On this solo episode, Carrie shares about how to find a therapist who is right for you.
- Carrie shares her own experience searching for two different counselors and how she made the decisions she did in her search.
- How to evaluating your personal situation with time, scheduling/location, and budget before beginning the search
- How to start the online search for a counselor and what to look for
Resources and links:
For more detailed information on finding a counselor who is right for you, check out Carrie’s ebook:
Finding a Good Fit on the First Try: The Ultimate Guide to Finding a Therapist
Transcript Of Episode 14
Hello, welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 14.
Today on the podcast, we are going to talk about how to find a therapist who is right for you. Maybe you’re in the process of looking for a therapist or you’ve thought about looking for a therapist in the past and the process seemed really overwhelming. Hopefully this will break it down for you to make it a little bit easier.
I have found that finding a therapist is much different than finding a medical professional. Unfortunately, a lot of times people approach it the same way, ending up in disappointment and frustration.
I want to start by telling you about a couple of different times that I tried to find a therapist to start us off.
Many years ago before I got divorced and I was still married, I was dealing with some work stress and my relationships stress. I decided that I wanted to go to counseling. I was looking for someone who was a Christian not because I was concerned about being given advice that wasn’t Christian or somehow being led astray from the faith, but I thought it’s just going to be a lot easier on me if this person has that shared experience. There will be a lot less that I feel like I have to explain to another person because to explain my faith to someone else is going to take a lot of time and so pretty important dynamic in my life.
I also was looking for someone who was within say about 30 minutes of my house. I wasn’t particularly concerned about driving, but I didn’t want to drive too far. I was thinking that I was probably going to be a little bit more comfortable talking to a woman than a man at that point. I was also looking for someone who would be able to take my employee assistance program which if you don’t know what that is, it’s something that’s usually a part of your benefits package with your employer and that allows you to have three to five, sometimes all the way up to eight sessions for free. Because at that point in time, my budget for therapy was zero. So free was good.
The other thing I knew was that I was going to have to go to therapy probably in the morning because the majority of my work responsibilities were taking place in the afternoons and evenings. I was seeing kids and so I needed to be able to see them after school got out.
This led me to a few different people. The first counselor that I tried, I didn’t have a good connection with. In fact, I felt like she was rather judgmental concerning my situation and what I was dealing with and coming in for. So I only went one session to her and did not go back, but I ended up finding another counselor who met those criteria and I did really great work together. She was the main one that actually helped me through my divorce process because I saw her before really during and after for an extended period of time and got a lot of my own stuff worked through.
I’m definitely so thankful that God led me to her. Then I had a therapeutic break. Life was pretty stable and going relatively well, but I got to a point as I talked about in episode 10 with Steve, where I wanted to get back into dating, but every time I tried to, my body basically completely revolted against it, and my mind was all over the place. So that was not going to work for me. I knew that there was probably still some past residual stuff from my last relationship that I hadn’t fully worked through.
And at this point, I was still looking for a counselor who was a Christian and I was looking for a male. I decided to go see a male because I wanted to get the opposite sex perspective on dating. I didn’t know how healing and therapeutic that would be for me to end up with a male therapist, but it was so beneficial for me. I’m glad I went in that direction.
I wanted to see someone online via telehealth therapy. There were really two reasons for that. One reason was that I had recently started providing telehealth therapy to some of my clients and I wanted to see what the experience was like on the other end. The other reason I wanted to do telehealth was because I did not want to see any of the therapist near me. Therapy circles are relatively small. I didn’t want to have to worry about seeing this person at local professional gatherings or local connections of different EMDR therapists.
I was looking for EMDR trained therapist because I am very familiar with it. I have done EMDR in the past and it was very helpful. It turned out in the most amazing way. That’s not mainly what we did. We ended up doing some somatic experiencing work together, which was also very healing and very therapeutic for me. That was an unexpected blessing of this particular therapeutic journey.
I was looking to pay cash because I did not have health insurance at the time. I had health sharing through medic share at that juncture. I knew that counseling wasn’t going to be covered anyway. I had to kind of figure out what my budget was going to be, what I was going to be able to afford to pay and decided to go every other week to help with the cost factor. I also didn’t necessarily need weekly therapy. I was looking for someone who worked on Wednesdays because Wednesdays at that point was my filing paperwork day. I didn’t see clients and had more flexibility to do personal appointments.
