I’ve had many clients come to see me, expressing their frustration over this process, and how they had many failed attempts before finding me. They discussed using their insurance directory for guidance, only to be left with a list of names that they knew nothing about, leaving them to cold call one therapist after the other, not knowing what to say on the therapist’s voicemail or directly to the therapist. People can feel as though they are flying blind and not sure how to proceed.
So, here is a step-by-step guide that will hopefully make this process a bit easier!
STEP 1: SEARCH FOR A THERAPIST ON GOOGLE
If you have a list of names either from your insurance company or from your primary care physician, or other professional, I highly recommend doing a Google search. Although it can be painstaking, it can help you to weed out therapists that don’t seem to be a good fit. Personally, if a therapist does not have a professional website, I view that as a red flag because a high number of people are searching the internet for their health and mental health needs. It does give you some sense of the person you will be sitting with and telling your life story to and hopefully building a relationship with. If you feel turned off by one’s website or by the fact that they don’t have one, you can scratch that person off of your list. Often therapists will explain their approach and their specialties on their website and this may confirm what you are looking for or prove that they may not be a good fit. Often, they also have a photo of themselves which also gives you an idea of what it would be like to sit with them.
If you don’t have a list of names, you can do a search for therapists in your area. Perhaps if you are suffering with anxiety, you could search, “Anxiety therapy in Los Angeles”, or “Encino therapists”.
STEP 2: USE PSYCHOLOGY TODAY OR OTHER THERAPY DIRECTORIES
Usually once you start googling, if the therapist is on Psychology Today (a very popular therapist directory), their profile will also pop up in your search results. This is very convenient as you can gather a good deal of information from their Psychology Today profile. Most therapists will list their specialties, types of therapy they provide (individual, couples, group) and types of people they provide services for (adults, kids, older adults). Therapists will also have a blurb about themselves and how they feel that they are unique or how their services are helpful to potential clients.
STEP 3: WHAT DO I SAY TO A POTENTIAL THERAPIST?
I highly recommend that you call several therapists, as some may not be taking new clients or after speaking with them on the phone, you may not want to schedule an appointment. Most therapists have a free phone consultation so take advantage of this time! Many clients ask, “What should I say when I call a therapist for the first time”? Before calling, take some time to jot down some notes about what you would like to know about the therapist. It would be helpful to know what their approach is when working with clients. For example, are they more active in their style, asking a lot of questions and providing feedback or do they sit back and let the client talk more. This is important for you to consider because you may prefer one over the other. Some people would like their therapist to give more feedback and perhaps actively set goals with them. While others find it helpful when they are allowed to talk freely and come up with solutions on their own with little guidance from the therapist.
You may also want to know if they work with your particular issue. For example, if you are looking for help with a past trauma or PTSD symptoms, you can ask whether they specialize in this, or have experience working with these issues. You might also want someone who is sensitive to LGBT issues. Not all therapists are sensitive or experiences in this are and since this can be a particularly scary subject to discuss, it is important to feel a sense of comfort with a therapist before beginning.
Another important question is whether the therapist takes your insurance or what their fees are. I would recommend getting to know the therapist’s style before asking about fees as you may find that after a therapist answers your questions, you may feel a strong connection with them and want to work with them. This may help you to consider whether their fee is something you can budget for since it has a high value to you. If you ask about fees first, you may decide you can’t work with them prematurely. Obviously you have to consider your financial situation and what works best in your life.
STEP 4: SCHEDULE APPOINTMENTS WITH A FEW THERAPISTS
Talking on the phone with a therapist is an important first step to getting a sense of how you may work with them. However, you will not truly know how you will feel with a therapist until you meet with them in person. Thus, it is important to try on a few for size. You want to see what it is like in their office. Do you feel comfortable? Is the environment a good fit? Is the office in a convenient location? Do you feel a sense of privacy and confidentiality?
Take this time to get a sense of the therapist and whether it feels as though over time, there is a good chance that you will be able to talk about difficult issues and emotions. Keep in mind that therapy is a process and it takes time to drop our guards and begin to trust our therapist, just as in any type of relationship. This is a therapeutic relationship and if a sense of trust or bonding is not created, you will likely not meet the therapy goals that you set for yourself. However, if a strong therapeutic bond is created, there is opportunity for tremendous growth and healing.
Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Encino, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice.