Home It's All Mental Open Thread: Do You Have Tips On How To Choose And Find A Therapist?

Open Thread: Do You Have Tips On How To Choose And Find A Therapist?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

If there’s one thing I get – often – it’s questions about finding and choosing the right therapist. As I’ve said on the blog before, while I’ve never gone through therapy myself, I had a therapist friend who, after hearing my worries about my future, told me flat out the best advice I’ve ever received in my life: “you need better coping mechanisms.”

And while my problem was easy to spot (big difference from “simple to solve,” though), many are not. Many of our issues are far more complex and ignoring them or wishing them away won’t change the effects those problems have on our day to day lives. If I, as a sexual assault victim, were to simply ignore the fears or nightmares or issues that my attack left me with… then ignoring the attack or “wishing” to go on with my life as if it never happened would not change the fact that I still have fears of men, nightmares of being assaulted again or issues with intimacy. You cannot ignore life-changing events.

The bottom line, here, is that I’m left with questions that I am wholly unable to answer. It was by sheer luck that that therapist friend happened to be there and happened to be willing to listen to me pour out my problems (for free! and y’all know I love free!) and give me what I need. I’m clueless as to how to choose a therapist, but considering how awesome my readership is, I know y’all can help.

What tips do you have for how to choose a therapist? What stories do you have for success with your therapist? Do you have any horror stories that you learned a valuable lesson from in how to choose a therapist? Please share with the class.

And if any of you have a therapist in New York City that specializes in eating disorders in African-American women, do be so kind to e-mail me that info at erika@blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com.

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Karen September 1, 2011 - 9:28 AM

As a therapist, I recommend the following:
1. Check with your employer to see if an EAP program is available
2. Check with your health insurance company
3. Ask your pastor, minister, etc
4. Check with NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) in your area
Any of these may get you great referrals, but remember, finding a therapist is sometimes like finding a great pair of shoes, you may have to try on a few…

Daphne September 1, 2011 - 9:51 AM

I’ve never been to a therapist, but a few tips on finding one:

If you have a reasonably large employer, check to see if they offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This would be listed among Company benefits (i.e. in addition to medical, dental, vision, etc they may offer). Part of the benefits may be reduced costs for a therapist – for example, my employer covers 100% of the first five sessions with a therapist PER ISSUE (more robust than per person). Contact your local HR or Benefits person to see what your company offers – EAPs are probably among the most comprehensive, yet underutilized programs that companies offer. And as a non-topic aside, EAPs can help with anything from financial counseling, legal advice, creating your own will for little to no cost, resources for a local area if you’re moving, etc. And it’s usually at minimal cost to you as an employee. I bring this up because unfortunately, when it rains….it pours, and someone who seeks therapy may have other challenges, like finance, they may need assistance with conquering. Of course, such counseling is confidential, so no worries about your co-workers knowing about it.

If you have personal medical insurance, research if counseling/therapy are part of the covered benefits. Heck, a personal medical insurance plan may have something similar to EAP built within the plan, and you don’t know it.

Google it – do a search for “women and therapy” or “black women and therapy” or “black therapists in Whatever town, USA.” Or whatever pertains to you. With so much out there on the web, I’m willing to bet there are forums or blogs that discuss therapists, what to look for, how to find therapists in your area, etc. Plus, the internet may lend an anonymity you may not have if you ask people face to face about a therapist. I bring it up since I know some people, especially blacks, are hesitant to discuss therapy.

If you’re a college student, they usually have one or more therapists on staff for counseling, at no additional cost to the student.

Hope this helps someone.

Trenia September 1, 2011 - 10:59 AM

This is a great topic. I firmly believe in therapy, especially for black women who’s wounds are deep and perhaps generational, i.e. childhood abuse, neglect, abandonment, violence and general hopelessness.

Finding a therapist is no easy feat, but sometimes you can get lucky. One of my friends always says finding a good therapist is like finding a good pair of shoes, you have to try on a few before you find the right one. If you’ve never been in therapy before, you may need to talk to 2 or 3 therapists before you find the right fit. Interview them, and make sure they have extensive experience dealing with the issues you need to address.

The therapeutic process is not easy, so it may take some time to build trust, but know this is part of the process you just have to give it time. However, if you’re in a session with a therapist and they’ve said something that makes you uncomfortable or if you believe it’s not a good fit, you may want to keep looking. A good place to start is your local mental health center or clinic that has many therapists to choose from. For example, in New York City there are a few mental health centers that have a host of therapists who specialize in different areas, they can also refer you to another therapist if they aren’t a match for you. Additionally, they have psychiatrists on staff if you need to be assessed for medication.

