I’ve seen a few therapists in my lifetime. Okay, more than a few. My childhood was peppered with traumatic events, so I was the kid who went to divorce camps and grief counselors instead of summer camps with fun counselors.
As an adult, I’ve continued to see therapists for anxiety and trauma-related illness. Some of them have been good, a few have been awful, and one has been the most healing thing that’s happened to me in a long time. As the saying goes, you have to kiss a few frogs before you find a prince, and the same is true for therapists. It can take a while to find a therapist who’s right for your needs.
A good therapy relationship is one that will eventually end. You want to work with someone who will help you heal and progress, to the point where you may not need them anymore. This looks different for different people, but it is possible. You just need to find the therapist and type of therapy that are right for you. And, of course, you need to keep showing up and doing the work.
Ready to heal? Here’s how to find the right therapist to guide you on the journey.
** Disclaimer: I am not a licensed professional. Opinions are solely based off my experience as a patient. If you are having a mental health emergency, please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline or call 911. **
Identify Your Needs & Preferences
To find a therapist who’s right for you, it helps to know what you need. If you can’t identify your needs right away, that’s okay. Take a few days to observe yourself and write down what issues come to the surface. Do you often feel overwhelmed and anxious? Do you need help controlling your anger? Are you haunted by a traumatic event? Once you have an idea of what you want to work on, you can look for a therapist who specializes in that area.
Some other things to consider are your personal preferences. Are you a verbal processor or do you prefer to get physical? Do you want a therapist who shares your religious beliefs? Would you feel more comfortable with a particular gender? Get specific about what you want. You may not find a therapist who checks every box, but the more you’re able to understand yourself, the easier it will be to find the best fit for you.
Research Different Types of Therapy
Until recently, I thought all therapists did the same thing: listen, nod, and take notes. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There are so many different types of therapy out there. There are neuroscience-based therapies (EMDR and Neurofeedback), body-centered therapies (Somatic Experiencing, Yoga, and Play Therapy), art therapies, animal therapies, and of course old standards like Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Knowing what’s out there can be incredibly helpful as a patient, especially if traditional therapies haven’t done much for you in the past.
The internet has a wealth of information about different types of therapy, but it can also get overwhelming. I highly recommend the book The Body Keeps the Score, which helped me understand my symptoms and what therapies were best suited to my needs. Because of that book, I recently found a therapist who specializes in trauma, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing Therapy. It is hands-down the best therapy experience I’ve ever had.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start searching for therapists in your area. Don’t be shy about asking for recommendations. Lots of people go to therapy, and your friends can tell you a lot more than most websites can.
This is also the time to start considering your budget. Does your insurance cover anyone in your area? If not, don’t panic! Lots of therapists will work with you on price if you pay out of pocket—you just have to ask. If you truly cannot afford therapy, I recommend talking to a practitioner anyway. They may be willing to make an exception for you. Also consider a nonprofit therapy group.
As someone who lives under the poverty line, I believe that good therapy is worth the financial sacrifice. But I also made sure to negotiate the price and ask my therapist to give me a rough timeline of how long we’d need to work together.
Schedule a Consultation
Many therapists do free or reduced-price consultations. This is an opportunity to meet with them, ask questions, and see if it’s a good fit. During a consultation, you should give them a brief description of your history and the symptoms you want to address. Then, ask some really direct questions about their practice. What are their prices and patient outcomes? Do patients actually recover under their care? Given your symptoms, what course of treatment would they recommend? When could you expect to see improvements?
This may seem obvious, but make sure your therapist actually believes you can get better. Also, make sure their practice is founded in evidence-based therapies that are proven to help people heal.
By the end of your consultation, you should have a definite price, a rough outline of treatment, and contact information if you want to schedule an appointment.
A Good Fit Benefits Everyone
At the end of the day, finding a therapist who’s a good fit for you is also good for them. Therapists know that they aren’t right for everyone, and they want to work with people they can really help. It’s okay not to go back after a consultation or even several sessions. If you feel bad about not returning, you can call and explain that it just wasn’t the right fit.
I once continued with a therapist for months even though she often hurt my feelings. I kept thinking I could make it work, and I was afraid that if it didn’t work with her, it wouldn’t work with anyone. Of course, that wasn’t true, and I think we were both relieved when I finally ended the therapy relationship. Now I have a therapist who is a great match for me, and I’m so glad I moved on.
Here’s my final advice and encouragement: No matter what you’ve been through or how “difficult” you think you are, there is someone out there who can help you. It might take work to find a therapist who’s right for your needs and your budget, but it will be worth it. I promise.
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