How to Start Seeing a Therapist

therapist
A picture of a man in a white doctor’s coat. Credit to flickr.com user Tyler Byber. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

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.

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Bipolar Disorder Increases Risk of Early Death From Natural Causes

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Credit to flickr.com user Steven S. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Wow, what a headline! After reviewing 17 studies involving more than 331,000 patients, University of Washington (UW) researchers have linked bipolar disorder to a risk of early death from natural causes, such as medical illness. The risk of premature death is from 35 to 200 percent more than people without bipolar disorder, and is the same between men and women. The most common conditions leading to death were heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

 

Before this study, the higher rate of death linked to bipolar disorder was attributed to suicides and accidents. While patients who suffer from mental illnesses do have a higher chance of accidents and suicides, the new evidence points to medical illnesses as the primary cause of premature deaths.

According to the UW report published in the journal Psychiatric Services, there are many reasons behind the poor health among bipolar disorder sufferers. Reasons such as unhealthy diet, added stress, lack of exercise, substance abuse, and biases among health professionals towards people with mental illnesses.

In addition to those reasons, bipolar disorder can also stress the immune system and the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, a system which handles many processes in the body. Mental illnesses also trigger the flight-or-fight response to stress.

Even more troubling, psychiatric medications that help treat bipolar disorders tend to cause weight gain, leading to obesity and other complications.

But there are attempts to try to reduce the risk of death in people with mental illnesses, such as providing guidelines to mental health professionals to monitor their patients’ physical health. Psychiatrists are also encouraged to teach their patients about how to quit smoking, how to exercise, and about healthy diets.

This study is a step forward in preventing premature deaths, despite its gloomy nature.

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Which Mental Health Professional Should You Use?

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Credit to flickr.com user Jonas Bengtsson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mental health professionals come in all types. When making the decision as to which doctor to start a treatment plan with, keep in mind that you can try several–as many as you can afford, that is. Your primary care physician can refer you to one or many of these mental health professionals.

 

Psychiatrist

A doctor trained in the medical field of psychiatry, including the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. The most important job of a psychiatrist is to prescribe medication for you. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors. You will likely be referred to a psychiatrist at least once in your mental healthcare journey.

Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist

Just like it says on the tin, a child/adolescent psychiatrist is a medical doctor specifically trained to treat mental illnesses or behavioral problems in children. These professionals can and will prescribe medication.

Psychologist

A psychologist is a mental health professional with a doctoral degree in psychology who can diagnose and treat mental illnesses with courses of therapy. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists do not prescribe medication. There are two forms of psychology: applied psychology, which includes “practitioners,” and research-oriented psychology, which includes “scientists.” Psychologists are trained as researchers and practitioners.

Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker is a counselor with a master’s degree in social work who provides individual and group counseling. The social workers have three years or more of supervised experience. They do not prescribe medication.

Licensed Professional Counselor

A licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a counselor with a master’s degree in psychology and several years of supervised experience who offers individual and group counseling. In the U.S., the title varies by state, but the most common next to LPC is licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). The counselors do not prescribe medication.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

A certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor is a mental health professional with specific training in substance abuse treatment. The counselor can provide individual and group counseling. The counselor does not prescribe medication.

Marital and Family Therapist

Marital and family therapists are professionals specializing in relationships between families, or couples. The therapists emphasize familial relationships as important to consider for your mental health. The counselors have master’s degrees in psychology and related fields, and do not prescribe medication.

Several types of mental health professionals are available to help you. These are just a few of them. A lot of the counselors seem interchangeable, but they all have different approaches, tailored to you.

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