Things I’ve Learned About Finding A Therapist and Starting Therapy.

First things first, if you’re thinking about starting therapy? CONGRATULATIONS! This is such a brave step. I had several people reach out to me and tell me that when I first said it out loud and OH MY GOD THEY WERE SO RIGHT. It takes SUCH bravery and SUCH vulnerability so if you’re considering? Congratulations on being a badass!

I’ve learned a lot in the last few years as I have explored the world of cognitive therapy. I’ve made some mistakes and had some irrational fears. (WHY DO WE HAVE TO CALL TO MAKE APPOINTMENTS PLACES?!?!) I get asked about it periodically via email from people interested in trying therapy, so I thought I’d take today to share some of my tips on this blog. This is just MY perspective and I’m 100% certain there are others. If you have any tips to add in the comments, feel free!

Hilarious edit: I ALMOST POSTED THIS BLOG POST TO A WEBSITE I MANAGE FOR A LOCAL ATHLETIC COMMUNITY. I mean, not really “almost” because everything about the “publish” process on that page was different on my blog so there’s no way I would have actually published it, but the “draft” screen looks the same so I typed this whole thing in that draft screen on that website that has NOTHING TO DO WITH KIM’S MENTAL HEALTH. HA!

  • Start with your insurance company’s website of recommendations/supported practitioners. Several years ago my insurance only covered a few offices in town and so that limited my options. Now our insurance company doesn’t cover any until we meet our deductible which means we are limited by cost. Luckily for us we haven’t been sick much the last two years so we have money in our Health Savings Account that we haven’t used so we have been able to continue therapy.
  • If you have a nice GP, talk to them about recommendations. (If you don’t like your GP, maybe try to find a new one? There are so many people who hate their GPs! That’s so sad!) Mine recommended a “group” which wasn’t very helpful because they weren’t covered by my insurance but my kid’s pediatrician was EXCELLENT help so it’s worth a try to at least start with the person who treats your body!
  • If you would not get any blowback in your professional or personal life, I would start asking a group of people you know if they have any recommendations. For me, that just meant a Facebook status where I blasted out, “Hey, anyone have a good therapist they like?” But for you, maybe that’s a group text to friends or a message in a smaller Facebook group, like a book club or something. It’s always great to start with personal recommendations. It also helps remove the stigma when people can be open about it.
  • Once you have a list from your insurance or your friends, google for info and reviews. I’m not a huge fan of using reviews as a method of choosing because people are WAY more motivated to leave BAD reviews than GOOD reviews, but I do think it helps to at least know their gender and age. I did not want a male therapist, and I did not want someone too young because I have an adult child and it would be weird to talk to someone my kid’s age. THOSE THINGS ARE OKAY TO THINK ABOUT. This is someone you have to feel comfortable being vulnerable around, if they look like the great aunt who called you a whore once, you don’t have to try them out.
  • I’ve called dozens of therapy offices and they are all REALLY GOOD ON THE PHONE. Maybe it comes with training, “You will be answering calls from people who are trying to find help for emotional needs, BE NICE AS POSSIBLE TO THEM OR THEY WILL NEVER CALL BACK.” Or maybe I’ve just been REALLY lucky but I hate talking on the phone and have always been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is. I usually start with, “Is so-in-so taking new patients?” Or if I’m calling an office I’ll say, “Your office is covered by my insurance and I’m looking for a new therapist, do you have anyone you recommend for a person who suffers with General Anxiety and Depression?” I got a REALLY good therapist once on a call like that!
  • It’s okay not to like them and to not come back. I’ve done that a couple of times, honestly. Once was when at the first session when the therapist was already relying very heavily on Christian references. Once was when I just felt like we had no chemistry. Don’t keep visiting someone you don’t feel like is helping you. Life is too short and there are too many good therapists out there.
  • The first meeting usually involves some sort of questionnaire/evalutation, at least if you’re going with the “Anxiety and Depression” type of condition like I do. They like to get a feel for how acute your reactions are or how bad your current mental health is. DO NOT LIE ON THESE QUESTIONNAIRES. It will be things like, “I think about suicide” and you have to mark a scale or something. It’s very hard to be vulnerable on a number scale on a piece of paper but it’s very important that you be truthful even if you’ve never said these things out loud because your help will not actually HELP if they don’t know where you are at.
  • If you don’t really know how to phrase what’s wrong with you, don’t worry. That’s not your job. You can just say, “I’m not happy and I used to be.” Or you can say, “I find I my anxiety/depression keeps me from enjoying things I used to enjoy,” or something like that. You don’t have to know exactly how to describe what is wrong. That’s their job to get that out of you. With one therapist I said,”I’m struggling with grief,” but it turns out that was just a SIDE EFFECT of what I was REALLY struggling with. So be willing to learn things about yourself.
  • Do your homework. They’ll give you things to work on, to think about, to read, to document. I’ve been given all sorts of homework. So have my kids in their sessions. Therapy is about more than just those one hour sessions, it’s about taking the things you learn in those sessions and improving your mental health with them and your therapist will give you ways to do that. Sometimes it will be to watch a TED talk or to read an article. Sometimes it will be to try a new meditation app or to try walking or reaching out to family. Be willing to put some extra time into your journey.
  • If you find a therapist you like, don’t be afraid to talk about it with people you know. If you have taken the brave step to get therapy then you are part of the community of people who recognize the value of good mental health and we have to remove the stigma of that. You can just causally reference it, “My therapist said…” You have no idea how many people doing that around me finally made me brave enough to find my own therapist. You can be part of the change and inspire people like me to eventually get the help they need.

