One of the most difficult things to do when you are first seeking treatment for any mental health challenges finding a therapist. It can feel totally overwhelming when you don’t know where to start. So please allow me to suggest 4 steps to help you get started.
Make a list of what is bothering you. Write down everything you feel like you need help with.
This will help you identify why you are seeking therapy in more concrete terms, and it will also help you narrow down which therapist you will want to see.
For example, you might write:
“What I want help with:
~ I need help figuring out how to say what I am feeling.
~ I feel depressed all the time.
~ I can’t sleep.
~ I worry a lot.
~ It’s really hard trying to keep everything I have to do organized, sometimes I feel likes I’d be better off just staying in bed.”
Start your search in one of two ways.
- Talk to your primary care provider (doctor) and describe to them how you have been feeling, and then ask if they have any therapists they can recommend or refer you to.
- This will have the benefit of starting treatment coordination early, which is often an important step in the therapy process. Sometimes medication is indicated for the treatment and if your primary care provider is already in the loop this will save you time and effort later. Your PCP may even be able to provide consultation on medication before you start therapy if that is something you would like to do.
- Even if you start medication it is highly recommended that you also attend therapy to help develop important coping skills and resolve interpersonal challenges that are often related to most mental health disorders
- Consult the Oracle… i.e. the internet.
- Often a simple internet search will not result in a narrowed-down list of good therapists, but it can give you the phone numbers of any local practices or agencies. Then you can use the old-fashioned phone call approach.
- A handy website that does allow you to narrow your search to local therapists and their specialties is www.psychologytoday.com. Just be sure to take advantage of their filter search options and look for therapists that focus on treating problems similar to those you listed in STEP ONE.
Choose your therapist carefully, but there is no need to overthink it.
- Choose a therapist who advertises that they treat people with problems similar to those you listed in STEP ONE. Avoid those who list every diagnosis known to man on their website as their treatment area “specialization”. You want someone who is more specific, maybe with only a handful of related challenges or diagnoses.
- Remember that you don’t have to stay with the first person you call, you can “shop around” and ask a few questions about the practices you call.
- Examples of good questions to ask: “Do you accept my insurance?” “Do you have anyone who specializes in working with [Insert specific challenge here]?” or “Do you offer telehealth options?”
- There is no magic formula for finding the right therapist. Sometimes you may just need to find a close enough match and start with the first meeting, if you don’t like working with that therapist after a few sessions, talk with them and see if you can identify any adjustments you and they can make to sessions to make them more effective or comfortable.
- There is a saying that 90% of effective therapy is a good connection with your therapist the other 10% is what you do. If you have talked with your therapist about challenges with their approach and it’s not getting any better, don’t be afraid to try another therapist.
- It can be difficult to start over with another therapist, but sometimes that is exactly what you need. Don’t give up if the first therapist, or even the first two, is not a good fit. You will find someone who is, ask your previous therapists for their recommendations of other therapists.
Make sure your therapist is making a treatment plan and that you are an active participant in the creation and reviewing of that plan.
- Set goals that meet your needs: ask yourself, “How will I know when I am done with therapy? or fill in the blank of “I know I am done in therapy when _____.”
- Provide your therapist with feedback about what you like and don’t like about therapy sessions. If your therapist knows what is helping and not helping they can more quickly hone in on a treatment process that will help you make the progress you want.
- Regularly review your treatment plan with your therapist. Have them remind you of the goals you wrote down together and periodically review your progress.
Choosing to start therapy is hard enough for some people, but when you don’t know how, where, or with whom to start it can make it even more complicated. I hope these four steps help motivate you to look for help if you are seeking it for yourself, or give you some helpful tips if you are looking to help a loved one get started.