There’s nothing quite like spilling all your secrets to a complete stranger. It can be liberating … or it can be terrifying. Plus, going through your HMO’s provider book isn’t going to tell you what you want to know about the therapist you’ll be working with. I’ve been seeing therapists on-and-off for a decade and a half now, and I’ve learned a bit about shopping for a new one on the way. Here’s how it goes…
1. Pick your issue. We’ve all got more than one, but pick which one you want to focus your efforts (and potentially limited money for therapy appointments) on. Are you depressed, anxious, traumatized? Do you need help learning good coping skills, or recognizing danger signs in a relationship? Therapists often specialize in a particular focus like eating disorders and body image issues, or compulsive behavior and addiction issues, or domestic violence recovery. You’re gonna be happiest with a therapist who specializes in your area.
2. Ask your friends for recommendations. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one quarter of American adults are diagnosable with one or more mental health disorder each year. Now that we seem to finally be done shaming each other for needing help, chances are good someone you know is seeing a therapist or has seen one. If they have a good review, ask their permission to meet with their therapist or ask their therapist for referrals. (Your friend may not want to share secret-keepers with you, and that’s okay.) Even if your friend’s therapist can’t take on a new client, he or she may be able to recommend a colleague.
3. Decide how you’ll be choosey. Does it matter to you if your therapist is a man or a woman? If they’re gay, gay-friendly, or straight? If they can respect your religious views? You have to be comfortable with your therapist — and trust them — to get anything out of your time and money there. (Jessica once stopped seeing a therapist, for instance, when she realized the person was not kink-friendly.) Pick someone you think you can talk to.
4. Check with the American Psychological Association. The APA has a web tool for finding local board-certified psychologists. You can search by what insurance they carry, what kind of therapy they specialize in, and even their ethnic background or religious views.
5. Search their record. Malpractice lawsuits and professional license suspensions are both public records. You have a right to know if the therapist or psychiatrist you’ll be seeing has a clean record. Here are suggestions on going about your records search.
6. Have a free consultation. Before you fill out reams of medical history paperwork and before you pay for a single session, you should be given a 15-30 mins complimentary consultation to meet with the therapist, discuss their background, and make sure you feel comfortable with them. I have discovered a therapist was not right for me in less time. Bring a trusted friend with you for a second opinion if you’d like.
7. Don’t be afraid of rejection — after all, it is your time, your money, and your mental health here. Therapists aren’t going to be hurt or offended if you meet with them and then decide to see someone else instead. Even great therapists I’ve who had were great for a time or an issue, weren’t right for me forever.
Remember, there is no shame in having struggles and needing a calm professional by your side. Really, with the amount of stress most people live under, it’s amazing we function as well as we do!