I think it’s important to dispel a myth about therapy that many black women have ( I know I did), having a black woman therapist is not as important as one might think. I have a black woman therapist now who is awesome, but I had a white woman therapist when I first started and she was exactly what I needed at the time. My personal rule about therapists is that she must be a woman, but I have a close friend who has a male therapist who helps her deal with an eating disorder and she really likes him. It was also important to me that my therapist have a PhD. This is my own personal thing, but as someone with a master’s degree in social work, I mentally needed to know that I would be working with someone who had more education than me.

When starting out in therapy you don’t always know what your needs are, so after working with someone for a while you may begin to discover what you need in a therapist. For example, some people prefer therapists that are a bit more chatty and give more feedback while others don’t need this, but you have to be open to it before deciding to just walk away from someone. My very first therapist hardly said a word in our sessions for the first 4 months I worked with her, but little did I know I had 4 months of stuff to get off my chest.

Therapy is tricky, especially when you’ve got really deep wounds that need to be healed. You might not feel like it’s working because you’re not getting where you want to be fast enough, as a matter of fact you may start to feel like you’re regressing sometimes, but the process IS the therapeutic work. And before you know it, lifetime patterns will start to shift and change.

But a caution to anyone considering therapy for serious issues: therapy, especially psychoanalytic work, should come with a warning label. Therapy is hard work. And things may get worse, a lot worse, before they get better. When you start reaching back into childhood, going back to old wounds and trying to re-discover who you were before you started feeding your emotions with food instead of feeling them, it can leave you feeling like you want to jump off a bridge, but that’s what the therapist is there for. Therapy is about getting to the raw truth and going back to that place where you were wounded so that you can come out better on the other side, but it is a journey.

Sorry for the long comment, but I hope that someone finds it useful. Therapy, as hard as it can be, is well worth it!

Biolobri September 1, 2011 - 2:18 PM

I can’t offer any new advice that those before haven’t posted but I have been to therapy. Twice.

The first time was great. I was there primarily to address my sexual assault and the therapist was great. For the first 3 sessions we did nothing but talk about me and my current life and why things were good and what the future might hold. During session 4, she still did not make me talk about the assault, but she did bring it up. She was the first person who didn’t want to make me keep reliving it but instead, she rehashed my positive qualities and suggested that maybe it was possible that I’ve become the person I am today because of that happening. I left feeling satisfied and “healed” (although to be honest, long term therapy might have been a good idea – these things don’t just “go away”).

The second I went to when I was a college student, battling depression and anxiety. She was terrible. She left me waiting for an hour while she had an extended session with another patient and barely apologized (also, still charged me). The next session I skipped, as I was now developing anxiety about going to my sessions. She never even called to see how I was. If I had not had a positive therapy session to compare it to, I would have lost all hope in the system.

What I can tell you is this: Don’t give up on helping yourself if you have a bad experience. There are better therapists out there, I promise.

Kait September 1, 2011 - 2:30 PM

The best piece of advice I can offer is to GO WITH YOUR GUT! If you are uncomfortable with one therapist than seek another. If you need someone more military-general than compassionate-mom, search around until you find that person. Ask questions when you call the office about the therapist’s style. If you don’t want pills straight up ask what percentage of the therapist’s pts receive medication.

Be an advocate for yourself…you are bringing in the $ for them so be an empowered patient and basically interview any therapist you are considering starting treatment with.

In terms of finding therapists, you can search for a therapist on PyschologyToday.com. You can also visit this link: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-help-today/

They have both a hotline and a searchable list of providers by state. I would also do a search for “eating disorder foundation in [insert your state].”

Bernadette September 1, 2011 - 8:39 PM

I got issues so I’ve been to therapy several times…

The first couple times were through my college’s counseling services. I believe most schools offer counseling services free of charge to students (at least up to a certain number of sessions). The first counselor I had wasn’t good for me, he straight up told me that I should “do this” and shouldn’t “do that” – not a good idea when you’re talking to a think-she-knows-it-all young woman. I only met with him once. The second counselor I saw was much better. I wouldn’t say it was because she was a black woman, but I think she was better able to relate because of it.

The next was through my employer’s EAP (employee assistance program, as others have mentioned). He was an older Jewish man that I saw on two separate occasions.

One thing these two had in common was that they really took the time to understand what it was that I was saying/feeling then responded in a way that honored how I felt, but pushed me to move outside myself and think about the situation/my feelings from a different perspective. For those situations, that was very useful.

Most recently, Kaiser offered counseling after a traumatic surgery I underwent (included in my insurance). This woman was closer in age than the others had been and really played the role of a “girlfriend” to just listen to me talk about this and that and offer advice based on having counseled other women in the same situation. No big philosophical discussions, I would come in and sit down and she’d say “Sooooo, what’s up?”