Remember, if you have any tips, leave a comment! I’m no expert!

4 Comments

  • Cheryl

    As someone in therapy on and off for 30 years now, I have to emphasize the point that IT IS OKAY NOT TO LIKE A THERAPIST. They won’t take it personally. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit. There was one lady who was incredibly kind and seemed smart, but after two sessions I just wasn’t feeling it. And I knew that I couldn’t be open and honest enough with her to help myself so I made the next appointment. went home and then called in the middle of the night to leave a message canceling. You won’t help yourself if you aren’t able to be open and honest with someone.

    Also, this is a journey that doesn’t necessarily have an endpoint. I have found that there are circumstances that cause me to get back in the therapy groove, do it for a while, get to a logical end point where I’m coping better and not finding things that need discussing as much. Then it makes sense to quit for a bit until the next set of life circumstances cause you to need to talk to someone again. I’ve gone several years in between needing a therapist, and am not currently seeing one, but I’m pretty certain that I will be in a soft comfy chair again sometime.

  • Beth E

    You are one hundred percent spot on. One more thing I would add is that if you have a friend or acquaintance that is a counselor, ask them for recommendations. My former neighbor is a counselor. I took my list to her and she recommended a couple. Th first one was a good fit. Unless there is a huge disconnect, stick with it a while. I went into therapy thinking she would ask all the questions. We talked a lot at the intake and I liked her. The second visit was short with little talk. I went home annoyed and worked up the nerve to say something the next time. She looked me in the eye and said ” I can tell that there are several issues, but until you bring them up, we can’t talk about them.” It was like breaking the ice with an axe, but I could tell that She meant business and I could trust here. From then on, I was very open.
    Another hint. Try different types of counselors. Phsyciatrists mostly dispense medication after testing you. They address issues that the meds are for. Counselors and clinical social workers are what I have seen. (I don’t bounce around,one retired, another moved)

  • Elaine C. B.

    Also just chiming in to say these are spot on, and it’s really really really okay to not see someone because you’re not clicking for whatever reason. There are certain kinds of stressors and discomforts and vulnerabilities that you have to deal with when going to a therapist, but EXTRA anxiety about them as a person, or their techniques, or that they look like that great aunt who made that rude comment that one time is not what it is all about. It’s really okay, and you don’t have to tell them why.

  • Grace

    Chiming in (late of course) to add my voice to the chorus: Your post is spot on. I’d like to emphasize something you noted about having a therapist who was the correct age. I wanted someone my age who had at least a chance of experiencing the things I had. I wanted someone with multiple certifications. I am so happy with my therapist. It took a while but I’m making real progress.