Therapy is a transformative step to improving mental health for many people, but finding the right therapist for you is easier said than done. If you’re beginning the search process, it can be daunting to choose among hundreds of professionals in your area (or out of it), but this step-by-step guide to finding the right one will get you started in the right direction.
Ask yourself these questions to identify why exactly you may want to start therapy: how have you been feeling lately? Do you have energy for activities that bring you joy? If you’re having a hard time pin-pointing your feelings, there are resources to help.
At the University of Miami Counseling Center (UMCC), students can schedule a free assessment appointment where a therapist will discuss your feelings and future steps. Then, you can be referred to an initial session with a counselor or get help finding off-campus therapy. WellTrack is a free app available to students that contains tools such as the “mood check.” Another option is the using the free, confidential mental health assessment found on the website of Helping GiveAway Psychological Science.
Decide what you can afford, and how.
Jill Ehrenreich-May, associate chair of UM’s Psychology Department, recommends calling your insurance provider for a list of therapists who accept your coverage.
Elvin Blanco, a triage therapist at the UMCC, said “always consider your needs first and what would make therapy a most comfortable experience.” Think about whether you need a specialist in a certain disorder, he said, or would feel better with a therapist of a certain gender, religion, ethnicity, language or age.
Now, the search begins. Laura Curren Adams, a doctoral intern at UMCC, recommends using Psychology Today, a website where you can filter options based on insurance and preferences. Vanessa Payne, a Clinical Care Coordinator and Therapist at the UMCC, added: “A lot of therapists have websites or are on a search engine website that has blurb about them. Go online and learn about their services.” Once you’ve found some you like, reach out for a session.
Consider making a list of questions to ask your therapist. Payne provided a few ideas: What is your approach or philosophy with working with clients? What licenses and certifications do you have? What is your area of specialty? If you’re seeking a specific assessment for accommodations, ask if the provider completes that assessment. Be sure to ask any other questions that will make you feel more comfortable.
Aaron Heller, director of the Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Division at UM, said you can expect your therapist to ask questions during the intake session. This meeting serves as an assessment of your current functioning and symptoms and helps them understand your needs and make a plan for future sessions. It’s also a good time to ask any questions you might have for them.
How are you feeling? Note that the first session is not how all sessions will go, since it deals with information gathering and introductions. Unless patients experience a red flag, Payne says, she urges people to see a therapist for a couple sessions before deciding they are or aren’t a match.
Heller said you can usually tell if you and your therapist are developing a solid and trustworthy relationship, or “therapeutic alliance,” where you agree on a form of treatment and feel that your therapist is empathetic, competent, and reliable.
If you feel like the therapist is a good match, congrats! If not, Blanco said, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. “Just because you didn’t feel a connection with the first therapist you met, doesn’t mean that the right therapist isn’t out there,” he said.
words & design_ nina d’agostini.