By the time people are sitting across from me, they’ve already chosen to open up their lives to a therapist and try something new in order to achieve their goals and make the changes they desire. The decision of whether or not to go to therapy is a hard one. Some people struggle with their decision for months or even years. I wrote on this topic last week, so feel free to hop on over to that post if you haven’t read it yet.
Once you decide that A) therapy is right for you and B) “now” is the time to pursue counseling, picking a therapist who will be a good fit for you is crucial to your therapeutic process. There is empirical data to back this up, but the common sense speaks just as well: if you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, you’re not going to get much out of it. Your money, your time, not to mention you STORY…who you are, how you came to be who you are, and who you’d like to become…are arguably the most important things about you. So, who you share these things with deserves some forethought.
Sharing what is most sacred about you with a total stranger will always feel a little awkward at first. The more you get to know your therapist, the more you’ll feel comfortable with him/her…just like any new relationship. But right away (during the first visit) you should start to get a sense of 2 important things: 1) my therapist is actually listening to me and makes me feel understood and 2) I get the sense that she/he knows what he’s talking about and can handle my story.
While the therapy process is not always very comfortable, you should absolutely feel comfortable with your therapist. One client with a smile on her face put it to me this way, “I hate coming but I love seeing you!” What you talk about in therapy can often be pretty difficult, but having a good connection with your therapist goes a long way.
Other than finding a good personality fit, here are some questions you should ask/research when choosing a therapist:
- What are some things I want to see change in my life (or “work through”) in therapy? Would this require a therapist who is more specialized in a specific field of study?
- Do I want to use my insurance to help cover the costs of therapy? (If so, start with your insurance first and look at their list of in-network providers. Also, inquire if your mental health/behavioral health deductible is separate from your medical deductible, and assess if it meets your needs to still utilize your insurance.)
- What kind of training/degree should my therapist have?
- Licensed professional counselors (which is what I am), marriage and family therapist (which is what my degree is in), licensed clinical social workers…these 3 licenses will will generally offer the same type of treatment for outpatient psychotherapy and have all received masters degrees (or more), passed their board exams, and had to complete several thousand hours of therapy after graduating before they are fully licensed.
- Mental health nurse practitioners (which is a master’s level nurse, specializing in mental health), psychiatrists (which is a full MD who specializes in mental health) typically do more mental health medication management than direct therapy.
- Psychologists have Ph.D.’s or Psy. D’s in psychology, have the ability to practice psychotherapy and in some states they have the ability to write prescriptions as well.
- How much experience should my therapist have? Are you ok with a student intern or do you feel like your goals are better suited for someone with more experience? If you’re limited on budget, a masters-level student intern may be a great choice, as they have a lot of supervision (so you benefit from a “two heads are better than one” therapy experience) and they tend to offer lower fees.
- Is the faith of your therapist important to you? It’s ok to ask about this type of thing when you make your initial contact!
You totally owe it to yourself to find the right therapist for you. Your time, money, and story are valuable to you and to me! I’d love to answer any questions you may have regarding this process, and if you need help finding a referral other than me in the greater Baton Rouge area, I’m always happy to help.