Firstly, hats off to you for seeking third party help for whatever may be sucking the joy out of your life. Our current discussion on mental illness is both mixed and a bit negative, it takes a lot of courage to own your present situation and decide whether you’re going to let it be your whole story or simply a part of it.
Outside of my first experience with therapy at the age of 14, my main and more positive experiences began when sought help for my eating disorder in 2012. Stepping out of my comfort zone and telling a stranger about the problems and issues I needed to sort through was one of the scarier moments of my life (probably because it was filled with all sorts of vulnerability). I spent the first hour crying. I no longer cry when I have brief consultations before honing in on one therapist, but there’s still that level of discomfort because the initial hello is going to be about explaining some of your obstacles with a total stranger.
I’ve had to find a new therapist, after my recovery, three separate times between 2012 and now (all “therapist breakups” were moving-related). Although frustrating, having to find new therapists has really helped me understand the process of what it takes to connect with another individual when it comes to regaining the ability to live a less stressed, more present, whole life. Here are some things to keep in mind when seeking a therapist:
1. Get to know your insurance.
Or how to talk to therapists about your insurance. I recently switched insurances after moving for my first salaried job with benefits, and the process of finding a therapist with my new insurance in a new state has been quite the obstacle.
Every therapist has their own method of payment, whether it’s out of network, in network, sliding scale, or specific insurances only. Determine what you’re willing to spend, whether your want to spend it once a week, bi-weekly, or once a month, and be sure to ask up front (if you can’t find the information) what their insurance policy is. Out of network means paying the full session amount, submitting paperwork to the insurance company, and waiting for X amount of weeks to receive 70 percent (or whatever the amount is) back via check. For me, that’s not an option because my income doesn’t allow for that much wiggle room when it comes to therapy. I’ve done sliding scale before, with my couples therapist, and that simply means you and your therapist work out an agreement to pay what you can per session. If you’re working with a limited budget, I highly recommend looking into therapists who accept sliding scale (and there are a lot of great therapists who utilize this method of payment). The financials can be tough, and become even more tough when every therapist has their own personal method of payment, but it’s simple enough to ask about their policy and email them your insurance ID to have them check whether or not your insurance and potential therapist are compatible.
2. What are you needs?
More than likely you have an idea of why you’re seeking therapy, even if it’s as simple as “I’m unhappy” (though sometimes you may not know!). It’s important to find a therapist whose style of therapy works for you and who has experience with your issues. For example, I progress best with questions and observations that make me reflect, and am currently seeking assistance with my first big move, a new job, and family issues. When I have the initial consultation, have these items written down makes the process much easier, and give me a better chance of finding someone specific to my needs.
I highly recommend looking at therapists.psychologytoday.com where you’ll be able to enter in your zip code, identify issues (i.e. anxiety, stress, trauma), and read profiles of potential therapists. Be careful when it comes to connecting with a potential therapist about your needs. Some therapists claim they have had training in a specialized area such as PTSD when really they have only worked with a handful of patients struggling with that disability and not actually gone through the certified training. Bonus: the website listed above also outline the therapist’s insurance policies and whether or not they participate in sliding scale.
If by chance the therapists you have contacted are unavailable or unable to work with your schedule, always ask for a recommendation. It’s likely that if the therapist you’re already talking to will recommend another with a similar style. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with different approaches to therapy, you’ll be able to specify these needs to get a clear cut answer and recommendation.
3. Determine logistics.
What is your work schedule? Method of transportation? Method of payment? One of my first questions during a consultation is, “What is your availability?” In LA, parking and transportation are a real pain in the ass, so having a therapist close to home so I could walk to and from after work were extremely important factors for me. I don’t need to leave therapy to only get stressed immediately after all because I can’t find parking on my block and then have to lay in bed the rest of the night wondering if my car is being towed.
4. Have patience.
For real. I say this often when it comes to most things because most things involve patience. The process of finding a therapist is not an easy one; there are a lot of factors that go into finding that connection. With my second experience of finding a therapist, I was too focused on the financials of it and proximity between my the office and school. Although our connection was fine, I spent nine months with little progression and remained stagnant in my emotions, thoughts, and opinions.
It takes time to sort through all the different aspects of finding a therapist, but there’s no point in therapy if you’re spending $10, $20, $30+ a week and not moving forward in your life. Financials and proximity are factors in the process, but have patience when it comes to energy and connection because ultimately that is the most important thing.
Finding a therapist is not an easy process, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Once you’ve made the connection and worked out the logistics, the rest of the process is smooth sailing. (Well, not totally, but the hard emotional work is expected.) After my first couple of experiences, I began to get a sense of where I was at in my life, where I wanted to go, and what was helpful in the past to get me closer towards my goals. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to trust another individual in helping you progress, and comforting to have that consistent third party outlet. It’s important to have patience from the get-go instead of having to go through the same process a few months down the road because you realize it’s just not working out. Have patience, be thoughtful, and good luck on your journey of finding happiness and presence.