Through my experiences what I found was that different situations required different counseling styles. As far as advice, like another poster said, meet with a potential therapist and if you aren’t comfortable or don’t think his or her style matches your need, find another one. I’m a big advocate for therapy and think EVERYONE should go to counseling, that is, unless they have a therapist friend 😉

Erika Nicole Kendall September 2, 2011 - 10:16 AM

Aye, we’ve all got issues. LOL *hug*

Lexx Brown-James September 2, 2011 - 4:33 PM

Hello! I was forwarded this post from an avid follower of your blog and after glancing around I have found that I have watched some of you youtube hair videos and will be a follower now as well!

FIRSTLY: YOU WERE A VICTIM- YOU ARE NOW A SURVIVOR- AND THAT GOES FOR EVERYONE ELSE AS WELL! You all hve survived unimaginable horror and have become beautiful people who are worthy of love and support.

As regard to the topic, I have some new information. I am therapist and because you do not permit plugs I will not tell you where I work, but I will give you some help with what you ask.

EAP programs are great! look into them, if your job does not have them then you can seek out a therapist for your particular needs or you specific wants. For example, if you go to psychologytoday-despite their complete and utter fail with the Black women are unattractive article- many therapists of color still use the website to promote their business. You can search for specific requirements and usually see their website and picture.
2. Call your insurance and check your benefits- sadly not all insurances cover mental health,but check for out of network benefits as well.
3. Check out the therapist. We personally offer a free 15 minute consult to meet you and for you to meet us to see how we can work together and if we gel.
4. LOOK AT THEIR WEBSITE! It will include cost, if they have a sliding fee scale, their credentials, and licenses. These are important.
5. Check out other places like: http://www.AASECT.com is you’re looking for help with sexuality issues this organization is an accredited organization for sex therapists, counselors and educators. In addition look into AAMFT who specialize in family therapy including couple’s work. All therapist have some sort of niche. Also note where your person went to school and what they studied this is important. Also the different types of therapy they do some will use motion, others just talking, and even others will do a mixed methods approach-ask what they do and what they are *trained* in.
6. See if you are comfortable. In my own therapy experience I went to a woman whose office was a HOT MESS! Papers everywhere! and I MEAN EVERYWHERE and living in philly now where there are mice who live indoors it freaked me out. I just wasn’t comfortable and couldn’t take he seriously. So, we ended treatment.
7. The therapist is there to take care of you- NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND- although I personally frown on it some therapist use their cell phones, talk about themselves etc, if it works then fine, but I’m of the thought that it doesn’t, so if you don’t want to go back DON’T- and tell them why.
8. You’re therapist is not your friend and if they are treating you as such some boundaries might be being crossed- there is a special bond built in therapy from both client and therapist perspective.

GoldenLadyP September 2, 2011 - 11:10 PM

Firstly I want to say that in my journey I have tried many creative modalities for addressing my personal concerns as well as standard talk therapy. I’ve done creative writing sessions dedicated to a specific issue. I’ve done cultural art therapy dedicated to other issues. Both those opportunities were offered independently and I just happen to hear about them through list-serves or neighborhood advertising and did me a world of good before I did the “sit on the couch” kind of therapy which I now really appreciate.

Having a woman of color (not too young or old) was important to me and I’ve now had two great ones. I tried out an older man of color and it was like talking to a professor.

I absolutely interview them to ask about their philosophical approaches however even before that I comb over their websites thoroughly to see if they put time and effort into it.

I have been fairly lucky I’d say both because I’ve had a job that will make the benefit low-cost and that my intuition has help me select the right person.

It’s a huge step to even seek the help you need because so many don’t do it but I can’t think of a better place to spend my money than working on making me a better healthier and whole person.

arieswym September 6, 2011 - 9:35 PM

I’m probably late on this thread but whatever.

The one piece I have to offer is to not give up. If the first (second or third) therapist that you meet doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that therapy won’t work out for you. Just means that you’ll need to find someone with whom you are compatible.

Because when you find a good therapist, it’s awesome and you’ll know the search was worth it and that you never want to go through the search again.

Jayanamo September 24, 2011 - 10:45 PM

I’ve read some great responses. I would like to add:

1. Choose a therapist that is a good fit. Before jumping right into therapy, I would say schedule an interview session with any potential therapist. This way you could do a “gut check” to see how well you might gel with the therapist. This would also give you an opportunity to look around the office…think about it therapy is very intimate, so you would want to feel comfortable.

2. Choose an actual licensed therapist or counseling psychologist. One of the most critical thing to consider when attempting to find a therapist should be to look for an actual licensed therapist or Counseling Psychologist, they are trained specifically for counseling, unlike clinical social workers. Also counselors/therapists are more objective than our personal relationship with our family, ministers, or priest.

