Finding a therapist who meets your needs can take some time, but it is worth the effort.
The term “therapist” is often used for many types of mental health professionals, according to Dr. Cary B. Shames, chief medical officer and vice president at Sharp Health Plan. Different mental health professionals can offer similar care,
with some distinctions:
- Therapists and counselors help patients with thoughts, emotions and relationships. They commonly treat conditions like behavioral problems, stress, anxiety and depression.
- Licensed clinical social workers provide various emotional and mental health services, like substance abuse treatment and therapy. They are well-trained in case management.
- Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe and monitor medications, and perform medical tests to help decide specific needs.
- Psychologists can provide individual or group therapy and do not prescribe medication. They may have specialized training in different types of therapeutic treatment.
“While credentials are important to keep in mind, a good therapist is someone with whom you can feel comfortable, safe and connected,” says Dr. Shames. “That connection is vital to not only building an effective patient-therapist relationship,
but also to aligning on the goals of your treatment and your plans to achieve those goals.”
Dr. Shames recommends you follow these five tips when looking for a therapist:
Think about your needs.
- Write down your main concerns and what you want to get out of therapy.
- Track any symptoms, including feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest in hobbies.
- Think about what is important to you in a therapist. For example:
- Distance from your home or ability to hold virtual visits
- Ability to prescribe medication
- Experience working with people based on gender, language, racial background, sexual orientation, faith, trauma or other dimensions of identity
- Treatment methods offered
Do your homework.
- Check your health insurance plan policy to see if you need a referral from your primary care physician before seeking mental health services.
- Look up mental health providers in your health insurer’s provider directory. Then, identify at least three providers you think might be a good fit for you.
- If you don’t have health insurance, community centers and public libraries often have phone numbers for local resources. You can also ask a trusted friend for referrals.
Call to make an appointment.
- Take deep breaths if you feel nervous. Remember your reasons for seeking help.
- heck to make sure they accept your insurance and ask what payment is expected for the appointment. If services are offered on a sliding scale, see what pricing is for your situation.
- Make an appointment, even if the next available opening is months away. You can always cancel it if you find someone else who can help you sooner.
- Confirm if the appointment will be in person or virtual. If it will be a virtual appointment, ask about the technical requirements to join.
Ask the right questions.
- Before your appointment, plan to ask about what’s important to you. For example:
- I have problems with feeling lonely most of the time. What is your experience working with patients with these issues?
- How soon is treatment expected to be effective?
- If needed, are you able to prescribe medication? If not, are you able to recommend me to someone in my network who can?
- What happens if treatment doesn’t seem to be working?
Go with your gut.
- Pay extra attention to your experience during your appointment. Do you feel relaxed, accepted, heard, safe and respected?
- Know that it’s OK if the first therapist does not feel like the best match for you — contact the next person on your list and keep looking.
“It takes patience and perseverance to find the right therapist,” says Dr. Shames. “The right person can help you learn to deal with mental health matters and improve your well-being for the rest of your life.”
If you feel you can't wait weeks or months to talk to someone, help is available. Dr. Shames advises you to consider using other resources in the meantime, such as peer support groups offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Diego or other mental health resources in the community. However, if you or a loved one is in crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is available 24 hours a day,
at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HELLO” to 741741.