SCIENTIFIC MATCHING FOR MENTAL HEALTH
How to find the best possible mental health therapist
The process of finding a therapist involves much more than asking, “Do you take my insurance?”
When it comes to searching mental health providers it’s important to be empowered in your choices and to make the best decision for our own wellbeing. Finding the right Therapist can be the difference between finding relief of your symptoms and continuing to feel stuck, or worsening issues.
In this article we discuss:
Yes, there are basic criteria that you need to search against, such as Insurance, Costs, Education/Training, and office rules and protocols.
But, much deeper than that, before you begin your search for the right therapist, make some notes of what you are looking for. Who you are, how you learn, and how you receive feedback is important, and will help set your expectations for therapy.
Ask yourself these basic questions to help inform your Therapist search
What therapy type are you looking for?
Are you looking for help for yourself? Or, for Couples, Family or Teen and Children? Although this is the easiest to answer, many Therapists are very specific on what types they specialize within. For instance, there are some Therapists whom only work with Individuals, and not Couple relationships.
How do you feel about office visits for therapy, or would you prefer Online therapy sessions?
Many clients/patients enjoy being on-location and search for a Therapist near them for their sessions. The environments are typically warm, inviting, and are a quiet and safe place to share and work on your challenges. Others may feel stigma around Mental Health offices, and would rather avoid them and work with their Therapists remotely.
More about Online Therapy/Telemedicine/Telehealth
These can be best described as Therapy Sessions online in a Zoom call or FaceTime type of environment. If you prefer or are considering Telehealth, know that it has gained popularity (especially since Covid began), is effective, and it broadens your search criteria when looking for a Therapist (sometimes even over state lines). Not only can you attend your Sessions from anywhere you have connectivity, but you may be able to do the work of therapy better from your own environment. Also, many therapists that may be a good match your situations may not be in a convenient location.
Questions to help search and find your IDEAL therapist
Therapy requires an immense amount of self exploration and discovery, and the therapist’s role is to walk alongside you in your process. Feeling seen and heard by your Therapist is of the utmost importance as you’ll only be able to go so far emotionally unless you feel comfortable and fully supported. Research shows that up to 80% of therapeutic outcomes are determined by a patient’s connection with their therapist, not their theoretical orientation or educational background.
Therapist Specialties: What am I looking to address?
Maybe you’re looking for someone who specializes in Anxiety or Depression. Therapists have different Specialties that can range from Behavioral issues, to Addiction, Divorce, PTSD and so on. By understanding the types of clients they can help their very best, it’s important for you to find one that has experience with your type(s) of challenges.
Therapeutic Style: How would I prefer my Therapist to offer advice, teach, listen and respond?
As an individual, we all connect, respect and respond to each other differently, and it’s important to know how a Therapist communication and work style is approached. Some Therapists are very Action Oriented and Problem Solving. Others may focus on being soft-spoken, use humor, or being empathetic.
Gender Identity: Does Gender play a role in how I may interact and share my struggles?
Is it important to find a Therapist that’s a man, or is a woman, or is/has experience with LBGTQIA+ populations?
Cultural Backgrounds: Should my Therapist be, or understand, a cultural heritage or associated challenges?
Are you looking for someone that understands your challenges from heritage point-of-view, particular population, or up-bringing?
Shared Life Experiences: Would it help if my Therapist had a life experience to understand my Topics and Challenges?
Would it help if your Therapist has been-there, and done-that? These could be experiences such as going through a divorce, having a baby and being a mom, care for the elderly, etc.
Communities: Am I looking for a Therapist that has experience with a certain Community?
Should your Therapist have experience working with a specific community, such as First Responders, Military, Toddlers, etc.
Titles and Credentials, and what do they mean?
When searching for a therapist, you’ll most likely find their Credentials within their profile listings. Within the United States, several different titles are used to identify mental health professionals. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it should be a pretty good place to start with knowing what those letters mean.
MD (they will have Dr. before their name)
Training: Medical School Insights: In an outpatient setting psychiatrists typically focus on medication management, and often work with another practitioner who handles the therapy.
Psychologist: Doctorate Level
PhD, PsyD, EdD (they will also have Dr. before their name)
Training: completion of a PhD, PsyD, or EdD program in psychology. All degrees require clinical field experience and dissertations, though a PsyD or EdD is typically more clinically focused, while a PhD is more research focused. Insights: Though PhDs are often doing research, some offer therapy and private practice. Many of these individuals will have a very specific area of interest or expertise, which can be great if their interest matches your needs! They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.