In each of these examples, I was looking for some things that were similar and some things that were different, but I had to go through these processes of what I was looking for before I got lost in the search process.
You know how it is when you go to Google something, and next thing you know you’ve clicked on 20 different links. You don’t know how you got there. You have a huge list of people to choose from, and it can become super overwhelming and hard to narrow that list down.
The first advice that I would give you if you’re a Christian, if you believe in God and prayer like I do is to pray that God will lead you to the right person. God knows exactly what you need. If you need a therapist and you need somebody that can walk you through the speed bump of life that you have hit then I believe that God is going to be faithful and open up that door and lead you to the right person at the right time.
Before you start searching and get lost in the internet jungle or the phone calling jungle, you want to think about several different considerations. One is who do you think that you would be most comfortable talking to about these personal issues? Would you be more comfortable talking with someone who is a Christian? Would you be more comfortable talking with a female or a male? Does it matter if they’re older or younger? Some of these may seem superficial to you but they’re legitimate.
As I explained in my stories, there was a reason I went to see a female at one point and there was a reason I went to see a male at another point. That’s nothing against female therapists out there. That just wasn’t what I needed at that time. I don’t think there’s any shame in saying, “Oh, I think I would be more comfortable with someone older” if that’s the case. That doesn’t mean you’re negatively judging younger therapists.
The second thing that I encourage you to think about is what do you want to get out of therapy? This is really important, so crucial. Most people don’t think about it and the reason they don’t think about it is because they’re in a crisis. All they know is they’re feeling awful and they want to feel better.
Sometimes I’ll have people fill out in their paperwork comments like, “I just want to be happy.” What in the world does that mean because happy to me may look completely different than happy to you. So you need to get really clear about what it is that you’re hoping to accomplish. Is it something where you would say, “okay, I’m looking to learn some new tools to manage my anxiety in a healthier way” or “I’m looking to gain more insight into myself because I’m recognizing that I keep getting in situations or patterns that aren’t a good fit for me?” “I want to be able to communicate in healthier ways with my husband.” All really good goals.
Now in light of that, you may be looking for a counselor with specific training in a certain area whether that’s some kind of training with OCD or training that has to do with processing past trauma. Maybe you need someone who has experience working with addiction because that’s something you’re struggling with right now. Whatever it is you want to make sure that your counselor is going to be able to treat you for what you’re bringing in. Counselors typically don’t work with all issues they tend to after they graduate, get more specialized training. We all have to get a certain number of continuing education hours and so we tend to funnel those hours towards things that are interesting to us.
I like to tell younger therapists that your specialty finds you. You don’t find your specialty. For me, I believe that was God leading me in the direction that I ended up going because I had an interest in trauma early on when I was working with children and that caused me to get trained in several different types of trauma therapy to be able to help them.
Now that I’m working with mostly adults and a few teenagers, I’m really working on childhood trauma but it’s just manifesting in adulthood. I ended up getting some additional training in OCD that I’ve found interesting because I had clients who were presenting initially with anxiety and then after some time we found out that their symptoms were really related to OCD. So it seemed like a gradual shift for me to get more training in that area.
If you see a counselor who looks like more of a generalist, and they’re saying that they treat a lot of different areas. You may just want to ask them if there’s a theme of what their continuing education has been in, or if there are certain diagnoses or types of clients that they feel like they work the best with.
You want to consider the location of your counselor. This may or may not be important to you. I think many times people pick a counselor who is close to their house, which is not a bad place to start looking. It may make more sense for you to look for someone closer to your work or in between your home and work that you could see on the way to work or on the way home from work.
I would also encourage you to consider telehealth counseling because if you are willing to see someone online via video, then that opens up your network to any provider who’s licensed in the state that you’re in. This can specifically help If you have a hard time finding someone in your area who is on your insurance panel. So the people closest to you may be full who take your insurance, and then you can expand that search out and possibly find someone maybe in your surrounding area that’s accepting new clients via telehealth. Telehealth is also really helpful for people who live in small towns. Maybe you’re concerned about confidentiality or you have personal relationships with the counselors in your town. There may be some ethical boundaries that might be crossed if you were to go see them. So definitely consider telehealth as an option for you.
Now let’s talk about budget, the dreaded B-word. You need to think about what your budget is for counseling before you ever go. So sit down, look at your finances, talk to your spouse, if you have one. Crunch some numbers and figure out what could I afford to pay either weekly or every other week to be able to see someone. Your budget for therapy is really going to help you determine whether or not you want to find someone who accepts your insurance or whether or not you need someone who does sliding scale or whether or not you can afford to pay for therapy out of pocket.
