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Mental Health Blog

What to Look For in a Therapist, Counselor, or Psychiatrist

June 1, 2022

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How to Pick a Therapist

Oftentimes it can be overwhelming or even intimidating to find a therapist. Firstly, we usually seek mental health treatment at a difficult time in our lives. Beyond that, there are other questions that come with the decision. Which type of therapy is best for me? What’s the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist? There are plenty of other questions we may consider during this time and one of the most important questions is “what should I look for in a therapist?”

At Handel Behavioral Health, we understand how daunting it is to make this decision. That is why we put together this guide to help you understand how to pick a therapist (or counselor or psychiatrist) that is right for you. Most qualified mental health professionals will have similar backgrounds or fields of expertise which, unfortunately, doesn’t help narrow down the field for us. But there are many ways to choose the best therapist for you.

Something that’s important to remember during this process is that even if we don’t find the perfect counselor or psychiatrist for us on the first try, we can always find another. Of course, with mental health issues it’s common to want immediate results so we feel ourselves again. But tempering expectations and remaining patient with the process and with yourself will be the key to finding the right therapist, as well as achieving results in our treatment.

7 Things to Consider When Choosing a Therapist

  1. Are they a good fit for you?
    This is number one on our list because it may just be the most important factor to consider. Qualifications are important, specialty is important; many other factors are important. But this will be someone to whom you tell private and sensitive information, they need to be someone who you can trust completely, and on top of that, someone who you get along with and enjoy their presence. This is not to say they should be your friend. In truth, a friend would make for a terrible counselor, which is why it’s forbidden by many ethical and legal regulations. You want someone who you are comfortable confiding in but who will give you objective advice and challenge some of your thoughts or behaviors in order to cultivate growth within you. Finding a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist that works well with you and for you is a huge step on the path to recovery.
  2. What are their qualifications and credentials?
    This one should be more obvious, which is why we didn’t place it first on our list, but that is not to say a counselor’s qualifications are less important than any other aspect. Some key considerations are the school(s) they attended, what level of education they have completed, and what type of mental health professional they are. The letters beside the names can be confusing, so it’s important to understand the differences. They might be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), or if they’re a psychiatrist, a Doctor of Medicine (MD). These are just a few of many titles they may hold and they may hold multiple. Knowing the differences can help you decide if they are the right fit for you.
  3. What are their specialties?
    When deciding on your counselor, remember why you’re seeking treatment. If you suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you probably won’t find much value in a marriage counselor. Most people are aware of the main specialties like anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), PTSD, etc. But many aren’t aware that in modern psychology there are many areas of expertise a counselor can dedicate themselves to, such as sexual disorders, therapy for persons of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ friendly therapy, and many more. A well-balanced and experienced psychologist will have insights into many areas but sometimes it’s beneficial to select one who you feel will understand you best and be able to provide you with the best treatment.
  4. Are they culturally identifiable with you?
    This can stem from or be an influence towards their specialties, but it deserves its own consideration. Consider the demographics they fit into, such as their age, gender, religion, and race. As a young, minority woman, you may not feel comfortable discussing your life and personal issues with an older white male. You may not feel they will empathize with your struggles or be able to provide you with any relevant feedback or insight into your feelings and behaviors or be able to help guide you down the right path for you. This is not to say any counselor or psychiatrist who doesn’t fit into one of these categories is any less qualified; rather, that they are not the right person to lead your road to recovery.
  5. What is their communication style?
    This will hold large weight into their fit with you. Everyone will have a different communication style and everyone will have a different preference in communication style. Knowing what you prefer will help you identify this early on in your treatment. Whether you prefer someone more direct and challenging or someone who will let you do most of the talking just depends on your personality. A skilled counselor will be able to adapt to your needs and wants, but finding someone who matches your style from the start is always a great feeling and can help progress your treatment sooner.
  6. Do they set goals and measure progress?
    This is a more tangible factor and one that must be considered. Some therapists will have a more relaxed communication style, but that does not mean you should ever choose a therapist who does not discuss goals, expectations, and progress along the way. The only way to achieve results in your treatment is to discuss them as you move through therapy. This doesn’t mean you want a therapist who will tell you that in 6 months you will be “cured”, mostly because that is a ridiculous goal to set and impossible to measure completely. But you need a psychiatrist or counselor who is able to set benchmarks to measure how your feelings improve (or worsen) so they are able to recommend other techniques, or sometimes even other counselors if they don’t feel you are making progress with them. A mature and experienced therapist will be able to do this.
  7. Do they accept insurance and can I afford their services?
    Another tangible, binary factor to consider and one that isn’t always fun to discuss, but it is necessary. Usually your insurance agency will have a page set up on their website where you can enter your information and find a mental healthcare provider that accepts your insurance. If you do not have insurance or cannot find one who accepts yours, you should still reach out to a counselor if you find one you believe can help you. Many will be able to exceptions or help you find ways to either afford their treatment, or services from another counselor who is in line with your needs.

Find a Therapist, Counselor, or Psychiatrist Today at Handel Behavioral Health

At Handel Behavioral Health, we understand the importance of choosing a therapist. We have many counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are experienced in a wide variety of fields and specialties so you can be sure you find the right fit for you. We also accept most major forms of insurance and have a scheduling team dedicated to helping you find a therapist who meets your needs and is affordable. Contact one of our therapists today and begin your journey to mental health recovery.