How to find a great therapist

An introduction to reflecting on one’s mental wellness needs

I am one of those people not just saved by therapy, but also who has blossomed under therapy. The negative rap that therapy gets is so uncalled for. Literally, therapy does nothing by save people! Also, don’t go telling me about all the whackadoodles out there. I have interacted with so many bad medical doctors or bosses over the course of my life, yet I haven’t ever heard someone say, “One should never go to a doctor!” OR, “We should never work, because all bosses are asses!” OK, that rhymes and rant over.

Do you agree that everyone has a right to be heard? Or that everyone should have the opportunities for growth and development? Most of you will say yes! I say, YESSS! Therapy should be a human right.

Initially, I had to go to therapy to process the complexities of having been a teen carer for my mom who lived and died with Young Onset Alzheimer’s. But, lately I go to therapy to realize my potential; to make my dreams come true. I can almost see folks widening their eyes. NEWSFLASH: Therapy can help with all sort of active and inactive mental health issues.

The most common lament I have heard is, ‘But how DOES one find a GOOD therapist?’ I am not gonna lie. It can be tricky, just like buying the perfect dress for a person over size 8! So here are some quick tips:

A. Seek recommendations from friends and acquaintances: I found great therapists in Chicago and Toronto based on recommendations. I can’t thank them enough for “sharing”.

B. Seek recommendations from professional organizations: Look for cause-based organizations in your area. Usually, they would know where to look for individual therapy. Sometimes, these specialized organizations may be able to provide need-based support. E.g. grief support after the passing of a person or counselling for those that may have a new diagnosis, etc.

C. Be open to group support: Being in groups with peers is one of the most powerful things ever. Even if you don’t speak, it is less alienating to hear others share their stories. I have actually been a to a group and given a fake name because I was scared. But I found it super helpful.

D. Online research and reviews: We live in the day and age of Google. Look for reviews. Yes, I know the limitation is that very few people actually avail and even fewer would admit to availing these services, leave alone review them. But it’s worth a try. At the very least, you will have a list of people you can call and have a preliminary interview with too.

Source: https://www.psychotherapy.net/humor/26

E. Know what you’re looking for: Are you looking to solve a particular problem? Are you looking only for support related to a tough situation? Are you looking to resolve trauma? Are you looking for couples therapy? Are you looking for ongoing support for a health / mental health condition? Once you know what you want, it might be easier to interview therapists.

What? Interview therapists? Yes! You have to! Especially if you’re cold-calling people from a website directory.

Step 1 would be to know whether you need a psychiatrist (a medical doctor, specializing in psychiatry that can also offer medication management), a psychologist (trained in testing, can work independently or with a psychiatrist) or a social worker (a Master’s level professional like me who can help with system and resource navigation). The money charged by each of these professionals will vary. There is no minimum or maximum to this type of service. Like a 5-star restaurant doesn’t mean great food, more money or training, don’t always mean the best fit for you!

Before we begin, if you are looking for a therapist that is covered under your benefits / insurance, you need to know which professional(s) are covered. In my case, only psychologist or social workers are covered.

Here are a few questions you could look to get answers to in the first 20 minutes of your pre-consultation interview with a potential therapist:

  1. What sort of training or education have you had? If you’re looking online, perhaps you already know. Nevertheless, a good one to keep in mind. A thing to consider might be one’s openness to work with a less traditional approach like Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). There are a whole lot of therapists out there that may have had an alternate career before switching to counselling and have a certificate or training that allows them to work as therapists.
  2. What approaches are you comfortable using? For e.g. If someone is looking to solve a particular problem, then having a therapist that is trained in solution-focussed therapy is useful.
  3. How sort of approach would you use to help support someone with eating disorders? (This is an example — you can use this in your context.)
  4. Do you have a specialty area or interest?
  5. Do you seek supervision or therapy yourself?
  6. What payment methods do you accept?
  7. Do you offer video sessions?
  8. What is the best way to reach you?
  9. What are your views on *insert your non-negotiable* here? For me, it would be views on sexuality, gender, abortion and equity. It is not to say that your therapist will not be able to be non-judgmental. BUT, for me these issues are triggers. I moan about them in therapy a lot. I also hear from some of my friends from the LGBTQ+ community that they prefer to have a therapist that identifies as LGBTQ+ or specializes in that area.

I would also recommend knowing your preferences. Are you more comfortable with women or men? Do you prefer peer counselling (where the therapist has undergone the same situation as yourself)? For e.g. I have been a Young Carer for my mom. A lot of my clients have told me that I have nuanced skill at narrowing down quicker their issue! (I know I am good; but I also feel that they are just more comfortable with me because I am a peer.)

It isn’t that one is better than the other. It is more about YOU — your comfort level. Your therapist, hopefully, will get to know you intimately and you want to ensure that you’re getting the maximum benefit for you time, money and emotional investment.

Today, there are text, chat, email therapy options. If you cannot find a therapist in your area, you could try out one of these. Some of these are free and some are paid.

Lastly, don’t be scared to go to therapy. The more open and honest we are with our therapist, the more likely we are to be open and honest with ourselves. Watch for the next post on “What to expect from therapy”! Thank you for reading.

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