So let’s talk about each one of those. If you are using your insurance for therapy, please, please, this is so important. You need to understand your benefits before you are thinking about utilizing them on a regular basis. We’re not talking about when you go to the ER because you’re in a dire emergency and you hand someone a card and you get a bill later. You’re going to have a patient responsibility. When you show up for counseling, it’s important for you to determine what that is. That also helps you figure out the whole budget thing as well. You need to know who the carrier is for your mental health benefits. This is not always the same as your physical health benefits.
I know that’s very confusing and sounds bizarre for some of you listening to this, but I promise you if you flip your insurance card over and there is a different number for behavioral health than there is for physical health, you probably have a different company that is covering those mental health benefits. Most people don’t know this. So they will seek a provider that takes the coverage where their medical benefits are and sometimes that gets discovered by the counselor ahead of time. Sometimes it doesn’t get discovered until billing comes back and you’ve been denied. Then next thing you know, you owe that counselor for the rest of the balance of those appointments. So don’t let that happen to you if you’re looking at using insurance, be a good consumer and understand all of your benefits before seeking services. When you call the insurance company or go online, you’re going to want to ask about your mental health benefits specifically for outpatient therapy. You’re going to want to know if you have a copay or if you are meeting a deductible. Oftentimes if you’re meeting a deductible that’s shared with your medical health deductible. So it’s coming out of that same fund. This is important because if you get knee surgery in February and you know that you’ve met your deductible or almost met your out of pocket max, you’re probably going to be pretty golden to go to therapy and not have to pay If you have your out-of-pocket max met. On the other hand, if you have a super high deductible and you hardly ever use your insurance, it may not necessarily be cheaper for you to use your insurance in that case. You’d want to really cost compare and look at that.
The last thing I want to point out for consideration before you start looking for a therapist is time and scheduling. You need to look at your time that you have and what you have scheduled with work childcare, responsibilities, etc etc. You need to think through when would I actually be able and available to go to therapy? Now we have time for what we make time for. I have clients who see me before work. Clients who get out of work early towards the end of the day to see me. I have clients who meet with me on their lunch break. So I know that you can make it happen if you want to make it happen. This may mean making some kind of special arrangements with your employer to work something out one day a week or one day every other week. You can do this. If you absolutely are on a very rigid schedule and you can’t do that with your employer, then what you need to do probably is look for a counselor who does evening or weekend appointments. So you’ll want to make sure that you clarify that as you’re calling and as you’re looking at websites, you will want to try to see if you can figure out the hours that that therapist works, or when you call them, ask if they work evening or weekend hours. If you think about what you need ahead of time, you’re going to be able to advocate for yourself and weed out people that aren’t able to accommodate your schedule.
So you’ve looked at the various considerations and now you’re ready for your search.
Is there a pastor or a church leader that you can ask for a counseling referral from? Do you have friends that you know that I’ve been pretty open about going to therapy? If you’re looking for your kids, does maybe the guidance counselor at your school know some referrals? Or you could just pull up your insurance list if you’re looking at using insurance and just seeing who the available providers are.
Now as far as with getting recommendations from maybe friends or family, what they’re looking for in a therapist may not be what you are looking for in a therapist, but sometimes it’s a good place to start and you can at least check that person out and see if they might be a good fit for you.
Since we are living in the age of the internet, there is so much information that you can find out about therapists online without ever having to pick up the phone and call anybody. I know that that’s really hard for some people who are anxious to make those phone calls. So the beauty is often you can reach out via email or through someone’s website. Also sometimes it’s difficult to reach therapists on the phone if they handle their own phone calls and are not a part of a bigger office, then oftentimes you’ll end up getting their voicemail because they’re in session and aren’t able to answer the phone.
When you’re doing your online research, you may want to keep some type of list or a spreadsheet with who you reached out for and reasons that you may want to contact them or not contact them. For example, maybe you find out that Susie Smith doesn’t work with OCD, so they might be ruled out for you If you’re looking for a counselor who works with OCD. You may find that John Smith doesn’t do couples therapy and that’s what you’re looking for is couples counseling. He was referred to you by a friend of yours who’s seeing him for individual therapy, but then you realize he doesn’t actually have what you’re looking for. Maybe you rule out another counselor because they don’t take your insurance and you can’t afford their self-pay rate.
