use to find a mental health professional. That’s a pretty huge step because A- it keeps you in budget and B- it narrows down your selection pool from the sea of potential. If you are a student or a professional in a progressive moving organization, you may have mental health services available to you on-site, generally at little to no cost. USE THEM.
Also be on the lookout for community based services that may be at no cost through schools, churches, community centers, where volunteer clinics are offered bi-weekly, or free counseling through local colleges and universities from Master level graduate students at on-site clinics.
If neither of the above applies to you, therapy will cost you out of pocket. There are various outpatient mental health centers that can help provide services and group and private practices. Some may offer sliding scale fees depending on your economic bracket.
Listen. There is a lot of confusion in the mental health world. I get it. It took me a while to understand a few things and I’m still learning more and more every day. Therefore, if you are simply just looking for help, I can understand why sometimes it’s easier to not even bother. A lot of the confusion comes from accreditation and policy, cough: politics.
Yeah girl, I just need to talk to someone.
I hear you. I’m going to gloss over the boring stuff and basically call everyone a mental health professional. Below is a quick and dirty cheat sheet for those acronyms you always see & what they mean. At the end of the day, all of these people can help you:
- LMHC, LPC, LCPC: These people all do the same thing. It's just that each state has their own title. They are licensed professional mental health counselors and they’re extremely trained to help you with individual, group, family, and couples counseling. They have a masters degree and additional post masters clinical hours (among other things) prior to obtaining this license. They are also required to have continued educational training to keep their license active.
- LMFT- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. They are trained rigorously in the clinical practices to serve married folks and families. Their entire approach and thinking of the world revolves around systems (things impact other things) and the impact of family relationships. They also provide excellent individual services.
- LCSW- Licensed Clinical Social Worker- trained in advocacy, systemic policy, and can perform the same acts as a LPC/LMHC; general emphasis on possible Department of Health and Family Service cases, family services, domestic issues, abuse, etc.
- LAC- Licensed Addictions Counselor. This professional has additional experience in addictions.
- MA/MS/MEd- Masters degree obtained. MEd= Masters in Education. You may see this for school counselors or new graduates who are working on obtaining their clinical license.
- Licensed Clinical/Counseling Psychologist, PhD, PsyD- doctoral level psychologist.
- Psychiatrist- A medical doctor who specializes in treating mental health illness. A Psychiatrist can see you for therapy and prescribe you medication.
- NCC- A Nationally Certified Counselor; this is a credential that indicates the professional as achieved a high level accomplishment via National credentialing exam.
The difference between counseling and psychology? How much time do you have.
In short, and this is my opinion. If you are in need of rigorous assessments or specific testing, such as ADHD testing, Autism Spectrum testing, Comprehensive Development testing, Speech and Language or Motor and Sensory testing, then definitely look into a specific psychologist for help (some masters level professionals may be qualified or specifically trained in areas as well, get to googling).
If you already have insurance then this part is a lot easier since you are bound to a network. If you don’t have insurance, check out Psychology Today and search via zip code. If you are weary of using company-based mental health services or school services, reach out and see who they would recommend for you to use in town that would likely accept your student/work insurance. Referrals are also an idea. Ask around- see who your friends recommend and yelp up the reviews to see who locally has a good response from the community.
There are various filters to use for selecting a therapist: what topic you want to focus on, a faith/spirituality based therapists, gender, age; the options are really endless. Take out a note card and write down who you think you’d want to sit across the room from you and what you want them to be skilled in to help you.
Approach: Find the modality of therapy you think would serve you best. Google the acronyms to get an idea of the therapist’s anchor in treatment.
Example: CBT- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The most widely used approach of therapy. This (and systems) is my approach and I love it. A CBT therapist is going to challenge your irrational thoughts and beliefs and work with you to change your behavior. Other options might include EMDR, Play Therapy, Adlerian, Psychoanalytic, Gestalt, Rogerian, the list goes on and on.
Finding a therapist is a lot like speed dating.
I’m going to be honest about the situation because it varies. You may find your therapist on the first try. You may need to go through a couple to find a nice fit. It’s frustrating to tell your story over and over and over, but I promise, when you find a therapist that fits and is appropriate for your needs, it’s magic. Please stick with it until you find a fit. The reward is on the other side of your tangled thoughts.
Once you have a list of potentials, reach out. See if they’re accepting new clients and if you can arrange a consult or maybe you just want to jump right in to a session if your’e feeling it. This is going to vary depending on your choices and your approach to new terrain.
Your first session is going to be your intake session. I tell my patients that this is me getting in your business. Gathering all of the information about you and understanding what brought you into counseling. This can feel very intrusive. I get it. It’s a stranger asking you to open that closest of skeletons and shining this huge flashlight. We know it took a lot for you to sit in that chair. To your fears I say: We have to learn you to help you. As you build a relationship with your therapist, your worries will ease and your treatment will start to take off. You and your therapist will negotiate the frequency and duration of your sessions. You will also discuss confidentiality, the limits of confidentiality, and your responsibilities as a client.
Positive Distraction of The Week
Know where you can get help locally if in fact you ever need it. Just bookmark it.
Whew. That’s a lot but I wanted you to know. It can be a bit terrifying but a lot of what we fear in life ends up being worth it in the end. I hope this list is helpful to you or someone you may know. Thanks for following up this week!
Best, Dr. Dyce