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Questions to Ask When Choosing A Therapist

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.

Spring Life Counseling, LLC has offices in Baton Rouge off of Government, right of I-12 in Walker and in Denham Springs near Florida and River Road.

 

 

Riding the Roller Coaster

Everyone experiences grief and loss regularly, yet few know how to tackle it effectively. Let’s look at some ways people make grief unnecessarily hard for themselves and also how riding the roller coaster of grief can be one of the healthiest and most freeing experiences of your life.

Grief and loss can come in all shapes and sizes. Big losses, little losses. Losses that anyone else would consider minuscule that feel huge to you…or that anyone else would consider huge that feel minuscule to you. Lies from a friend, a layoff, death, divorce, a break-up, abuse, raising a child with special abilities and needs, an affair, a miscarriage, the loss of sense of safety, loss of hope…I could go on. Even disappointments are losses that need to be grieved to some extent. Too often we take the “man up” approach to processing these losses, thinking the best thing to do is move on quickly. Or, perhaps we feel entirely overwhelmed and confused by how to process our grief well…it seems too big of a task to handle with no clear road map as to how to get there.

The process of grieving rarely makes sense and hardly ever progresses in a straight line. I’ve sat in counseling sessions with people who recount their fifth adoption falling through as if they’re reading from a newspaper but the same individual crumbles into pieces on my couch telling about the death of their pet bird. Grief doesn’t make sense. The way we express it doesn’t make sense. The way we process our losses doesn’t make sense. So why do we expect the experience to be nice and tidy? The only thing of any real worth in grief is intending to stay on the path of processing our losses as they come…not avoiding them, not intellectualizing them and not making an idol out of them. There are tons of ways to grieve well. The only way to do it wrong is to attempt to not do it at all.

How do people grieve “wrongly?”

Attempts at avoiding the grief or intellectualizing the loss are what I see most often. “My dad died last week but I took a day off work dealt with it so I’m ready to move” would be an example of someone avoiding grief by attempting to rush through it.  Additionally, people tend to diminish the severity of the loss and minimize it (“It was Only my uncle…dog…foot…whatever.” or “It could’ve been worse…other people have gone through worse things.”). Both of these techniques negate the impact of the event on your heart, shoving your emotions to the side. Please be assured: if this is your technique of choice, your emotions will pop up again in one way or another…not at a time of your choosing or in a way you would want. Anger, depression, anxiety, irritability, isolation, addiction are all ways that unexpressed emotions can make their presence known in your life.

How do people grieve “correctly?”

The best way to process losses…big or small…is to just ride the roller coaster. This doesn’t mean you have to be a complete zoo as you work through your grief. What it looks like practically is to let the waves of anger, sadness, hilarity, desire for connection, desire for alone time, etc. all unfold as they come. Don’t judge yourself for where you’re at in the process. Just be where you are and continue to ride the roller coaster until it comes to a stop. If you allow yourself to experience grief on its own terms, the roller coaster will come to an end much quicker than if you continually deny the impact of the loss or attempt to rush through the process. Losses take time to heal and in most cases, life will largely go on while you’re riding the roller coaster. It’s more of an attitude of inward grace and bravery as you don’t shy away from looking at the pain. It’s a kindness to yourself to let the weight of the loss rest on you as long as it needs to. It won’t stay forever, but if you let it touch your soul, it could be one of the most freeing experiences of your life.

Anytime you are stuck in a loss and not sure how to continue processing your emotions, please either talk to someone you care about or set up a time to come in for a therapy session. You’d be surprised how helpful another set of eyes can be on an issue like this. I’ve only just begun to unpack some of my thoughts on this diverse topic. Check back soon for a post on how all losses live in the same building in your head, why we tend process grief in spurts or chunks, and what I think the point of grief ultimately is…my answer may surprise you!

 

 

Clearing Out Emotional Clutter

imageOn January 1, 2016 I woke up and looked around my house and thought to myself, “I need to throw some junk away.” Thus began the 2 day period that I’m calling “The Great Purge of 2016.”

I’m what some might describe as “comfortable” with clutter. I don’t like things to be dirty but I’m ok with a pile of papers. As you might imagine, this can lead to some pretty creative organizational methods. Where is my light bill right now? In the stack of papers furthest to the left on my kitchen island. I know exactly where it is and when it’s due, but someone else would have trouble finding it. Sound familiar?

It’s obvious to see…there are many problems with this particular organizational method. For starters, I can get accustomed to the piles and not realize how much harder I’m making things on myself by living this way. One of my goals for 2016 is to increase simplicity and productivity, so streamlining my house and organizational processes falls under that resolution. As I walk around my house post-purge, random items that need to find new places to live are sticking out like sore thumbs. I think to myself as I scan a room, “just because I’m used to seeing this here doesn’t mean it belongs here.” Then I gather up those items and either toss, donate or put them where they need to be.

It occurred to me that the same can be said for things that clutter up our inner lives. Just because we’re used to something doesn’t mean it needs to be there. Isn’t it interesting to think how you may have grown accustomed to something (or someone) and assumed you’re stuck with it…but what you really need is a plan to purge it from your life?

You may be used to negative self-talk, anxiety, irritability, un-forgiveness or an unhealthy relationship, but that doesn’t mean it really belongs in your life. Maybe it’s something more physical and chronic like headaches, worsening eye sight, and stomach problems? Regularly, I hear from clients who are experiencing symptoms like these. They assume there is a medical cause (not a bad guess!) only to be told by their physician that there is nothing wrong with them. Only then do these individuals start to wonder if perhaps the cause of their symptoms is more rooted in their inner, emotional life.

What about you? Does any of this sound familiar? This is a great time of year to assess if there’s anything in your life that you’ve grown accustomed to that is keeping you from living your best life. A vibrant life full of freedom and peace is available to those who are willing to put in the work to purge the unnecessary and pursue better things. Why keep clutter that you’re comfortable with when a better way of doing life is available?  Start the journey today!