March 14

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How to Pick a Therapist: 7 Steps to Choose the Right One for YOU

Trying to pick a therapist can feel like a daunting exercise. Even deciding you want to engage in therapy can feel risky. Under regular circumstances, when you are feeling vulnerable and decide you want to support, you usually have a range of trusted friends and family to whom to turn. You already have a sense of how people respond and know who will be helpful and who won’t.

 

When you’re ready to pick a therapist, how do you go about it?  How do you figure out which of the gazillion strangers in a directory or in a google search is someone you can trust and with whom you can be vulnerable?

 

Check them out

 

When you are trying to pick a therapist, creep their website. Read their “About” section. Read their blogs. Follow their socials. Subscribe to their newsletter.

 

Pay attention to what they say and especially how they say it.

 

In particular, note how they respond in the comments. How do they treat people who disagree with them?

 

Listen to their podcast interviews and pay attention to how they interact with their host, as well as how they are as a person.

 

Watch their Youtube videos. Do you resonate with their way of being in the world?

 

What are your values? Do yours and theirs align?

 

What is their area of expertise or scope of practice?

 

The closer aligned it is to your needs, the better.

 

Interview them

 

Your comfort matters more than the type of therapy when picking a therapist.

 

All research into therapy outcomes shows that the relationship between you and your therapist has a more significant impact than does the type of therapy. (Email me  if you want the academic citations.) Regardless of whether the therapist uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, or any other type of therapy, patient improvement depended on how well the therapist and the patient got along.

 

The best way to get a feel for someone is to spend a bit of time with them. Book a free call to interview them. If a therapist isn’t willing to have a free, minimum 15-minute call with you, maybe they’re not the therapist for you.

 

The main purpose of the interview is to get a feel for them as a person and for the flow of conversation. Do you feel comfortable?

 

In preparation for the call, it’s worth taking some time to reflect on what matters to you when you go to someone for support. Think of someone in your life (now or in the past) who you’ve experienced as supportive. What did they do (or not do) that helped? Think of someone in your life you’ve experienced as unsupportive. What did they do (or not do) that didn’t help?

 

Use this information to make a debrief list, and after the interview, use this list to help you notice how the therapist behaved when you met, and how you felt when you were with them. You might also like to debrief with a trusted friend.

 

The main thing to keep in mind is you are the one who knows what you need. Like any other service you are looking to engage–coach, doctor, graphic designer, social media manager, VA–you are hiring them.

 

Therefore, it’s also important to consider your specific needs. What are your specific circumstances and what training is relevant?

 

Make a second list of questions. This is where you ask about their experience, education and training, and their position on any issues that matter to you.

 

If you’re stuck for where to start, here’s a list of potential questions to ask when  you want to pick a therapist.

 

Ask friends, peers, and/or colleagues

 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start to find a therapist, ask someone you know.

 

We pick our friends because we match with them in many ways: values, culture, education, lifestyle, etc. Our peers are our peers because we have things in common with them. Our colleagues share our professional experiences and therefore challenges.

 

Often someone you know, trust and get along with will also resonate with people you do too. If they like their therapist, that’s a good place to start.

 

When you ask someone you know for a referral to a possible therapist, be sure to ask them why they think that person would be a good fit for you. What do they like and dislike about them and hope would that fit with what you need?

 

Check for cultural fit

 

While looking for a therapist, you don’t necessarily need someone who is from the same culture as you are.

However, if you are the person in whose identities oppressions intersect, or are a member of the global majority living in a Westernized culture, your experience of so-called micro-aggressions as well as outright harm caused by or resulting from oppression can play a significant role in your mental wellbeing (or lack thereof).

 

It’s important to choose a therapist who understands that role and understands the traumatic impact of white supremacy, structural racism, and other oppressions, such as fatphobia, healthism, ageism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia to name only a few.

 

This is an aspect to keep in mind when you’re writing up your interview questions and when you’re looking over a prospective therapist’s presence.

