Finding a Therapist by Deborah Turner
I would like to thank Deb Turner for allowing me to share her work.
Dear Ms. Harriet,
I’m in trouble. I mean, my life is fine. But, inside, I just don’t feel right. I have a plan: go to therapy. But, finding a therapist is hard. And it’s taking me longer than I thought it would. It seems I need to feel better to shop for someone to help me feel better. Do you have any advice?
Shopping for a Shrink
Dear Shopping for a Shrink,
A good friend once lived in Small Town, America. For fun, she used to call her health insurance referral line. Using the most somber voice she could muster, she’d ask for a referral to a therapist. And she’d get specific. She needed to talk with a black, lesbian therapist who had experience working with clients in interracial families. She also required that person’s office to be within 10 miles of her so she could bike there.
Whenever she’d call with a satisfied trickster laugh, I knew she’d recently indulged in her habit. I imagine the calls helped her release stress. It must have been a relief to hear someone else say her town lacked diversity and apologize for having to refer her to a therapist over 90 miles away and lacking qualifications she sought.
All humor aside, I’ve received your question from several readers. Here are three steps I once used to shop for a therapist. I hope they help you and others seeking help.
–Signed, Ms. Harriet
Finding a therapist in 3 steps
Say what you want — Step 1
First, for what do you want help? Feel free to answer in general terms, like for figuring out which job or what career is right for me. Or, you may want to help relating to your family of origin or dealing with a conflict in your intimate relationship. I shaped my answer into a brief talk–a spiel really–about 5-10 minutes in length. You should too.
Additionally, you may want to consider what kind of support you want. But, consider this step optional for now. With so many different types of therapy, sorting through them can be overwhelming at this early stage. You can focus instead on descriptions of therapists that sound appealing to you.
Making a (short) list — Step 2
Next, I got referrals to therapists from friends, social media reviews, and referral lines. Initially, I found it hard to get names. Doing so involved admitting my problem to another person.
If this or other concerns cause you to hesitate, pick a time and place to ask for referrals carefully. My initial reluctance changed when friends turned out to be both helpful and encouraging in ways I hadn’t expected. This outcome made a rather involved and time-consuming process a little easier to navigate.
If you took the option to learn about different types of therapy, use this information now to narrow your list.
Selecting the one — Step 3
I narrowed my list down to three therapists with whom I felt I could work. That was as many as I wanted to afford and manage. Feel free to select more, up to five. I scheduled an appointment with each one and let them know I was trying to decide on a therapist.
At the start of each appointment, I shared the same brief spiel described above. Therapy appointments typically last about 50 minutes (online ones can be shorter). After the end of my three meetings, I picked out a therapist quickly!
My spiel moved the first therapist so much, she cried! She proceeded to talk a lot. We went overtime with her trying to identify immediate things I could do to solve my problems. Our hour together made me laugh out loud. Wasn’t I the one who should’ve been crying?
The second therapist asked a ton of questions about my spiel. It led to a good deal of long, awkward silent moments while I tried to answer. It also made me wonder if she had understood what I’d been trying to tell her. When I left, I felt more overwhelmed than when I’d arrived.
The third therapist listened to my spiel and helped me consider it from new perspectives. And, drawing from what I’d said, she described a few areas in which she thought I might want support and how she could help me. She was spot on!
Finding the right therapist for you
Toward the end of the hour, the third therapist talked about the logistics of her practice–what she charges, insurance she accepts, late and no-show policies, and why and when she’d change her rates. I left feeling like a grown woman smart enough to hire a professional to help me.
Overall, this method worked well for me. It allowed me to compare apples to apples instead of sort through a bowl of different fruits. I hope it works for you too and anyone else who uses it. Finally, I doubt you’ll be surprised to know I decided to work with the third therapist!