Sunday, August 21, 2011

Five tips for finding a therapist, from a therapist

According to Google, this is online article number 1,630,001 about finding a therapist. Rather than be daunted by that challenge, I'm going to choose to ignore the other 1.6 million and give you some tips that I hope will help you wade through the mass of information.

1. Take a deep breath and start NOW. Therapy goals are often long-term goals, and we're not so good with those in terms of self-reward. Looking for a car means you get a new car. Hunting for the best vacation spot means you get to go somewhere soon. Get comfortable with the idea that you're putting effort into a long-term investment, and put at least as much effort into your search as you would into looking for the best price on a new computer. The benefits of good therapy last far longer than anything you can buy.

2. Like shopping for pants, comfort of fit is everything. We've all bought pants a size too small, just knowing that we'll soon be able to fit into them. Therapist-shopping is like that - many people cut the uncomfortable search process short as soon as they find someone they think they can live with. Some "how to find a therapist" articles warn AGAINST comfort of fit, saying that if you're too comfortable, all you'll have with your therapist are chit-chat sessions. My clients will likely tell you that I'm a pretty comfortable guy to hang out with, but when it comes time to do the work, we don't hold back. Without that welcoming safety net underneath, nobody wants to go up on the high wire. Most people will do more work, more quickly with someone they are comfortable being around.

3. Good therapists are good at recommending good therapists. Ask your friends if they know a good therapist, or if they know someone who does. Get the list of therapists from your insurance company. Then ask your friend's therapist if they know someone on the list. Or, if your friend's therapist is so great, go to them! I work in a college counseling center, and many of my clients know other clients of mine. It has no impact at all on our work. Confidentiality rules and general common sense forbid me from even acknowledging that I see your friend, much less say a single word about our work.

4. Don't let location make up your mind about who to see. The college I work for is in the sticks, location-wise. Many of my clients tell me that they value the drive (or bus ride) there, because it gives them time to think about what they'd like to talk about. And the ride home gives them time to process what just happened. A therapist five minutes from you is convenient, but if you land one of those build some time into your schedule to process your session, right after your session. Trust me on this one. You'll consolidate your gains and make more progress that way.

5. Know the difference in degrees and licenses, but don't let that make up your mind for you. In Oregon, psychiatrists and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners prescribe meds and do some therapy. Psychologists do testing and therapy. Licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and other master's-level counselors do therapy. And there are a raft of other practitioners. If you have questions about someone's credentials, ask. I know people with a year of therapy experience that I'd recommend over others with a dozen years (if I could). Some have it and some don't. Experience helps, but it is definitely not the only thing to look for.

5a. See number 2. Relationship is everything. Look until you find someone with whom you can be comfortable and open.

Okay, add that one to the pile of 1.6 million other resources out there. Keep up the search - the rewards are great. And if you think you've found someone and you find you just don't fit, see my post on firing your therapist. It happens all the time!

No comments:

Post a Comment