So you’ve decided you need therapy, but how do you find a therapist, particularly one who is a good fit for you and your problems? How do you know what to look for and where do you even start?
First, a brief introduction to the different types of therapists.
Although the terms “therapist” and “counselor” may be used interchangeably, there are different types of mental health professionals. While the titles of and requirements for each of these licensed professionals may vary from state to state, these are a few general guidelines.
- Licensed Clinical Psychologists have a Doctorate degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). They tend to have the most training in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, and may be able to offer other services, such as psychological testing. Psychologists should not be confused with psychiatrists, who are Medical Doctors (M.D.) that prescribe psychiatric medication, but less frequently conduct therapy. Learn more about my background as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.
- Licensed Professional Counselors (name varies by state) typically hold a Master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.). Licensed counselors can work in a variety of settings to provide counseling.
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) also typically hold a Master’s degree. Their training focuses more on working with couples and families from a systems perspective, but they also counsel individuals.
- Licensed Social Workers (LCSW or LMSW) hold a Master’s degree in social work. While not all social workers provide therapy, clinical social workers are trained to do so.
If you are looking for a therapist and see that they are “licensed”, regardless of the license they hold, you can feel confident that they have received advanced training and education and are held to high ethical standards. The specialty of the therapist often matters more than their degree or license. Make sure you are choosing a therapist who specializes with what you are wanting help. Learn more about my specialties in women’s issues, couples therapy, DBT, and spirituality.
Here are some suggestions for ways to find a professional therapist:
- Use Psychology Today, a database of all different types of mental health professionals, to search for ones in your area.
- Ask your primary care provider for a referral.
- Ask your church if any of its members are professional therapists, or if they have recommendations.
- Ask friends for referrals.
- Contact your employee assistance program, if you have one. They may offer a few free sessions with a licensed professional.
- Check with your insurance if you wish to use this as payment. Learn why self-pay is a good option for you and for your treatment.
When you locate a few options for therapists, don’t hesitate to ask them some questions over the phone to see if they are a good fit for you. You might want to ask therapists about their degree and license, where they went to school, their specialties, and therapeutic approach. If you want to incorporate faith into your treatment, ask if the therapist has training or experience in “religious and spiritual integration”.
Once you meet with your therapist, decide if you are a good fit.
Make sure you feel comfortable, safe, and accepted. A good therapist will strive to listen and understand you, gently challenge you, and help you set and reach your goals. Often it can take a couple of sessions to find out if a therapist is a good fit for you. As professionals, therapists should be open to your feedback and questions if their approach does not feel helpful to you. However, if you feel judged, completely misunderstood, or like the therapist is pushing their beliefs onto you, you have the right to seek help elsewhere, and can even ask the therapist for a referral to someone else.
The choice to seek therapy is a brave one, and taking the first step can be daunting. But I encourage you to reach out for help and support. You don’t have to be stuck, questioning if things will ever get better or how to change. As a therapist, it is an honor to come alongside clients as we work toward wholeness and restoration.