Psychologist: Masters Level
MA, MS, LGPC, LCPC
Training: completion of a masters program in psychology, counseling psychology, mental health counseling, or a closely related field. Those with an “L” have completed licensure requirements which may involve state board exams and supervision hours. Insights: These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches. They may have additional certifications based on their specific area of interest or experience. They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.
MSW, LGSW, LCSW, LMSW, LCSW-C, LISW, LSW (and probably more, as this varies depending on state license, but will always contain an “SW”)
Training: completion of a masters program in clinical social work. Those with an “L” have completed licensure requirements which may involve state board exams and supervision hours. Insights: These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches. They may have additional certifications based on their specific area of interest or experience (even more letters after their name). They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.
Marriage and Family Therapist
MA, MFT, LMFT, LCMFT
Training: completion of a masters program in Marriage and Family Therapy. Those with an “L” have completed licensure requirements which may involve state board exams and supervision hours. Insights: These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and many practice a range of different therapeutic approaches. They may have additional certifications based on their specific area of interest or experience (even more letters after their name). They cannot prescribe medications, but may work with a psychiatrist who does medication management.
Where to Look for a Therapist
- There are many online directories on the web to help find a therapist. Please use a trusted, reliable online database! At Thrivelution, we find a therapist match for you.
- Workplace Benefits Program/Wellness Program: Usually your employer will have a provider directory or list of supported Therapists/Counselors
- Insurance Company listings: Your insurance company has a provider directory of Therapists that are in their network
- Ask someone you trust, friends or family
- Call a university psychiatry or psychology department and ask recommendations of people trained in that program
- If you’re moving to a new city, ask your current therapist for referrals
- Call a large clinic; ask the receptionist for recommendations
Your First Session–What to expect, and what to ask
Often called the “intake session”, is typical of a doctors appointment, so show up early. You’ll have paperwork to fill out—but once you complete the compliance forms, insurance and services agreement, medical history, and a brief questionnaire about your symptoms, you’ll be introduced to your Therapist.
Your first appointment is often an ease-in to your relationship with a warm welcome. The therapist will ask questions about your presenting concerns, as well as your history and background. You’ll find yourself talking about your current symptoms or challenges, as well sharing a bit about your relationships, your interests, your strengths, and your goals.
When it comes to finding the right therapist, it’s crucial that you trust your gut. You won’t be able to make much progress in therapy if you feel uncomfortable around your therapist.
During this session ask yourself:
- Do the office space and the therapist both make you feel safe and un-judged?
- Do you feel comfortable sharing vulnerabilities with this person?
- Does your therapist demonstrate healthy boundaries?
- Do you feel heard by your therapist? That is, in session, do you feel that your therapist is present and attentive, able to grasp what you’re saying, and using techniques like reflective listening to mirror back what you’ve shared?
- Does your therapist answer your questions?
- Do you feel that they’re being transparent about their practice, policies, and therapeutic process when you ask specific questions?
Beware of Red Flags in your Session
Let’s uncover some of the pitfalls you may encounter when looking for the right therapist. These red flags should never be ignored. They may just be minor nuisances but they could also indicate something as serious as malpractice.
If the therapist talks more than you do or shares about themselves too much, it’s probably not a good fit. The therapist-patient relationship is necessarily unbalanced. You’re there to talk about your life, and while it can be helpful for a therapist to share a few personal details to illustrate concepts, a supportive provider will continue to direct the conversation back to you.
If the therapist frequently interrupts you, you’re probably not going to feel as open or forthcoming in your communication.
Serious red flags include a therapist who demonstrates inappropriate behavior or violates your confidentiality. HIPAA law requires health providers to keep all details about your case confidential unless you’ve given express written consent. This includes unintentional confidentiality breaches. For instance, if your therapist’s waiting room is directly next to the office and the door isn’t soundproof, there should be a noise-cancelling machine of some kind. Likewise, during the check-in/check-out processes, your personal details should not be discussed in front of other patients
What if my Therapist is Not the Right Fit?
If you’ve met with a Therapist, once or more, and it’s clear they’re not the right one for you, it’s 100% okay to “break-up” and find the right fit. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to find the most helpful mental health professional for your specific therapeutic needs to help, continue to grow.
About the break-up: Don’t just ghost your therapist. Have the “break up” conversation. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, and don’t insult the therapist on a personal level. It’s always best to be transparent about the fact that you’re just not clicking with the Therapist. If appropriate or solicited, you can offer gentle feedback. Either way, make sure you communicate with your Therapist rather than just going radio silent.
Connecting with the right therapist can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be.
Finding the right therapist has never been easier. Thrivelution is challenging the out-dated system of directory style searching and creating personalized matches between clients and therapists. Our mission is to improve access to mental health care for the public, and make sure you get the right therapist, not just any therapist.