Looking for a Therapist?
Looking for a therapist can be a daunting task. I know because I have had to find several over the last 40 years. Finding someone compatible can take time and when you are in a crisis, time is not what one typically has.
Here, I will lay out questions that can help with the screening process for who might be a good fit… and who will definitely not be a good fit.
How to Find a Therapist
Finding who to call can include getting names from Human Resources, your insurance book or Googling “Therapists.”
I find that if you need low-cost therapists, going to support agencies can help more than just Googling. I suggest the LGBTQ+ Center in the nearest town, even if you are not wanting to talk about those issues, they keep a long list of therapists who are low-no cost. You can also search the county’s social services site.
You can call the local college and ask them for recommendations. If it is a school that licenses therapists, that can be a jackpot, asking for newer therapists because they often charge less. It can seem not fabulous to ask for a new therapist, but they are often the ones with the newest ideas in research and are willing to work with you and your desires for therapy.
Once You Have the List
It can be daunting to call the long list of therapists you have in front of you. Take your time. Call 3, then take a break and call 3 more the next hour or so. Be gentle on yourself even if you are desperate.
Desperate, of course, means NOT in a place to harm yourself or others.
If you are in a suicidal or homicidal place, PLEASE CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.
Calling for an Appointment
You will almost always get an answering machine when you call. That is normal. So plan out what you are going to say… write it down and read it if you want to… and then say what you need to the machine. Short and as succinct as possible. Therapist’s appointments end at 10 ’til the hour, so occasionally you might catch a person between then and the top of the hour, but not usually.
“Hi, my name is Barb Herrera and I need a therapist for depression. Your name was given to me by the LGBTQ Center. I am in crisis, but not suicidal, so the sooner I can see someone the better. My phone number is: xxx-xxx-xxxx.”
If you are in crisis, it is important to say you are. Make sure to add the not suicidal part, please… if you are NOT suicidal, of course.
If you are a parent, needing therapy for a child, you can say, “Hi, my name is Barb Herrera and my 10-year old son William needs help with his ADHD and anger issues. We are having a very hard time right now, so the sooner I can see someone the better. Please help!”
I find the phrase, “Please help me,” brings out the codependent in just about everyone. I use it in the ER, in bookstores, and looking for therapists.
You might need to call 20 therapists to get 3 to call you back. That is the way it goes, sadly. Some will be kind and tell you they cannot help, but good-luck, but that is pretty rare.
Try with all your might to answer the phone when a strange number calls (or a blocked number even) because catching each other can be a terribly frustrating game of cat and mouse.
When You Speak to the Therapist
While it sounds like you want that exact therapist when you left a message, there is a screening process you get to do to see if they are a good fit or not.
I encourage writing down exactly what you want help with:
“I am struggling with my marriage. My partner is distant and I don’t know why./My partner asked for a divorce and I’m scared/I’m having such a hard time getting anything done, my life is shit.” Etc.
If it is for someone else, your child for example, being really clear with what you need is good.
“My 15-year old daughter is using drugs and I don’t know what to do about it/My daughter is 13 and angry all the time. I need help understanding her/My 9-year old son struggles in school and cries a lot. I need help figuring out how to help him.” Etc.
So, when the therapist calls, this is when you bring out that paper and read to him or her what you need. Then ask, “Is this something you work with?” They might say yes (some say yes to anything), but they might tell you that isn’t their skill set and that’s great. Ask if they have a referral, thank them for calling and move on.
If you make an appointment with someone who says yes, WRITE DOWN THE APPOINTMENT DATE AND TIME and keep it handy. I say this because you want to keep talking to the therapists who call you back. Make an appointment with each one, just keep them straight (stars or ** next to the ones you like) so you can cancel the others when you get a feel for the right therapist. It is rare you will not connect with one of the folks that eventually calls. If you do not, pick the least objectionable and start there.
When you have the appointment with the therapist, please call the others and cancel. You will get a machine again, so no worries on hurting their feelings. It happens all the time. BUT, thank them for their time and that you are holding onto their number for future reference. And then do so so you don’t have to go on the search again in the future if the one you choose does not work out.
The first appointment can make or break the relationship, but I highly encourage having at least 3 before deciding you are not a good fit and moving to the next one.
It is also so so tempting to stay with one that is meh because the prospect of starting over is daunting and can be really challenging when you are in crisis. But, I promise, if you give the therapist 3 sessions and you are still not clicking, the idea that you will eventually is really delaying the obvious. Best get out and start over now. The sooner you do, the sooner you will find the right fit.
When I moved from San Diego after my 28-year marriage ended, I had specific needs because of the situation… needed an LGBTQ+ friendly and knowledgeable person. The first three people I had were very young and I spent those first 3 sessions teaching them about the transgender person. I stayed the 3 hoping after session 1 and 2 that they would learn on their own and come back armed with information they could use to help me. When it was clear I was going to be the educator, I ended the relationship and moved onto the next one. With the 4th, I hit the jackpot and am still with her 3 years later. I did not have to teach her one thing about the trans community or the trans experience. She is older and volunteers as a therapist at the LGBTQ+ Center in town. It took almost a year to find the right person, but it was worth it. (A year waiting for appointments to open up and the down time between therapists when I was frustrated and was too tired to move forward.)
Trust your instincts.
If you are able to be CLEAR about your needs… even if it is merely describing your child’s most difficult behaviors or your most intense emotions about your job… that is a fantastic way to start.
Others who have made these choices, do you have other ideas on how you choose therapists?