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Finding the Right Therapist for You

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

It’s May and Mental Health Awareness month! I believe one of the best ways to be aware of one’s mental health is to identify a P(mh)CP, a primary mental health care provider. In our society, it is encouraged to have yearly physicals with your primary care provider (PCP) and contact them first when experiencing physical or medical-related challenges, but for some reason this message has not translated to mental wellness. Some insurance providers even require you to identify a PCP in order to be eligible for plan benefits. Similar to the purpose of a medical PCP, an identified therapist can be used for monthly, quarterly, even yearly check-ins (physicals) and during mental wellness challenges. Taking a proactive step in being aware of your mental wellness can prevent mental health issues, disruptions in relationships, work-related challenges, and more. Additionally, if you find yourself in the midst of a mental health need, seeing a licensed therapist can help you manage symptoms and create solutions.

Finding a therapist can be a daunting task. Sorting through tons of letters behind a person’s name while weighing the financial investment and perceived fit can become overwhelming and sometimes discouraging. Below, I have added questions that you can ask a therapist to assess fit and ensure your needs will be met. As therapists, we appreciate and welcome you asking questions and expressing expectations upfront. It is an important use of time and effort for all parties involved. In addition to questions you can ask, I have included a chart that describes what the letters (credentials/licensure) mean behind a professional’s name. Use sites like Psychology Today or Good Therapy to identify providers in your area. I am hopeful that this information will allow you to identify a PmhCP and become increasingly aware and attuned to your mental wellness needs.

1. What is your philosophy of therapy? How do you work with individuals/couples/families to create change?

Some of this information may be available online or on a clinician’s website. Be sure to go through clinicians’ biographies when available. In a prospective therapist’s answer, you want to listen out for the way they work for clients, how they believe change happens, and how they build relationships with clients.

2. Have you ever worked with (explain your issue)? If so, what is your approach in addressing these challenges?

3. Do you give homework?

For some people, it is important to have exercises to take away from sessions or ways to practice new skills outside of the therapy hour. If this is you, be open with prospective clinicians about your want for this to be incorporated into your mental wellness journey.

4. Do you accept insurance? If not, would you be able to provide me with the information I need to file independently with my insurance?

If you are looking for a provider that accepts your insurance, call your insurance company first and request a list of in-network providers. In addition to requesting in-network providers, ask your insurance representative what costs are required to be paid by you. In some insurance plans, individuals have deductibles that they must satisfy before being able to receive discounted or free mental health services. It is always important to ask your insurance provider directly, as a prospective clinician may not always have access to this information. Also, all insurances require that clinicians provide a psychiatric diagnosis to clients for reimbursement; ask the prospective therapist how they determine the diagnosis and ensure that they will provide one to you if you have to file your sessions independently to your insurance (for example if the provider is out-of-network).

5. I’ve never been in therapy before, what should I expect from the first session and this process?

6. What are my options if I begin to have increased challenges between sessions?

7. Do you have an understanding of my perspective as a (share how you identify based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, or your intersectional identity)?

It would also be appropriate to ask what type of training the clinician has received in working with specific populations.

8. Do you offer teletherapy or phone sessions?

9. How often do you seek peer consultation?

At different phases during a clinician’s career, we are required to participate in clinical supervision where we meet with another clinician of more experience and discuss challenges, strategies for those we are working with, and resources for our clients. It is a critical part of growth and introspection for clinicians. I would argue that if someone is not actively involved in peer consultation (at least quarterly), that it may benefit you too research clinicians.

10. How often would you anticipate seeing me? For how long?

Answering how long you will be in therapy may be difficult to say, however, a therapist can talk with you about their experience working with the goals you identify, typical treatment times, and typical visit frequency for clients.

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