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Finding a Therapist

December 21, 2021

Finding a compatible therapist can feel confusing, vulnerable, and overwhelming: somewhat like online dating. 

You browse through headshots and bios, basing your potential matches off common terms like Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy (CBT), Client-Centered-Therapy (CCT), or Dialectic-Behavioral-Therapy (DBT), without really understanding what these abbreviations involve.

Let’s say you’ve been suffering from depression, and you realize you can’t solve your way out of it alone. You find a therapist with an impressive degree, and years of professional experience in addressing issues like depression and anxiety. You exchange digits and schedule a first session.

Your first session can feel orienting, as your therapist uses this time to ask you about your symptoms, past relationships, current living situation, or career. They might discuss their therapy style, but it will take time to determine if your match meets your needs. 

For many people, it can take weeks, months, even years, before finding the one. There are specific approaches to finding the right therapist for you.

Determine What Type of Therapist You Need

Many people make the mistake of using terms like Clinical Social Worker, Professional Counselor, Licensed Psychiatrist, and Licensed Psychologist interchangeably. While these professionals often work closely together, the differences in their practices must be understood. 

What is a Clinical Social Worker (LCSW or LICSW)?

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker is a masters or PhD-level licensed mental health professional who is qualified to perform a variety of services, with special focus on behavioral and bio-psychosocial problems and disorders.

What is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor?

A Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) is a masters or PhD-level mental health professional who is qualified by a state licensure board to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Some LMHC’s focus on working with individuals who suffer from substance abuse addictions, while other LMHC’s help individuals with non-medical issues, like helping couples improve their communication. 

What is a psychologist?

A Licensed Psychologist is a highly trained mental health professional, who has earned a doctorate in psychology (PhD or PsyD), and completed 2-3 years of post-graduate training in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders.

A Licensed Psychologist specializes in the study of emotional and cognitive processes, how people interact with their environment, and how they interact with others. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic-stress disorder, turn to a Licensed Psychologist for help.

One of the most prominent differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that psychologists are not medical doctors, and cannot prescribe medications. 

What is a Licensed Psychiatrist?

A Licensed Psychiatrist has received extensive specialized training during their years of residency and is licensed as either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO).

Like a psychologist, psychiatrists specialize in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental processes. However, psychiatrists understand the biological factors of mental disorders and can focus on treating chemical imbalances in the brain.

As medical doctors, with a degree in medicine, psychiatrists can treat mental disorders with medication. Your psychiatrist might refer you to a therapist or psychologist for additional counseling. 

If you’re new to therapy, seeing a licensed counselor or a licensed psychologist will be a good place to start. Talk therapy can help you process trauma, and give you the tools to handle stress, depression, and anxiety without medication. If your therapist determines that therapy alone is not enough to improve your symptoms, then you may turn to a psychiatrist.

Discuss Finances

According to a survey by Mental Health America, over 56 percent of the 40 million Americans suffering from a mental health concern don’t receive the treatment they need- often they don’t know which mental health benefits their insurance plan covers.

Many health insurance plans now have at least some mental health benefits. If you have insurance, and are interested in using your benefits, check the website of your insurance company and find out which therapists in your area are covered. 

Some insurance providers limit coverage to in-network providers. Find out if your insurance provider has out of network benefits. This might allow you to pay the therapist’s out of pocket fee but get reimbursed by them later.

Decide Which Personality Works Best for You

When it comes to finding a partner, most people have an idea of what personality traits they mesh well with- the same goes for finding your therapist. 

You might need a therapist who engages you with warmer, more empathetic dialog. Or you might prefer more straight up, no nonsense discussions. Does a specific structure or activity help you process an issue, or would you prefer to hear multiple perspectives until finding one that works?

Do some background digging on your therapists online profile, read reviews, or even ask a trusted family member or friend for their advice. Your therapist does not need to check all of the boxes, but you want to feel comfortable enough to express your thoughts and feelings.

Does Your Therapist’s Gender Presentation, Sexual Orientation, Race, Ethnicity Matter to You?

In the thirty or sixty minutes that you spend together you want to feel comfortable to express your vulnerable emotions, weaknesses, and “flaws.” 

Just like determining which personality traits you feel comfortable with, ask yourself if your therapist’s gender presentation, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity matter to you. 

On that note, trust that your therapeutic journey can still work successfully with someone who doesn’t meet all of your credentials on paper. And even if your therapist does meet all of your initial credentials, don’t be surprised if your needs change over time. What worked in the first few sessions might not work after a month together- it is all part of the self-discovery process!

Be Clear About Your Goals

When it comes to choosing a therapist, and meeting your potential matches, be clear about your goals. The clearer that you can be about what you want to achieve in therapy, the easier it will be to find a therapist who meets your needs. In your first session together, it can be extremely helpful to both you and your therapist to discuss your goals. 

Undoubtedly, ask your therapist about their experience and success in working with issues that you want to dive into.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.