Seeking out a therapist to help with any number of mental health issues is something every functioning adult should know how to do. But, unfortunately, a lot of us don’t even know where to start when it comes to checking in with a feelings doctor, where to find one, or how and when to make an appointment. And it makes sense. Once you get over the stigma (that shouldn’t exist) of seeing a mental health professional, finding one isn’t exactly easy. And if you’re already feeling intimidated about going to a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, etc., the daunting process of finding the right one for you could turn you off completely. So that’s why I wanted to break the process of how to find a therapist down.
In the words of the coolest president ever, Barack Obama, “Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.” Well said, you BAMF. So whether you just want to talk through some stress at work (because Tracy is driving you up a damn wall) or need to revisit the eating disorder your school bully prompted at age 8, or whatever other reason, here’s how to find a therapist in your area.
What Type Of Therapist Do You Need?
Knowing what you’re actually looking for in a therapist is the first step. According to WebMD:
Psychiatrists: “Doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They have medical training and are licensed to prescribe drugs. They are also trained in psychotherapy, or ‘talk’ therapy, which aims to change a person’s behaviors or thought patterns.”
Psychologists: “Doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) experts in psychology. They study the human mind and human behavior and are also trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing—which can help uncover emotional problems you may not realize you have.”
In other words, psychiatrists have medical training and can prescribe medication. Psychologists can’t prescribe you stuff. You might not need to see a psychiatrist, depending on what you’re going for.
Mental Health Counselor: Intimidated by a psychologist or psychiatrist? There are other options out there. Mental health counselors usually hold at least a master’s degree and can help guide you through a sh*tty job or relationship. (Just make sure the person you’re seeing is licensed and ask about their education.) They’re also required by state law to have at least 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience related to counseling, so it isn’t just, say, someone like me with no formal schooling giving you life advice that may or may not be terrible.
Social Worker: Yeah, so, social workers aren’t just the people who come to take people’s kids away when CPS gets called, as Law & Order: SVU help people copemay have led you to believe. They can also with issues in their lives, including—you guessed it—mental health issues.
There are also addiction counselors, religious counselors, family and marriage counselors, and more. Basically, no matter what type of professional you choose, make sure they have state licensing, postgraduate degree(s), clinical experience, and see if they have any published articles. That way you know they’re legit.
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Take Names And Make Lists
Some insurance may cover a few sessions with a therapist, but many won’t. But, either way, your insurance should have a list of accepted providers that you can look through which should help narrow down your search from just Googling “how to find a therapist in my area”. You can find that list of providers by either going online and logging in (if your insurance company has an online portal, which most should, given that it’s 2019), or by calling them and asking for it. You can also call area universities’ psychology and psychiatry departments and ask around. Ask for referrals from friends and family, if you’re comfortable; don’t forget to put feelers out to area hospitals and clinics, who know a ton of these people. The most important thing, though, is not to try and bargain hunt for a therapist via Craigsist or street flyers. (I don’t know if people actually do that, I’m just saying.) Also, even though it seems tempting, don’t just choose the cheapest person. Treat your mental health like you’d treat the health of any other body part. You wouldn’t go to some back-alley, part-time doctor with an online degree for a broken leg, would you? Probs not. So don’t do that with your therapist, either.
Know What To Expect
Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to see and when you want to see them, it’s helpful to know what exactly to expect during that first meeting. Are you going to have a miraculous breakthrough and never need therapy ever again? Probably not—and that’s fine (and also kind of the point of therapy anyway). Therapists of all kinds may employ different tactics depending on your issues. There are three common types of treatment your therapist may use:
CBT: CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is, according to Real Simple,”the most research-backed treatment for anxiety disorders and depression. It’s based partly on the idea that distorted thinking is a main cause of mental distress.” So basically, if you’re heading to see a therapist because you’re feeling down and generally depressed, a therapist using CBT will ask you about certain situations then identify the negative/sh*tty thoughts you have about yourself. If you’re thinking, “I don’t have a boyfriend because I’m fat/have adult acne” your therapist will pinpoint those thoughts and help you flip them into something like “I don’t have a boyfriend because I’M A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN WHO ISN’T AFRAID TO INHALE PIZZA.” (I paraphrase; I am not a doctor.) If you’re dealing with anxiety, a therapist using CBT usually uses exposure therapy, i.e. making you do or face the thing you hate/are scared of.
ACT: According to Real Simple, “If your therapist recommends Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) … you’ll likely learn various mindfulness techniques and exercises. ACT patients are taught to notice and accept challenging thoughts and feelings.” So instead of focusing on the anxiety/pain/substance you’re abusing, a therapist treating you with ACT therapy will have you use mental focus and exercises to accept that you think that way and adjust your actions accordingly.
DBT: DBT aka Dialectical Behavior Therapy is “an in-depth treatment that combines CBT with other approaches and addresses suicidal and self-harm behaviors, borderline personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems,” according to Real Simple. This is obviously for more serious cases, but it works to have you focus on your specific problem—say, an eating disorder—then understand how your personal experiences have shaped/influenced you acting that particular way. Obviously, it’s a lot more in-depth and science-y than that, but this is me, your friendly Betches writer, trying to explain it to you, k?
More than likely, your therapist will use one of the above if you’re dealing with depression and/or anxiety. Of course, they’ll also be a sounding board for anything else going on.
After your visit, be sure to ask yourself how you feel. Are your comfortable with your therapist? Do you feel like they’re really listening? Are they asking lots of questions? Are they giving really good or really sh*tty advice? It’s important to know that finding a therapist is a lot like dating or looking for a job—you might not click with the first one you see. And that’s okay! It’s super important to have good chemistry with your therapist and feel like you can trust them. If you don’t like the first person you visit, don’t write off therapy altogether. Go back to the drawing board and find a different one.
No matter who you choose on your therapy journey, recognize that the most important part of this whole thing is you and how you feel. We’re rooting for you, we’re all rooting for you!
Images: Verne Ho / Unsplash; dietstartstomorrow / Instagram