I wish I could say the first time I met with a therapist wasn't a complete and utter disaster, but it was literally one of the worst experiences of my life. Picture this: I was a 20-year-old college sophomore battling a combination of anxiety and symptoms of depression, and this woman not only made me feel like I was boring her, but I’m pretty sure, in her extra special passive-aggressive way, she basically told me to get over it. Looking back, I definitely wish I’d asked someone for tips for finding the right therapist instead of blindly making an appointment with the first person my alma matter offered to me, but thankfully, I was able to call the counselor's office and arrange a swap to someone I immediately clicked with and felt comfortable talking to.
There are probably hundreds of thousands of therapists in the world, but finding the right one for you can be a challenge. First, there's the question of what kind of therapy is right for you — because there are a ton, from cognitive behavior therapy, which is a type of psychotherapy that heavily focuses on problem solving tactics, to group therapy, which can involve one or more psychologists treating five to 15 patients at a time in workshops. Then there's the struggle of finding someone you not only feel comfortable talking to but also someone you like talking to, and the check list goes on. It can be an extremely lengthy, complicated endeavor, but to save you the headache, here are a few expert tips to finding the right therapist before you commit to the wrong one.
Browsing online reviews of therapists can be a great starting point, but I know myself, and, personally, I'm much more inclined to see a therapist or doctor that someone I know personally thinks highly of. Having said that, not everyone knows someone who goes to therapy or who openly discusses it, so online is a solid option or, Tracey Cleantis, LMFT told Psychology Today cold-calling institutions for referrals is also a good place to start. She wrote,
"Many institutes have a service in which a clinic director will do an intake and determine what therapist in the community might be a good fit for you. That is a wonderful way to find a therapist if you don't have a referral source."
In an interview with Elite Daily, Nancy Irwin, Psy.D., Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu explains finding the right therapist requires you to, in a sense, "shop around." This is because even though there are a lot of excellent, highly qualified therapists out there, that doesn't mean every single one is going to be the one for you. Before committing to an appointment, Irwin says, most will offer a free consultation you should absolutely take advantage of.
"Most of us give free consultations to answer questions and see if we are a fit. Some do so only via phone, some do so in person," she explains. "Take advantage of that, and ask what their approach is as well as areas of concentration."
Let's say you've met with a potential therapist and agreed to a traditional session. Even though your first impression was a good one, sitting in an actual session with them might not be what you were expecting or hoping. If that's the case, don't feel like you have to continue seeing this doctor.
"I always tell people that trying out therapists is like trying on a pair of jeans," doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC tells Elite Daily. "You know when they fit and it feels good. Every practitioner has a different style, personality and training that all combines into whether or not you feel this is a good fit."
In other words, you wouldn't buy a pair of jeans that were too tight or too baggy, would you? Thank your therapist for their time, and move on.
Post-grad, I learned real quick that seeing a therapist can be pretty costly, especially if the person you're seeing doesn't take your insurance (ugh, now there's an adult word if I ever heard one). It's a sad fact, but according to a survey issued by the nonprofit Mental Health America, 56 percent of the 40 million American's who suffer from mental illness don't even try to get professional treatment because of cost.
If you're still in school, I highly recommend making an appointment with your counselor's office to see if one of the university's therapists would be a good match for you. If you're out of undergrad, Michelle Katz, a nurse, health care advocate and author of Healthcare for Less told the NY Times a good idea would be to either talk to an insurance representative about the types of practices they cover, or look into nonprofit organizations who represent licensed professionals for less money.
For the record, I realize how difficult it can be to balance work responsibilities and social obligations on top of anything personal you've got going on, but personal wellness has to be a top priority. So, for busy individuals constantly on-the-go, who just can't block out a few hours to travel to and from an office, there are apps for you.
Resources like Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Doctor on Demand match you with mental health professionals based on your needs, and offer the convenience of treatment through the phone, rather than having to be in a physical office. And if you aren't comfortable with video calls, some apps allow you to communicate through chat rooms, instead. It's the perfect way to customize your doctor to patient relationship to meet your comfort levels.