When I answered my phone late on a Thursday afternoon, the voice that responded to my greeting was defeated and irritable. Lisa, as I would soon learn, was randomly calling therapists, and I was the fourth therapist she’d seen this month. She didn’t know what questions to ask me or how to search for a therapist who was a good fit for her. She had very little energy for her daily tasks, and she wasn’t happy to be spending that precious brainpower dialing number after number. She wasn’t completely sure what she needed or the best way to feel better, but she did know one thing: she was tired of feeling disengaged, depressed, and lethargic. She’d lost the enthusiasm she once had for her job, her friends and family, and her hobbies. Knowing just a few key strategies could have made Lisa’s search for a therapist much easier. To save you and/or your friends some time and reduce therapist-finding-fatigue, here are six strategies for finding a therapist with whom you can really connect.
1. Know your issue. I recognize that part of your issue might be not knowing what your issue is (and presenting issues are often not the real crux of the problem), but even knowing you don’t know what your issue is gives you a place to start. The reason it is important is because you want to choose a therapist who specializes in treating depression, or relationship issues, zebra phobias, or whatever the issue is. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Check for online presence. Unless they are really old school (and I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that!), most therapists will have some sort of web presence (i.e., Facebook business site, business webpage, etc.). When reviewing a website, look for the therapist’s specialties and treatment modalities to see if they coincide with your needs. What does the webpage say about the therapist? Do you feel calm or agitated by their online presentation? Do they offer resources on their page so that you can get a sense for who they are and if you might connect with them?
3. What’s their orientation…theoretical orientation that drives their practice, that is? Does the prospective therapist have specialized training in techniques designed to help your issues? There are many different orientations, and most therapists use a mix of them. In a very small nutshell, a few of the most popular orientations are:
a. Cognitive or Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This orientation is founded on the belief that our thoughts and behaviors play a big role in our happiness and lack thereof, and by modifying thoughts and behaviors, you can make positive change and improve your emotional state.
b. Psychodynamic – The days of lying on a couch free-associating for hours, weeks, months, and years on end are few and far between, but many of the tenets of psychodynamic psychotherapy remain. This orientation posits that our behaviors are largely motivated by the unconscious and tends to pull from past experiences to help explain the present.
c. Humanistic – This orientation views the self as the central focus. The tenets rest on the premise that people have a desire to help themselves and others. This approach is optimistic and believes that people can and want to overcome difficulties.
d. Holistic therapy - This approach focuses on the connections among the mind, body, and spirit. It proposes that each area affects the others and that that self-awareness can help to bring balance. Holistic therapists are often integrative and draw from the aforementioned therapies in their work with clients.
4. Use your resources.
a. Word of mouth. I know that there may be a perceived stigma for seeking help, even as “evolved” as we have become as a society. That is unfortunate because you wouldn’t hesitate to see a doc in the ER if you sliced your finger and then to tell everyone what an amazing job the doc did stitching up your cut so future finger-slicers could seek her out for top-notch care, but we are hesitant to tell our friends and acquaintances how great our therapist is. All of that to say that relying on word of mouth might not be the easiest way to get a recommendation; however, if you know someone who is seeing a therapist, it might be a good place to start.
b. Database of therapists. Use a reputable database of therapists and don’t be afraid to check their credentials. Psychology Today has a Therapist Finder with many fields that can be used to specify preferred details such as gender of the therapist, distance from your preferred location, areas of expertise, and primary treatment modalities. Most therapists are licensed through a state board. A google search for “Your State Board of Psychologists” will lead to a website where you will likely be able to enter a prospective therapist’s name and be able to see his/her license number and any negative action that has been taken against that person.
5. Try it out first. Many therapists offer a free consultation. If not, ask for one. When you talk to the therapist on the phone, pay attention not only to the business of the conversation (you telling him/her a brief description of what is going on and them telling you if and how they might go about helping you) but also to the way that you feel. Do you feel heard and connected or rushed and anxious? I know it is a short amount of time, but your intuition can be spot on if you are willing to listen to it.
6. Assess the “fit.” Really, it is about the fit. I loved the way the gray Merrell sneakers looked on the shelf in the store. They checked all of the “good sneaker” boxes, but when I put them on my feet, they just didn’t feel right…it wasn’t a good fit. The same can be true for a client-therapist relationship. A therapist might have amazing credentials and might even have helped others you know, but you might not jive with them for whatever reason, and that’s okay. If you don’t feel a connection after a couple of sessions, find someone else. Taking the time to find a good fit can make a huge difference in your outcomes, the speed that you attain those outcomes, and your enjoyment of the journey.
There you have it. Use these tools to find a therapist who can help you shake your depression, anxiety, or stress and help you to become your truest, most awesome self. If you know someone who could benefit from these strategies, be a good friend and share it with them. If you think I might be a good fit for you, schedule a free phone consultation with me. Also, if you have tips for finding a therapist or questions about it, please comment below. I love hearing from you!