Finding a psychotherapist is not an easy task, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed by what is going on in your life. There are some many hurdles to get over before we are finally able to find a good fit. People think about going to therapy for many years before finally making the first serious attempt to contact a therapist. For many it is a completely unfamiliar process, and the idea coming to accept painful truths, and sharing intimate thoughts and emotions with a “stranger” can be anxiety provoking. Not to mention all the internal judgements about wanting and needing help, as well as the stigma associated with psychological symptoms.
These are some tips to find a good therapist:
- Consider therapy as an investment in yourself: Therapy is indeed a pretty significant investment in time, money and energy. Even if you are not paying top dollars for your therapy, you are likely be sacrificing time and energy in a process that benefits you. If you are limited to in-network providers, you are likely to experience significant frustration in finding someone available to take new patients. That is particularly true in the city, and somewhat easier in the suburbs. If you have a long-standing history of depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, make sure that you choose insurance plans that cover out-of-network providers. These plans are usually more expensive but you have more chances to be able to choose your therapy provider. However, if you must stay with your insurance, you can search the directory of providers and select a few names based on your preference of location and specialty.
- Search for providers using online directories or Google: Once you have a few numbers selected, then google these names, or visit sites where most psychotherapists are likely to have a profile such as psychology today.com and goodtherapy.com. If you are not limited to using your insurance, you can go directly to any of these sites and search by zip code, specialty, etc. Most of these profiles also offer links to the therapist’s websites which usually contain more detailed information about the kinds of patients they are able to work with, their fees, and their method of treatment. It also gives you a good sense of who the therapist is and if she or he is the kind of person that you would like to work with. Note that not all therapists have websites, and some like to keep information to the minimum, so you might be excluding good therapists that do not have online presence if this is the only search strategy you are using.
- Make use of the free 15 or 20-minute phone consultations: Most therapists will offer to consult with you for 15 minutes to determine a goodness of fit. Be prepared to be specific about what is the reason you are seeking help at the present moment (do not dive into history during this phone call), and what are you hoping to get out of the therapy. One of the most difficult questions I have been asked during a phone consultation was my rate of effectiveness treating a particular kind of issue. I had no response to that question. Most therapists do not use outcome measures to determine their degree of success or failures with patients. However, trust that people who go to therapy are likely to experience more relief from their suffering that people who do not go to therapy to address their issues. Also, once you have the opportunity to meet with a therapist, if the initial session or couple of sessions did not work for you, do not be afraid of bringing your concern to the therapist directly, and if needed, ask for another referral.
- Ask friends or people whose judgement you can trust for a referral. If you have a friend who has shared that they go to therapy, do not be afraid to ask this person to help you with a referral. Even if you can’t share the same therapist than your friend or relative, their therapist should be able to provide a few names. Many people have trouble finding good therapists, because they are afraid to let others know that they are thinking about going to therapy.
- Choose a particular provider instead of a particular kind of treatment. This is a very tricky issue, because there are cases in which people can benefit from specific forms of treatment. For instance, if you have phobia to dogs, and you live in a building that is pet-friendly, and you do not want to move out of your building, you are likely to experience anxiety daily and you might want to address that very specific problem sooner than later. There are treatments that can be more effective in treating phobias in relatively short periods of time (12 weeks for instance). If you are experiencing trauma related symptoms, then it makes sense to find a provider who is trained in EMDR or other trauma informed techniques. Most cases of anxiety, depression, and interpersonal issues can be treated by generalists. Research in therapy outcome has consistently shown that there is no particular model of treatment that is more effective than others, rather there are therapists that are more effective than others, even when trained in the same model of therapy.
- Inquire about qualifications of the provider. Therapy providers are credential by state organizations that regulate the practice of psychotherapy. In addition to making sure that your provider is licensed in the State where you are seeking services, it is important to inquire about what makes this provider a good referral. I am very particular when I offer referrals to my clients or people who ask me for referrals. I only provide names of clinicians whose work with patients I have been able to know more deeply. These includes clinicians that have supervised me, whom I have supervised; those with whom I have been in peer supervision groups, or training groups where supervision has occurred; or clinicians who have presented detailed clinical work in conferences.
- If you have significant financial limitations become aware of community based clinics offered by training programs. In the DC area there are a few low-fee clinics that serve people who have limited ability to afford therapy. The Center Clinic and the Meltzer Clinic at The George Washington University, the Meyer Treatment Center at the Washington School of Psychiatry in NW DC, and The Women’s Center in downtown Washington, DC and Vienna, VA offer therapy by seasoned clinicians, and therapists in training.