3. CHOOSE A THERAPIST WHO IS CULTURALLY COMPETENT!!! For clients of color, this is critical…they will do the least harm! They are less likely to pathologize those nuances ingrained in a client of color. This doesn’t mean that they have to be of the same ethnic group, but they must be willing to gain insight in to the clients they serve. Here is a webpage that explains this concept further. Disregard the web page title. http://www.sextherapyinphiladelphia.com/culturally_competent_therapist.htm

4. Choose a therapist that is grounded in trauma therapy! For most individuals seeking therapy they have experienced or witnessed multiple traumas (i.e., childhood maltreatment or sexual trauma, car accident, domestic violence) at some point in their lives. When a client present in therapy, it is usually with symptoms stemming from trauma (i.e., over-eating, depression, or trouble sleeping). Trauma informed therapist will be able to recognize the connections.

5. Choose a therapist that utilizes a strength based approach to counseling.

6. Don’t be afraid of therapy! Since the brain is the ruling organ, I would argue that it is probably the most in need of care. Most individuals wouldn’t think twice to talk to a doctor if there was a problem with their heart. It’s unfortunate that seeking therapy is view as being weak. I think is the strongest thing one can do for their personal well-being.

Kristen November 13, 2011 - 4:13 PM

Most have already hit the nails on the head. My only addition is that with counseling/therapy, it WILL NOT work, if you don’t want it to! You have to work in therapy and sometimes it’s work you don’t want to do. Therapy can be tough, but it is totally rewarding. As others have said, don’t neglect yourself. Be brave, courageous and face the ghosts of your past that have been haunting you. You’ll be all the more better because of it!

Avalaura February 17, 2012 - 7:14 PM

Great post!

As a counselor, I can also offer that referrals are a great way to find the right therapist. Many of my clients come to me through a referral or someone who has used my services.

I also offer a free 30 minute phone consultation which many counselors/therapists offer as well. This gives you a chance to learn more about each other and see if this is a person you would like to work with.

Its a lot easier to find a good therapist with the internet and many of us have websites, facebook, twitter, etc. Do your homework and check us out!

Lastly, use your intuition! Its your best guide.

Michelle February 18, 2012 - 8:28 AM

I applaud and thank you for covering so many excellent topics that sometimes are taboo in our community. That said, here are my suggestions for finding a good therapist.

1) Ask family and friends for a recommendation. I recommend my therapist to friends and family all the time.

2) Thoroughly review your health insurance carriers participating psychotherapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

3) Search http://www.psychologytoday.com; I found the absolutely wonderful therapist (Dr. Adwoa Akhu) I’ve been seeing for 2 years who accepts my health insurance this way. My favorite features are the ability to filter by zip code, issue, gender, insurance, etc. This site was truly a God send.

All the best in your search.



Lisette May 4, 2012 - 1:23 PM

I know this is primarily about finding a therapist, but you should also ask whether or not your mental health professional is qualified/certified to prescribe medication or refer you to someone who does while he/she handles the therapy aspect of a treatment plan.

Not all mental health professionals (or the public in general) agree philosophically with medication to treat mental health issues, but I did need it as part of my treatment plan in dealing with chronic depression and anxiety. It was frustrating at times to have to juggle appointments with both a psychologist (for therapy) and a psychiatrist (for medication).

Incidentally, I have been medication free for over a year now, and I do believe that my decision to change my lifestyle (including my eating and exercising habits) have directly contributed to my overall sense of well-being.

Annette May 21, 2012 - 6:36 PM

Well I worked for an outreach center that did intake and also did short term therapy. A lot of it comes down to developing a bond and trust with the therapist. Also practical solutions you can utilize, and methods to help you heal from past trauma.

They should be able to give you a direction and confidence that they are listening. You need someone who is about results, can quickly assess what you need. Practical applied therapy, with also the ability to help you release blocks.

I have tried through my insurance yet felt the ones that I tried weren’t compassionate of just did enough to claim in insurance money. I decided to go outside of network and had better luck. Also I found this therapy site http://www.networktherapy.com goes by area. It lists gives a photo and also a brief info on their specialties. I hope this helps you find someone you can connect with.

Crystal November 27, 2012 - 1:44 AM

If a person thinks they are liberal, they should probably look for a therapist who is also liberal. If a person is conservative, they should look for a therapist who is also conservative. I think it’s about relating to the therapist. Once you are on common ground, it’s easier to let yourself be vulnerable and trusting knowing the therapist is not going to judge you in a derogatory way.

For example: If you are a dog or cat lover, you wouldn’t want to go to a therapist who hates animals, etc.

How you find out what their views are is you bring your questions (interview them) to the first appointment and keep going thru therapists until you find one you are comfortable with. And, a psychologist will be less expensive than a psychiatrist and a therapist/counselor with a lesser degree would be the least expensive. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicine. Psychologists can only make (med) recommendations to your regular MD or a psychiatrist. Therapists/counselors cannot prescribe medicine. I think that’s accurate, according to my memory these days.

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