 

Check their credentials

 

I don’t believe formal credentials are the be-all and end-all when you want to pick a therapist. In fact, credentials can be and frequently are barriers to access to the profession for people from non-dominant groups. This is why it’s important to think about who best would meet your needs. Is a licensed health professional the best fit for your needs?

 

If you’re working with someone outside formal licensing and certification, it’s all the more important to do your interview well. In particular, if they are trying to get you to sign up with them during the call, or they use any other tactics that make you feel uneasy, it’s important to consider that when making your decision to work with them–or not.

 

It’s important to consider what protections are available for you if things don’t work out. This is the case for professionals both with and without credentials, and it applies more so for unlicensed professionals. Licensing includes formal structures for the protection of the public, but a lack of formal credentials alone is not a sufficient reason not to work with someone.

 

Regulation ensures certain basic qualifications. Regulated professionals are accountable for adhering to a code of ethics. There are sanctions for regulated and licensed therapists if they break their code of ethics. Formal processes are in place so you have recourse if you are harmed. The regulation also means regulated professionals are required to stay current, and the general best practice is to have ongoing supervision. Regulated professionals generally are working in an environment where accountability is baked in.

 

Trauma training

 

70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. It is estimated that 76% of Canadians report having experienced a traumatic event during their lifetime.

 

If you have experienced an adverse childhood experience or ACE or trauma as an adult, or you experience oppression, it’s not automatic that you will experience PTSD.

 

Yet all of these things can still have an impact on your mental health or on how you cope with stress and challenges.

 

When you pick a therapist, you may want to consider and understand what training your prospective therapist has in trauma.

 

If their practice isn’t anti-racist, anti-capitalist, non-ableist, feminist, and gender-inclusive (to name only a few), it isn’t trauma-informed… because all forms of oppression can be traumatizing.

 

Furthermore, it’s not enough to have taken one CE course in trauma. That would be the minimum. The purpose of minimum training is only to alert a practitioner that trauma is at play, so they know to refer their client to a trauma-trained therapist.

 

The extent of trauma competency can range from trauma-aware to trauma-informed for organizations and extends to trauma-trained and supervised for professionals.

 

If you are concerned about the impact of trauma in your life or work, it’s important to choose a  therapist who has formal and supervised training and practice in trauma therapy. At a minimum, the training should have taken place over a number of many months or even years, and should include an internship or supervised practice of a number of months. Because of the demanding nature of providing trauma therapy, the best professional practice is to engage in ongoing supervision with a more senior trauma therapist.

 

Logistics

 

When you pick a therapist, sometimes the simplest things make an otherwise good fit more trouble than it’s worth.

 

It’s important to look at the therapist’s hours. Are they a good fit for when you want to meet? If you’re engaging in therapy, it does need to be a priority, not just one more appointment to fit in amongst all the others. At the same time, their schedule and yours have to align to some degree in order for you to be able to attend sessions on a regular basis–and regular appointments are key to success.

 

Do they provide services in person or virtually–and if virtually, is it by phone or video?

 

How can you make a payment? Do they accept Visa debit or credit cards? Can you use Paypal or other online payment systems? Do they provide receipts on the spot or later?

 

If you have insurance and want to use it for this, does your insurance company reimburse the services of this particular practitioner?

 

Can you deduct their fees as a business expense, if you’re an entrepreneur? Usually, you can’t unless you are working with a practitioner (like me) whose area of expertise is entrepreneurship and mental health.

 

Can you deduct their fees as a medical expense on your income tax return? You will need to check tax law where you live to see what credentials are acceptable as medical expenses, then verify your practitioner’s license.

 

How easy is it to cancel and reschedule? Do they offer online booking or do you have to play phone tag?

 

These may seem silly but in my experience as a therapist, logistics are the things that lead to clients eventually dropping out of therapy. They can be significant barriers and eliminating them can help ensure your success.

 

Are you a woman entrepreneur feeling stressed, isolated, and overwhelmed? Let’s book a call to see if we’re a good fit to work together. Book your free get-acquainted call here.


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