How To Find a Therapist
I’ve been reading your column since my first pregnancy 4 years ago and you’ve helped answer a lot of my questions (some of which I submitted to you). Recently reading your advice in “Symptoms, Side Effects, & the Reality of Recovery,” I recognized a lot of suggestions that I could apply to my life. I’ve struggled with some postpartum anxiety and depression after having 2 kids in the past 4 years (3.5 yo and 9 months). I’ve seen a counselor occasionally and spoke with my doctor about medication, but decided to try to manage my symptoms in other ways. Just recognizing I was struggling with anxiety helps me keep it in check.
That said, I feel like I could really benefit from more regular therapy or counseling, but I really have no idea how to go about finding a good provider. The counselor I saw was through my health clinic and is hard to get into and honestly was maybe not a good match? I don’t know. It was moderately helpful, I guess. Do I need to get a referral from my PCP? Can I just google and find someone and make an appointment to see how it goes? I feel like this is something that could help me manage my mental health long term and I really like the idea of CBT. But I’m totally overwhelmed at the process, and feel like the times I HAVE gone to my primary care provider about mental health concerns, I’ve been listened to and supported, but haven’t quite gotten the guidance I was seeking. Maybe I wasn’t clear with myself or my doctor on what I wanted and needed. How do I take the next step?
PS – I should clarify – I’m not on the brink of a meltdown or serious self-harm or worse forms of PPD or PPA, etc. But I know I could be better about taking care of my mental health.
Finding a therapist is hard. Finding the RIGHT therapist is even harder.
You are not alone as it can be overwhelming
It can be so discouraging that after making it through the overwhelming process of finding SOMEONE — someone who accepts your insurance, is accepting new patients, isn’t a 40-minute drive away, etc. — to realize that someone isn’t a good fit and you have to basically start all over again. Because a good fit is super important! And makes all the difference in whether you’ll actually get anything out of your sessions vs. the sense that you’re just making awkward weekly small talk with someone who, say, doesn’t seem to remember anything you tell them from week to week or rushes you out the door or just…doesn’t seem to offer you anything you haven’t heard a million times before?
(OH YES PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT THIS “YOGA” THING YOU SPEAK OF I HAVE NEVER THOUGHT TO TRY THAT FOR ANXIETY EVER WOW MUCH WISDOM SUCH INSIGHT.)
In a perfect world, yeah, you could find a great therapist affiliated with or recommended by your PCP or other health center you already have a good working relationship with. Or you know enough people who are also in therapy who can vouch for their therapist and give you some insight on how they work and what a typical session is like. And these are great places to start! But sometimes those paths lead to a dead end — the therapist has a six-month long waitlist or doesn’t take insurance or the office hours don’t work for you.
Here’s my personal go-to source for therapists
I personally — for myself and other family members — have had pretty good success using the “Find a Therapist” search option from Psychology Today. (Not a sponsored or affiliated plug/shout-out — just an honest recommendation of a thing I’ve found useful, and isn’t kinda sad that’s no longer the default setting for the Internet? KIDS TODAY.) You can start off simply by searching by your location and then drilling down through other considerations — your specific mental health issue as an area of specialty, your insurance, any preferences on gender, faith, LGBTQ-friendly, language, etc. You can search specifically for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other types (DBT, EDMR, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, etc.) The providers create their own listings (and then are verified by the site as you know, actually being who they claim to be and not some crazy rando offering cheap therapy in the back of a van) and it just makes it a lot more targeted and streamlined than a basic Google search. (Especially since not all therapists have super informative web sites, or are part of a much larger practice so you can’t find out much about them beyond a short bio/degree info.) You can see almost all your local options all in one place, with a nice snapshot into who they are, what they do and how they go about it.
What to expect at your first therapy appointment
From there, think of your first session as more informational, rather than “okay, I guess you are my therapist now, let me begin with my life story.” Be clear with them about what you’re hoping to get out therapy — what you’ve already written to me is an excellent start! Ask them about their approach and how they like to structure a typical session. Be mindful of your own comfort level with them and how easy they are to talk to. Some providers will offer up a quick phone call or video chat instead of an actual in-person session, so you can get through all of this ahead of time and hash out any obvious reasons why it might not be a match — the insurance info is out of date, they don’t have as much experience with postpartum mood disorders as you were hoping for, the only session time they have available is Monday mornings at 5 a.m., etc.
(Speaking of the video chat option — yes, I’m aware of the sites that offer exclusively online therapy. I have never tried that, but know several people who have and did not report it being a good experience. I think online-only therapy can be an excellent option for people who have other extenuating circumstances/reasons for why they can’t get themselves to an in-person therapy appointment, but it personally would not be my first choice if other local, more traditional treatment options exist for you.)
Anyway, good luck! And good for you for recognizing this missing piece in your mental health puzzle and deciding to DO something about it.
Other articles on Mental Health by Alpha Mom:
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