A version of this post first appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation Website, found here.
Seeing a therapist can be enormously helpful in sorting out issues you may have in your life. You can also develop coping skills in therapy to deal with serious problems, or just the less-serious issues of everyday life.
But how do you start searching for a therapist? Read on to find the solution.
Facts to Keep in Mind During Your Search
There are a few things to keep in mind before you start your search for a therapist:
- You need to find someone you feel comfortable talking to. No therapist worth his or her salt will be offended if you decide that your relationship with him or her isn’t working out. Don’t stick around if you need to move on.
- Secondly, if you want medication, you’ll need to see a licensed psychiatrist or nurse practitioner who is allowed to prescribe for you. You may encounter a combination therapist-psychiatrist, but those are a rare and dying breed. More likely, you’ll hire a treatment team to take care of all your needs. You don’t need to factor this into your search for a therapist, but if you need meds, you’ll have to find someone other than your therapist who can prescribe for you.
- Third, you will find that there are all sorts of acronyms following the names of various therapists. There are Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs), Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs), and Doctors of Psychology (Psy.Ds.), among others. Don’t be put off by the variety in titles. Rest assured that your level of care will be similar despite the different acronyms. Just make sure your therapist is licensed. Look up the meanings of some of these acronyms. It may help you narrow your search.
Step 1: Figure out What You Want and Need in a Therapist
Do you want a female therapist? Maybe someone Christian? Someone with experience with elder care? Sometimes therapists will list their specialties on their office websites, but it’s not difficult to ask before you see them a question like whether they have experience with patients with bipolar disorder or generalized anxiety.
Next, figure out what you need, not just want, which can be more difficult to pin down. Do you need someone who approaches you with tough love, or someone who indulges you a little? Do you need assignments out of the office? Do you need a shoulder to cry on?
Make separate lists of your needs and wants, and reflect on them at your first appointment, to see if the therapist you’ve chosen is meeting most of your needs and some of your wants.
Step 2: Figure Out How Much Care You Can Afford
Some mental health counselors take insurance, but many will require payment out-of-pocket. Fortunately, most therapists charge on a sliding scale, which means they will consider your ability to pay in determining the price. Determine how much you can afford to pay per month, and how many sessions you think you need. Your budget will determine what therapists you’ll think about using. Keep in mind that mental health is crucial for your day-to-day functioning, and a therapist should be able to help. If you can’t afford a therapist, then that will add strife, not help.
Step 3: Start Searching
There are several ways to find a therapist once you’re ready to search. First, ask for recommendations from your family and friends, provided they’re supportive of your mental health journey. Next, ask for a referral from your doctor, if you have one, and your insurance company–they’ll send lists. Searching online is also an option. GoodTherapy.org allows you to search by location.
Step 4: Prepare for the First Appointment
Once you’ve done the research, it’s time to make appointments. If you can, try to vet more than one therapist to cover the bases of your wants and needs. Prepare for the first appointment(s) by writing down a few questions to consider when meeting with your therapist:
- Do I feel comfortable with this therapist? Can I make a relationship with him or her?
- Does he or she ask me enough questions?
- Has my therapist asked me what my goals are?
- Does my therapist meet my wants and needs?
And so on. Finding a therapist takes time and dedication, but the results are worth it. If you can establish a relationship with your therapist, then you can address the problems which are plaguing you.