There are many factors at play in choosing the right therapist for you. The most obvious are logistical, such as location, cost, insurance coverage and appointment availability, but there are a number of other important issues that are vital to consider before making that first appointment.
Research shows that the relationship between the client and therapist is the most crucial piece that makes therapy “work”. Ensure that you feel your therapist understands you and has patience and respect for you. If you don’t feel that in your initial phone contact, it’s unlikely you will in person, so shop around until you find someone who makes you feel that it’s okay to be you.
Area of specialty and preferred treatment approach
All therapists, regardless of their type of licensure, differ in their treatment approach and areas of specialty. In the same way that you wouldn’t ask an acupuncturist for a deep tissue massage, it’s important to respect a therapist’s expertise and preferred methods of working.
Some therapists are excellent at treating anxiety while others are better at treating depression. Some therapists are excellent with couples, while others do much better with individuals. Some therapists use EMDR, hypnosis or somatic experiencing, while others stick with talk-therapy. Talk-therapy may vary from a psychodynamic approach (where your childhood experiences are considered as important in shaping who you are as an adult) while others work with a cognitive-behavioral approach (which is generally shorter and more tool-based).
Ask your potential therapists what they consider to be their areas of expertise and what issues they have most success with. If there isn’t a match, or if they give you an exhaustive laundry list, look elsewhere.
Do your homework
Good therapists rarely have time to offer “free consultations”. Do your research up-front by asking friends, colleagues or other therapists for recommendations and by talking with therapists on the phone. Pay attention to the details, such as how soon you receive a call back and whether the therapist conveys that they have time to chat with you.
While therapists can be notoriously difficult to reach, you should expect your phone messages to be returned on the same day, or at least within 24 hours. If the therapist has a website, read what they say about themselves and see how that leaves you feeling. Of course, if your first meeting with your therapist doesn’t go well you are under no obligation to return, but if you’ve done your homework properly, that shouldn’t happen.
Good things come to those who wait
Finding a therapist who can get you in as soon as possible might not always be the best option. Most therapists book at least two weeks out and many have waiting lists. Since therapy is a medium to long term process, calling someone you’ve never met and demanding to get in by the end of the week may convey that you are looking for a quick fix and are not ready to engage in the necessary work ahead of you. While therapists vary in their scheduling flexibility, the adage “good things come to those who wait” may be appropriate here. If a therapist can’t get you in right away and you don’t want to wait, ask for referrals.
All good couples therapists agree that couples counseling is one of the hardest modes of therapy to pull off well. Yet many therapists who have not been formally trained in couples work still claim to offer this expertise, often with devastating results. Insisting on finding a couples therapist who is in your insurance network may be a false economy. Good couples therapy is priceless – and a LOT cheaper than the divorce process. Don’t scrimp. Ask for referrals, see if the same names keep coming up, get on their waiting list, and drive across town if you have to.
Make time in your life
For therapy to be effective, the time between sessions must be considered as important as the time spent in-session. At a minimum, the brain needs space and rest to integrate the new learning and insights of the therapy process. If you are so scheduled that you can barely make your appointment-time work, this might not be the right season in your life to start your therapy journey. Since good therapy doesn’t come cheap, it’s worth waiting until you can invest the time as well as the money to do it well.
Decide what’s most important and what you’re willing to let go of
Finally, be a little flexible. While it would be wonderful to find a highly reputable therapist two miles from home who specializes in what you’re looking for, is in your insurance network and can get you in tomorrow, it’s unlikely that you’ll get all those things. Decide whether it’s worth it to drive a little further, wait a little longer or pay a little more to see the best therapist available to you.