Recently, a lot of people have messaged me asking me to tell the story of how I found A. I also read a post about the top three things somebody has learned from finding a therapist. I mentioned to this individual that I had a checklist that I have perfected over the years – and they recommended that I write about it. So I am.
That checklist, combined with intuition and years of experience, led me to A. It’s been five months, and I can confidently say that I have found a well matched person for me. Is she the only therapist for me? Probably not. But she is the right therapist for right now.
I wish I had the knowledge I have now when I started my search 10 years ago. I wish somebody had written this out, and that I could find it. I wish that someone had told me what to expect when searching for a therapist. So, this is my contribution to that discussion. It is part one of a three part series on how to find a new therapist. I am not a therapist, but I have had 10 years and 8 therapists worth of experience. This is what I have learned.
I am well aware that this was learned in retrospect and it is a lot easier to talk about the process now, than when I was in it. So above all, be kind to yourself, remember that you may not click with the first person you meet, and trust your intuition. What is right for me may not be right for you.
Before You Begin
Before even interacting with a therapist, you need to do some basic research. Some of the most painful mistakes are easily avoidable at this stage of the process. I have failed to do these things, and found someone I loved but couldn’t afford in the end, and that was a really painful break. Note that this list assumes you are in the right mental headspace to answer these questions, and that you have some time. If you are not, I suggest having a trusted friend do this part for you — or seeking emergency short term help until you feel capable of handling it yourself. Figure out the basics, and answer these questions:
- How much can I afford per session? How much does my insurance cover? What kind of therapy does my insurance cover? What is the average cost of a therapist in my region?
- When can I see a therapist? Do I absolutely have to have sessions outside of my work hours? Do I want someone who is available on the weekend? Is frequency of sessions important to me? How many do I think I need a week? How long do I want my sessions to be?
- What style of therapy am I looking for? Do I want somebody who is more reflective and empathetic or somebody who remains emotionless and acts as a ‘mirror’?
- Male or female? Young or old?
- How am I going to get to therapy? Where is the ideal location for my therapists office?
- What is the registered body of therapists in my region? What is the licensing structure? How can I find out if my therapist is licensed?
It is more than okay to have an “I don’t know” to some of these questions. It could be that you have never seen a therapist and you don’t know how you will react to some of the options. It is okay to have blanks in the answers. I never would have known most of these answers even 5 years ago. It is a process – but at least if you have the questions, you know that you can fill in the blanks as you go.
For me, I know that my insurance covers $400 a year (what a joke, right?) so I have to pay for the rest. I also know that they don’t actually cover someone with A’s education and experience, they only cover a basic provider. I know that my needs are more complex – and therefore this list allowed me to actively choose outside of that range. I know that my budget is a certain amount each month. I know that I do better seeing someone twice a week for 90 minutes. I know that I can’t take time off of work to see my counsellor. I know that I need an empathetic, care-based provider.
Having the answers to these questions can be really helpful at this initial stage. Not only does it make you feel more comfortable and informed, but it can help you create a short list of providers.
The Short List
After having the answers to the above questions, I recommend creating a short list of providers that meet the criteria you’ve established. Hopefully, it has more than one or two providers on it. In a rural area or if you are restricted by budget, it could end up being one person or two. I don’t have a lot of experience with that, because I’ve looked for providers in areas where the population is over 200,000.
I start with a Google search for “therapists in X”. I take a look at their websites. I personally dislike people who pay for Google ads to get clients, but that’s just me and is a bias based on my experience in advertising. If you’re comfortable, you can also ask around to friends in the industry or even friends who you know are seeing a therapist. Do your research. Look at their websites, and don’t be afraid to Google their names. Look for articles or papers they may have published. Look at the type of therapy they practice, and Google that too.
The more informed you are the better.
My short list almost always exclusively has people who offer a 30 minute phone consultation on it. It’s a personal preference to me, to be able to talk to this person for free. To me, it says that the provider is also looking for someone who is a good fit to be willing to schedule that free introductory phone call. I also almost exclusively email people who have cost per session listed right on their website, and who have some sort of “about me” page going on. Bonus points if there is a picture and I can estimate gender/age.
However, those things are up to you, and over time you will figure out what works.
Send those emails/Fill out those contact forms
So now I have a contact list of 5-6 people. Last time I did this (when I was looking for A), my short list ended up with 10 people on it. I would have contacted them in rounds, so as not to overwhelm myself. Scheduling more than 3 phone calls with a new therapist in a week is too much for me. I always assume one person will not answer (happens a lot, actually), and that one person will not be taking new clients. So I send out 5 emails at a time.
The email usually goes like this:
“Hello, my name is <your name>. I am looking for a new counsellor to work with me, primarily in the areas of <insert areas here: I put familial trauma, abuse, and the resulting anxiety and depression>. I would like to schedule an introductory phone call with you. Can you please give me a time that works for you on <put in a few options>. Thank you,”
I keep the email short and brief and actually quite templated. It helps me reduce anxiety around “did I put too much, did I not put enough” in the email. It also reveals very little about me, so I don’t feel poorly or anxious about sending it.
The next post in this series will talk about that first phone call. I also welcome any additional recommendations, suggestions, or questions you may have in the comments below.