There are many different places that you can look online for a therapist, probably the most popular one is psychologytoday.com. Psychology Today has a magazine. They’re a secular entity but there are many Christian therapists on there if you’re looking for a Christian. Just because it’s a popular place to post a profile and it’s relatively inexpensive on our end to be able to do so. You can narrow down the searches on Psychology Today, which I really like. You can narrow them down by location, insurance, male, female, the issue that you’re coming in for and that really helps you narrow down your search.
You can also look for counselors through a specific professional organization. For example, the AACC has a counselor search on their website. If you’re looking specifically for EMDR therapy, you can go to the EMDR international association website. I’ll post these websites in the show notes for you guys, just so you can kind of see. If there’s a specific type of therapy that you’re looking for, you can look for a therapist who has training or certification in that specific therapy.
Hopefully, your search has led you to maybe about three different names. If you can narrow it down to just a few people and then reach out to those few people and see who contacts you back. Unfortunately, sometimes counselors are really bad about getting back to people. I don’t know why this is because I think of everyone who contacts me as an individual who is brave enough to reach out for help. And so even if I don’t provide what they’re looking for, at least I try to steer them in the right direction or be kind enough to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” That would be a good thing. But if you don’t have people call you back just know that that’s not on you and it’s not an uncommon experience fully. One of those three people will call you back and you can either ask them additional questions that you may have, or you can go ahead and schedule with them and try it out.
Even with all the work to find a therapist, you may end up in that first session feeling like this is not going to work for me for one reason or another. I want to let you know that’s okay. Sometimes, as they say, it’s quote just a “not a good fit.” So if it’s not a good fit or it’s not gonna work for you for some reason, don’t give up, go back to your list. Go back to the search process, get back up on the horse, and try again. I can say from my own experience that I’m really glad that I kept trying until I found somebody that I could trust and a place where I could get exactly what I needed.
I’d like to end with a story of hope as I normally do when I have guests on the podcast. This story is actually about finding medical help. I had an issue that I had been struggling with for several years. I had convinced myself that this issue was psychological and that somehow it was my fault and I needed to just fix it psychologically. It turns out that wasn’t the case. I actually had a physical medical condition. So when I finally got brave enough to talk with a doctor about it, they referred me to another person. And after a little while, I was working with that person and we really weren’t getting anywhere, unfortunately, and I said, “Hey, what we’re doing is not working here” and they said, “well, I’m just going to send you back to the doctor that referred you over here.” And I said, “that doesn’t even make any sense to me like they didn’t know what to do with me so they referred me to you. How are you going to refer me back to them?” And when I went back to that doctor, I actually saw a different provider in the office. I had to advocate for myself guys, because sometimes you have to do this in medical situations and I had to say, “I’m not at all getting what I’m needing here from you guys. This is why I came in and I’ve been on this wild goose chase that’s now lasted a couple months and nobody’s helping me.” I was almost like to the point of tears. And he said, “Okay, let’s do this test or let me look at this.”
And he said, “I think I may know what’s going on with you, but, you know, I don’t really have that much experience treating it.” He was just so wonderful in the sense that even though he wasn’t able to help me. He was able to let me know there is something physically going on with your body that you need taken care of.
I just didn’t give up guys. I just think that’s so important. Just don’t give up. If you aren’t getting the help that you need, keep searching, keep going forward, keep looking.
I did some online research and I found this doctor in the next county over and I made an appointment with him and he was able to help me to the point where I’m not having that issue anymore. I was just so thankful and so blessed but it was a journey that took me months. It took me time, energy, money, three different medical professionals, test after test, but I got to where I needed to be and I’m so thankful to the Lord for that. First of all, that he gave me the courage to keep going and the hope and the strength to not give up, and that he steered me in the right direction for the people that could help me so that I didn’t have to continue in that suffering anymore. The only regret that I have about going on that journey is that I didn’t start it sooner. I really wish that I had.
So if there’s something that you’re facing and you can’t do it alone and you need to get help, if the first person doesn’t help you, try the next person, and if they can’t help you, try the next person. Don’t give up guys.
Would you like to share your story of hope? You can do that by going to hopeforanxietyandocd.com and clicking on the contact link.
Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing was completed by Benjamin Bynam.
Until next time. May you be comforted by God’s great love for you.