In our first article on selecting a therapist, we talked about all the variables you need to be aware of before you even begin your search. Now that you have a good idea of what to inquire about, we will talk about how to conduct your search, what to expect in a first session, and red flags to watch for in evaluating if a therapist will be a good fit for you.
Performing the Search
Now that you know a bunch of the factors to be considering when scheduling, you should be ready to start the search. As noted, you can always contact your insurance carrier and they can filter a number of the things detailed above and provide you with a short list of counselors to try. Many people want something more than a random name, so they seek the suggestion of trusted people. This is typically their physician, a friend, or family member. If you know friends or family who may have had services in the past, you can certainly see if they liked their provider. Most physicians have a handful of trusted therapists that they refer to and have had experience with.
New in the last 5-8 years are a variety of online provider search sites. Similar to an insurance carrier, you can put in a variety of search criteria for what you are looking for and the site will produce a list of providers for you. Keep in mind that this list is likely generated from counselors who are paying to advertise on that site and is not an exhaustive list. The upside of these sites is that they often have a picture of the provider that you can see. For many people, just seeing the person they will talk to is helpful. Alternatively, if you get a referral by another means, you can go to the provider’s website and they often have a picture on there as well.
We should mention a quick cautionary note about online reviews. As most people are aware, most online reviews are either great or horrible, and there isn’t a whole lot of in between. Sadly, many therapy reviews tend to be more on the negative side. Often these come from clients who did not get what they were hoping for, perhaps didn’t pay their bill, or were not allowed to return for various reasons. In most cases providers cannot even reply to such reviews, because to do so would be a violation of confidentiality by acknowledging the person was a client. This leaves many providers unable to respond and explain circumstances that may be relevant to the bad review. Additionally, there is still some stigma around mental health and so most clients who had a great experience are not willing to publicly reveal they were getting services. Sadly, this leaves many therapy sites with an overwhelming number of negative reviews relative to positive ones. Most therapists have 95% or more of their clients who are happy with the services they received even though the online reviews may suggest otherwise, so take online reviews with a big grain of salt.
The First Session
The first appointment with a counselor is called an intake appointment. Regardless of style, approach, or expertise, almost all intakes are the same. The counselor is going to spend a lot of time getting background and history about you and your presenting concern. Their job is to assess all the other possible issues or concerns and put together a diagnosis and treatment plan, which they should discuss with you at the end of the intake. Just keep in mind that at this point, “therapy” as not begun. That said, it does give you an opportunity to meet the provider and get a little sense of their personality and approach to see if it’s a good fit. Unless there is something glaring that makes you feel uncomfortable or sure that it is not a good fit, we encourage you to give it 2-3 sessions before making a final decision about trying a different provider.
Comfortability, Safety, and Trust
In our opinion, feeling comfortable, safe, and like you trust your counselor are probably the most important factors in deciding to continue with a particular provider. Unfortunately, you can’t figure this out over the phone, from their website, or even in a first session. Usually in 2-3 sessions, you get a pretty good sense of a counselor’s personality and whether it is a good fit for you. Part of what you have to realize is that safety and trust evolve over a period of time, often 3-5 sessions. If after 3-4 sessions you don’t feel the sense of safety and trust starting to build, it may not be a good fit for you. If you know you have trust issues with people, you might better evaluate this after 5-6 sessions. In sum, these are probably the most important factors of all. When you feel comfortable and safe, you will be more likely to bring up the difficult issues that you know need to be worked on, so make sure you pay attention to this. If it’s not a good fit, don’t give up. Realize it is just a setback to finding your provider, not an impossibility.
A Few Red Flags
In the first few sessions, there a few things you want to be on the lookout for that may indicate this is not the provider for you. First, is the therapist talking more than you? There will certainly be sessions when they may be teaching you some materials or ideas and talk more, but overall you should be talking more than your therapist. Specifically, if your therapist is talking a lot about themselves or things they have been through, this is not a good sign. A good counselor should have good boundaries and not be revealing a lot about themselves. The therapy is for you and should be about you, not them. Second, are they attentive and engaged? If your therapist is asking you to repeat stuff a lot, is looking droopy eyed or nodding off, on their phone, responding to texts, or the like; they are probably not the best. Third, are they following your lead? If you feel like the therapist is pushing their own agenda, selling a particular book or therapy approach, rather than following your lead and goals, this may be a red flag. They can certainly bring up ideas, directions, or ways to treat things, but in the end, you are in charge and drive the ship. Lastly, if your provider is canceling a lot or switching your appointments routinely, they may be disorganized or have too much going on in their personal lives to be available for you.
If you are interested in talking with one of our therapists to see if they are right for you, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you face to face, or via telehealth, and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.
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