So you made the decision to go to therapy- good for you! It takes a tremendous amount of courage sometimes just to make the decision to go.
But once you have decided you're in the market for a therapist, the even more daunting decision of who to see comes into question. How do you find the right one?
Here are a few helpful suggestions on how to find the right counselor.
- Friends and Family- Have any of your trusted friends or family members seen a counselor they liked? This is often a great place to start your search because your loved ones can speak from firsthand experience. You'll be able to get an honest opinion, and ask questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the therapist.
- Your Place of Worship- Churches often have a list of therapists in the area who they have vetted and trust. Simply call your church and ask for the person in charge of "Care Ministry" or "Counseling Ministry." Some of the larger churches even provide a counseling center on site or employ a counselor on staff.
- Your Primary Care Physician or OB/GYN- Your primary care physician or OB/GYN often have a short list of referral names they can offer regarding therapists they recommend in the area. If you have insurance, one benefit of checking with your doctor is they often have names of therapists who are on the same insurance panel if you plan to use mental health benefits.
- Consider utilizing an online search like the "Find a Therapist" feature on Psychology Today. One fantastic benefit about this site is people have many options in how to filter their search results. You can search by zip code, treatment issue, insurance panel and treatment orientation just to name a few.
Once you have honed in on a few top names, it's important to continue doing due diligence. Research the names online. Check out their website if they have one. Many therapists offer a short, complimentary phone consultation where you can ask some of your questions before you even step foot into the office. Some therapists, like myself, offer a complimentary consultation face-to-face.
When prospective clients come to my office, I always tell them counseling is not a "one size fits all" endeavor. Time and time again, studies show that the best predictor of positive treatment outcomes in therapy is about how strong the therapeutic alliance is between the client and the counselor (not some of the more commonly thought of things, like treatment orientation, or years of experience.) Sometimes, the only way you'll really know if there's a good fit is once you've had a few sessions with the therapist. You'll be able to get a better understanding of how they approach counseling, how their personality plays out in session, and whether or not you feel like you're benefiting from their services. If you find that it's not a good fit- that's not a bad thing. In the process, you've probably discovered some more values/goals you have for the process that you can take to your next therapist.
A final word to the wise- there's no such thing as a "perfect" counselor. Even with the most talented therapists, there will be days you'll walk away from session confused, frustrated, and even angry. Negative feelings are to be expected when we're dealing with the precious content that often comes up in counseling sessions. Hang in there- and make sure to talk about the feelings you're experiencing with your therapist. Good ones will not only be able to talk about these feelings, but they'll welcome this type of feedback and be able to process with you collaboratively about those feelings.