Those who know me would probably say I seem to be a fairly happy, outgoing, fun, and even laid-back person (at least I like to think so). Yet, there's another side to me that not everyone sees -- the side of me that's basically, well, a hot mess (I don't call this blog that for nothing!).
I've dealt with anxiety and depression nearly all my life, before I even knew what it was. I first sought therapy in 2007 after dealing with the fallout of a traumatic breakup. Since then, I've had therapy on-and-off, and I’ve gotten pretty knowledgeable on finding the right therapist to fit your needs. In 15 years, I’ve been to eight, not to mention a longtime psychiatrist who was basically a psychiatrist-and-therapist all wrapped into one. Five I saw fairly regularly over the years, based on my needs, while three were one-and-done sessions.
Follow along as I share my own personal journey through therapy and provide several tips for finding the right therapist for your needs.
1. Do your research
While a few of the therapists I’ve seen over the years were referred to me, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of also Googling that therapist and checking out his or her website for yourself. For example, there just might be something you read that resonates with you, or maybe you find the opposite.
Case in point: A good friend suggested I schedule an appointment with her former therapist, since she helped her a lot. My friend thought she’d be perfect for me since women’s issues is a specialty of hers, and I especially needed additional support while undergoing fertility treatments, including IVF. Well, it turns out that women’s issues is a broad category, and infertility was not a topic this therapist was well-versed in. I spent much time during sessions answering questions about the process itself, which is seriously complex. I could tell she had been practicing a long time, and it just seemed to me that she was growing tired of it. Occasionally, I'd see her eyes wander. While she took my insurance and the expense was minimal, ultimately, I felt I wasn’t getting much from it. So, one day, immediately following my session, I knew what I had to do: I got in my car and did a Google search on my phone for local practitioners who specialized in infertility and anxiety. I found my new therapist then and there and haven't looked back.
Another time, my beloved former psychiatrist of eight years (who’s only my “former” because she tragically passed away from cancer in 2016) recommended I seek therapy in addition to our work together to help deal with the sudden loss of my father in 2011. I hadn’t felt that I needed it, since my psychiatrist wasn’t the kind who just spoke to you for 15 minutes and wrote your prescriptions — we would talk for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. But I took her advice and saw the therapist whose office was next door and who also had the same name as my
psychiatrist. As it turns out, the name and the office location were where the similarities ended. While I do admit that I probably wasn’t fully ready to talk about my feelings to a new person, I found her judgmental — and that wasn’t going to make me want to return and open up more.
When it comes to initial research, consider things, such as:
Do you prefer a male or female therapist?
What specialties are relevant to you?
Does experience matter to you? What about academic credentials (MSW vs. PhD or PsyD)?
How far are you willing and able to commute?
Are you open to teletherapy/remote therapy?
How much are you able and/or willing to spend (more on costs below)?
2. Ensure there’s a rapport
When it comes to mental health practitioners — more so than with any other type of provider — having a rapport is of the utmost importance. After all, you’re spending anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour of your day — not to mention, shelling out a good amount of money — so you want to feel like this person gets you and understands where you’re coming from.
As I mentioned in my earlier example, feeling judged is not what you want from a therapist. Nor is having to answer questions about things you already know — nobody’s got time for that.
Then there's the therapist's style to consider. My first-ever therapy session was with a clinical psychologist who had either a PhD or PsyD. I was new to the whole thing, and I remember sitting there at one point while she just stared at me waiting for me to say something. Being a therapy newbie at the time, I wasn't used to opening up to a stranger (unlike now... hey, you'll probably know my whole life story after meeting me for the first time). I didn't think her way was right for me, so that was an example of one and done.
I mentioned above finding my current therapist through a Google search after leaving a session with my previous provider. The minute I met my new therapist, she seemed warm and attentive, holding her pen and paper, writing things down, listening to every word I said. Each visit that followed, she seemed ready and prepared. She made references to things I had told her before to show me she was listening. She also isn't a total stickler for staying within the time limits, often letting me finish up a thought or story even if we went a few minutes over time (as long as she was able). She's even told me I'm a terrific storyteller and that this is the reason she loves her job so much. Hey, maybe she should start paying me for entertaining her!
3. Trust Your Gut
This next piece of advice is similar to ensuring there’s a rapport, but it’s more focused on your gut feeling. When you meet someone and hit it off right away — whether a personal or professional relationship — you can’t always explain why you feel the way you do: You just do. And when something feels either right or off, you just know.
When it comes to the role that intuition plays as a new patient, here's an example: I once met with a therapist my current psychiatrist had recommended. This therapist was around my age — or possibly younger — which weirded me out. Not sure what I'll do as I age, and the therapists keep getting younger... I’ll have to get over this age/motherly figure thing, but, until then, it is what it is.
But, what bothered me even more is kind of bizarre: She had a tattoo -- not the fact that she had one, the fact that this was a dealbreaker for me. See, I’ve always hated tattoos, even having an aversion to the point I'd feel sick if I was around someone with very obvious ones. I later learned (through therapy!) that my phobia was likely due to epigenetics and the fact that my paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors — that their trauma from the war had been passed down to me even though I never experienced it myself. Isn’t that insane? Yet, it’s the only thing that made sense.
While the whole tattoo thing doesn't trigger me quite as much now, I just couldn’t picture that this therapist would ever be able to understand where I’m coming from. Weird, I know, but that’s what my gut told me. And your gut is not to be second-guessed.
Consider this: One day, several months after I had decided to leave my former therapist (the one who knew little about infertility), I got a letter in the mail announcing her upcoming retirement. I was not surprised.
4. Consider Costs
Therapy can be expensive. That's why it makes sense to look for a therapist that takes insurance — your insurance -- and is in network. However, that's not always easy to do. From my experience, there's only a handful of practitioners listed, and many of them are fairly inexperienced. Two names I even recognized — a girl I went to college with and another who worked at my old job.
A good practice is to ask practitioners whether they work on a sliding scale. This means that they offer a lower price if you can't afford it or you have an insurance plan that does not reimburse you or has a very high deductible to meet.
I've found that, many times, therapists who have more unique specialties tend to not take insurance and keep their prices a bit higher. However, many insurance plans will reimburse you for sessions, depending on your plan. So call your insurance, ask questions, and advocate for yourself.
So, there you go: my tips for finding the right therapist for you. First, consider logistics: Does this practitioner offer what you need? Do they take insurance? Then consider the emotional side: Do you connect with them? Do you feel they understand your needs? Oftentimes, from my experience, the emotional side of things outweighs the cost, because, if you don't feel that rapport (and that is basically the whole point of therapy), this person may not be the right fit for you — and that could be a waste of both your time and your money.