This is one of the most common questions that people ask themselves once they decide that they want to talk to someone. Some areas are saturated with therapists and clients often feel overwhelmed. There is no “best way” to find the right therapist, but this blog will help you know who to look for and how to find a therapist for you.
Where to start?
First, start thinking about what you need or want in a therapist/therapeutic relationship. If you’ve never done therapy before, you might not even know what you want.
Start with the issue(s) that you’re looking to address. It’s ideal if you can find a therapist that specializes in those issues. Just like the medical field, you can find specialists for anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, sex, LGBTQ issues, and much more.
Next, imagine what type of person you’d feel comfortable with. Do you need someone who is soft and gentle? Do you need someone who will hold you accountable and be more straightforward with you? Some therapists use more extensive testing and evaluation tools, while others prefer a more conversational approach to get the needed information. Certain clients want their therapist to feel like an expert, while others want their therapist to feel like a caring ally. My personal therapeutic style is a relaxed conversational style where I use my qualities of empathy, genuineness, and sometimes even humor to develop a strong therapeutic relationship.
Other factors to consider:
- Years of Experience
- Therapeutic Theory- (more on this below)
- Price / insurance
What’s the difference: Therapist? Counselor? Psychologist? Psychiatrist?
“Therapist” and “Counselor” are often used synonymously and that’s ok. A professional counselor or therapist usual has a master’s degree in either psychology or social work. Licensed professionals typically have passed major exams and have years of supervised experience. While “talk therapy” is the most common, there are less traditional (but very effective) therapy models such as art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and experiential therapy.
Psychologists have a doctorate degree in psychology or a related field. In addition to this they also have years of supervised post-grad experience, and pass major exams. Psychologists often do therapy but can also perform certain testing that those with a master’s degree cannot. This may be important for some diagnoses.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They can do traditional counseling/therapy, but they typically specialize in diagnosing and prescribing medicine that can help with mental health disorders. Some of these disorders may include anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists typically prescribe medicine to clients and then follow up on the client to see if the medication is helping.
What type of credentials should I be looking for?
Unless you’re in the field, you probably don’t know what the difference is between LPC, LMFT, LAC, LCSW, CST, and more. This is important to understand because, in Colorado, most anyone can call themselves a therapist and start doing counseling, as long as they pass the Colorado Mental Health Profession’s Jurisprudence Examination (which is mostly about understanding legal and ethical obligations). You’re going to want someone with a good education and experience.
Each state has different licensing, so you’ll have to research what licenses your state requires for mental health therapists. I’d recommend finding a therapist with at least a master’s degree and a professional license. Licensed professionals usually hold high qualifications, including a master’s degree, years of post-masters supervised experience, and they have to pass a major counseling exam. In Colorado, look for:
- LPC- Licensed Professional Counselor
- LMFT- Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor
- LCSW- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Additional specialties have additional credentials and licenses. It’ll take some work to see if there is a credential/license for the specialty that you’re looking for. Specialty credentials may include:
- Addictions Counselor (LAC – Licensed Addictions Counselor, CAC – Certified Addictions Counselor, etc)
- Sex Therapist (CST – Certified Sex Therapist, etc)
- Trauma (EMDR-certified, etc)
Does it matter what “Counseling Theory” they use?
Yes, it’s another factor to consider. Each theory takes a bit of a different view on problems and solutions. I’d recommend that you ask your therapist, during the interview process, what theory they use and why they use it.
Now that I know what I’m looking for, how do I find a therapist?
Psychology Today is a great resource that allows you to view profiles of therapists in your area. Many therapists also have a website that can give you a great amount of information about their style, theory, prices, etc. If you’re comfortable with it, ask people you trust if they have any recommendations of therapists that they like. Asking your doctor is another way to start the process.
If you’re planning on using insurance to pay for your therapy, ask your insurer for a list of “in-network” therapists in your area that they work with. If you find a therapist that is not “in-network” many insurance plans will let you go “out-of-network” to find a therapist and will reimburse you for a percentage of the cost.
Ways to find a therapist:
- Research on the internet (Psychology Today, Google, etc.)
- Ask friends/family
- Ask your doctor
- Contact your insurance company
Interview your therapist
This is extremely important! Finding the right fit for you is one of the best ways you can ensure that therapy will be successful. Just because a therapist has the right credentials and specialties, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re right for you. Most therapists will offer an initial consultation (phone or in-person) where you can get a feel for their style and personality. Often, they offer this initial consultation at no charge to you. This interview/consultation gives you an opportunity to ask questions and see how it feels to speak with them.
Schedule your first session
It’s time to take a leap of faith. Send the email. Make the call. That first step is often the hardest. It’s completely normal to feel nervous about your first appointment. You can always stop doing therapy at any time if you feel it’s not right for you. I’m confident that once you begin, you’ll wondered why you waited so long to talk to someone. Therapy is therapeutic, so enjoy it!