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How to find the best therapist for you (and what to expect)


Here are some of the most asked questions about therapy.

how-to-therapy

There are various times in life where you might consider going to therapy. Maybe you're recovering from a loss, struggling with a significant life transition, seeking clarity about a big decision, wanting to improve your relationship, the list could go on and on.

But once you've made the choice to seek out therapy, you're faced with your first big hurdle—how do I even do this therapy thing?

Unfortunately, this task can be an overwhelming one, and it comes at a time when you're likely already overwhelmed, which can often lead to a decision to delay seeking help.

Here are some of the most asked questions about therapy:

Where do I find a therapist?

There are many places to begin searching for a therapist. Psychology Today's website is a great place to start. You can plug in your zip code, insurance carrier and specific concern and it will provide you with profiles of local therapists who meet your criteria.

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If you are struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression, infertility, or difficulty with the transition to motherhood, Postpartum Support International is a unique resource. There are regional contacts all over the country who can help connect you with a specially trained therapist in your area.

Your primary care physician, OB/GYN, or midwife can also be a beneficial resource, as they are often linked to local referral networks. And while it may seem intimidating or scary, asking friends or posting in a local moms' Facebook group can also yield some leads.

If you do not have insurance, are having difficulty finding someone who takes your coverage, or need to find someone who will accept a lower fee or has a sliding scale based on income, Open Path Collective is a directory of therapists who have low-cost spots available.

Don't hesitate to reach out to multiple therapists to maximize your chances of finding the right fit and getting in to see someone soon.

How do I find the right therapist for me?

Therapy is a deeply personal endeavor, which often makes it hard to know right away if someone will be the right therapist for you or not. Many therapists offer a brief phone consultation before scheduling your first session. This is an excellent chance to give them a quick, high-level overview of what you're looking for help with so they can determine whether or not they have the correct training and expertise to best support you.

The vast majority of therapists will be well-versed in treating general depression, anxiety and grief, but don't hesitate to ask them if they specialize in what you need—this is particularly true for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, trauma and couples' counseling.

Therapy does require a time commitment so when you find the right therapist you don't want to have to disrupt that relationship unnecessarily, so consider their office location and available appointment times.

Remember that therapists are used to talking about difficult things—things we often consider impolite or inappropriate for regular conversation—so don't be afraid to ask questions or express concerns during this initial part of the process. It is all useful information that will help you find the right therapist.

What should I expect during my first therapy session?

Once you've found someone to try out and made your first appointment, there can be some initial anxiety about what is actually going to happen in therapy. While every therapist conducts their sessions differently, in general, you can expect some questions about what brought you in, why you decided now was the time for therapy, and what your goals are.

Depending on the theoretical orientation of the therapist, they may ask you more questions about your childhood, early relationships, current relationships and patterns of behavior you've noticed in yourself.

Honesty is key—speak up if there are questions that you are not yet comfortable answering or topics you don't want to talk about right now. Rather than downplaying your difficult childhood in an attempt to avoid talking about it, it may be more helpful to say "that's not something I feel ready to talk about yet." How the therapist responds will give you a good indicator of whether or not this is someone you feel you can come to trust.

While therapy is not a quick fix, you can expect to leave your first session feeling a bit lighter, finally able to talk about things you've been keeping to yourself in a space that is safe and non-judgmental.

How to know when you've found "the one?"

Research has shown that the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client is significantly more important than the specific techniques or tools used. How comfortable, connected and cared for you feel in your sessions is extremely important. It doesn't matter if the therapist is the leading expert in whatever you're struggling with—if you don't feel comfortable with them, they aren't the right therapist for you.

While feeling comfortable with your therapist is a must-have, that doesn't mean that therapy itself will always feel comfortable. You will talk about things you don't talk about anywhere else or with anyone else, and that may feel awkward at times. It doesn't necessarily mean the therapist isn't right for you, it's a reflection of how unique therapy is.

Questions you can ask yourself to assess whether or not the fit is right:

  • Do I feel respected in sessions?
  • Do I feel like my concerns are being taken seriously?
  • Do I feel like my therapist is listening to me without judging me?
  • Do I feel safe with my therapist?
  • Do I feel like I can share whatever comes to mind without censoring myself?
  • Do I usually leave sessions feeling like I've been seen and understood?

While those questions can help guide your thinking, many people find that they just know when it's right, even if the process of therapy is uncomfortable from time to time.

What if I don't feel like my therapist is the right one for me?

If it's someone you've been working with for some time and suddenly something shifts for you, you may want to consider bringing it up to them. Therapists are used to these types of conversations, and this can often be a turning point for the better as you both dig into what is going on and make the appropriate changes.

If it is someone you don't know well, or you do not feel comfortable broaching it with them, it is always okay to end therapy. Simply let them know that you feel this isn't the right fit for you and that you will not be coming back.

Don't get discouraged. It doesn't mean you're not a right candidate for therapy, nor does it mean you won't find someone you click with. It just means that particular person wasn't the one for you. It isn't uncommon to have to meet with a few therapists before finding the right one.

How to get the most out of therapy

The most important thing to keep in mind during the entire course of therapy is this is your space. If something is happening in therapy that isn't working for you, or if there is something you wish was happening but isn't, say something.

Be as honest as possible, both with your therapist and yourself. We often fear what others will think of us, so we bend the truth a little about a lot of things. The beautiful thing about therapy is that there is no judgment. In fact, the more of the stuff you usually hide that you can show to your therapist, the more effective therapy will be for you.

An important note to moms who are currently thinking about therapy but are afraid that if they say what's really going on in their head, someone will take their baby away. Find a therapist who has specialized training in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and then tell them all of those scary thoughts that have been running through your mind. You know the ones that are keeping you up at night, making you avoid certain situations, fearing that maybe you don't have what it takes to be a mom? Speak them aloud. Don't be frightened by them.

Whatever has brought you to this point, know that there is a therapist out there who can support you, so you aren't walking this path alone. We're here. We're listening. We're ready to help.

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