Let’s face it, looking for a therapist can be quite overwhelming. You’re not in a great place to start with (that’s the whole point of seeking therapy in the first place, isn’t it?!) and the decision to reach out for help may already be a very vulnerable one for you. Where do you even start? How do you find a therapist?
To be more specific, how do you pick a therapist that is likely to be the right fit for you? Because the fit is important – you want to find a person you feel comfortable with, you can open up to and develop a therapeutic relationship with. The quality of your relationship will be the single most important predictor of the effectiveness of your treatment – that’s a well-researched fact!
The secret to finding the right therapist is taking a stepped approach and work your way through finding, considering and trying out your options. What does it mean? Read on – here below you will find your guide to what you need to know in your therapist hunt. Let’s dive straight in!
Bear in mind there’s no particular order for these steps. You may want to put together a list of names before everything else or you may work out your criteria before you find some options – or do both at the same time. Often it’s not so clear-cut and the whole thing happens quite organically.
Finding your options
You can ask for recommendations to friends and family. But consider who you are talking to. There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health and around seeing a therapist, especially within some cultures and groups.
There may also be friends who already see a therapist (and love working with them) but if they have different values and goals from yours, their therapist may not work for you.
Probably the most common referrals would come from your GP, if you approach them to seek support with your mental health. In my experience, however, GP referrals in this area tend to be quite generic and to practitioners that work within the medical model.
You can also get referrals from other professionals, like your naturopath, massage therapist, yoga teacher, pilates instructor, etc.
You can search Google, or more specialised therapist directories such as Natural Therapy Pages and Good Therapy Australia. Counselling associations and peak bodies such as the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia also have directories of their registered members.
Considering your options
It may be convenient to see a therapist based in your local area, but convenience is often not a synonym for quality and/or a right fit. If you are concerned by the distance, bear in mind that a long drive home after your therapy appointment can be a great buffer time to process and integrate what happened during the session.
Nowadays most therapists offer online sessions, allowing you to work with anyone you feel would be good fit, no matter where they are located – it could be in another area, state or country!
Age, gender, background
You may want to work with a therapist of a particular gender, age, cultural background, or even religion depending on your preferences and the issues you are bringing.
There’s great variety in therapists’ fees, with some considerably more expensive than others. You may think the most expensive therapists are the best. While that may be true, generally price is not an indication of the quality of care you’ll receive, nor of the fit.
If you think you can’t afford seeing a therapist, it’s still worth reaching out to them as most would have bundle discounts or offer their services on a sliding scale. Also, you can spread out the cost by having less frequent sessions – once a fortnight, or once a month, or even less frequently.
A note on Medicare rebates – couple of things to consider here, as this is not for everyone:
- Medicare rebates are only available to those who have a Mental Health Plan, which involves you getting a diagnosis, which then remains in your records.
- Generally out of pocket expenses after the Medicare rebate has been deducted can be as high as, or even higher than, the full fees of therapists that don’t offer the rebate.
- The Plan only includes a limited amount of session so if you want to continue beyond what is covered, you’ll have to pay full fee and this can be costly (see point here above!).
Type of mental health professional
You’ll need to consider what type of mental health professional you want to see. There are big differences between a psychologist, a counsellor or a psychotherapist. For more on the differences between these, here is a blog for you.
Approaches and methods
This topic tends to be quite confusing, given the many types of therapy – I’m still getting my head around it myself!! Yet, the approach a therapist uses gives you a hint of the values and attitudes they bring in their work. To simplify things, we can say approaches tend to fall into four categories, or theoretical orientations:
- Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies – grounded on the importance to unfold unconscious material to support change and wellbeing. Perfect for those who are ready to take a deep dive into their emotions, childhood experiences and broaden their sense of self.
- Humanistic therapies – grounded on the acknowledgement of people’s natural capacity to reach their potential. Good for those who want to be listened and validated without being challenged too much.
- Cognitive and behavioural therapies – grounded on the belief that changing our thinking and behavioural patterns can help us feel better. Great for people who don’t necessarily want (or are not ready yet) to engage with their feelings but want to learn strategies to manage their issues.
- Integrative therapies – grounded in the understanding that all the previous approaches have something to offer according to the client’s needs.
If you want to know more, have a look at this article from the American Psychological Association.
In terms of particular types of therapy, have a browse around this brilliant list I recently found on Good Therapy which includes all the most commons methods.
Finally, you may also want to consider whether the approach used by a therapist, acknowledges and addresses power dynamics and broad societal systems of oppression, understanding the individual’s issues as embedded in a particular context.
A lot of therapists generally specialise in dealing with specific issues. For example, they may work predominantly with people who have experienced trauma. Some see a lot of clients who had particular life experiences, such as being adopted or losing a child. Others may have a particular interest in specific challenges, such as depression and anxiety.
Despite their specialty, all therapists have been trained to deal with a much broader variety of issues – so if you’re drawn to a therapist but are unsure whether they’ll be able to help with your problems, reach out to them!
Qualifications and registrations
Qualifications are important, especially nowadays in this field. Look for a therapist whose core training was at least two years in duration and is either government accredited, industry accredited or both. Industry accredited means that the training has been approved by a professional association or peak body, which sets national standards.
The Australian peak body for therapy is PACFA, the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. To be able to become a member, therapists need to have trained with one of the approved institutions, and meet annual supervision and continuing education requirements. Members of PACFA must also abide by their Code of Ethics and have insurance.
Engagement in therapy
Does the therapist have their own therapist? Are or have they engaged in therapy? I believe this to be a fundamental tenet of good therapy. Absolutely critical for a number of reasons:
- It makes the therapist step into the client’s shoes and experience the different power dynamics involved in the therapeutic relationship
- It helps manage countertransference and boundary issues
- It allows them to become aware of what may trigger them with their clients, such as wounds and belief systems.
It always boggles my mind that psychologists and psychiatrists don’t need to do their own therapy as part of their training! Aanyway, information about a therapist’s engagement in therapy may not be publicly available but if you decide to give them a call, definitely ask for this!
Website and social media
It may be quite easy to get a feel for a therapist general vibe if they have a website and/or their practice is on social media. Read through their copy, have a look at their photos and scroll through their content. Notice if you resonate with the atmosphere/energy of what you see.
Bear in mind that having popular content on social media is not a guarantee for a good fit – nor of good therapy, for that matters. Therapist branding is a thing and promoting private practice online appears to be one of the new frontiers of marketing.
It can also shift considerable therapists’ resources from ‘the work’ to marketing. Some therapists find having an active presence online overwhelming so only have a landing page or even just their details on a therapy directory – and leave it as that. To get more of a feel for them, you will need to contact them.
The first contact
Making the first call to a potential therapist can be quite challenging. At the end of the day, it’s a stranger you’re reaching out to! Because of that, some people actually prefer sending an email instead – and that’s perfectly right. Therapists will get back to you usually within two business days, but if you emailed them and haven’t heard since, maybe check your spam/junk folder – sometimes, even the best-meaning emails end up there!
Most therapists offer a 10-15 minutes free chat for you to get a feel for them before you decide to book a session. This is an opportunity to ask questions, seek more information about any of the criteria we have explored above and tell them a bit about yourself and the issue you bring. It may be useful to have a list ready for when you call. Above all, notice how you feel while you are talking to them.
Trying out your options
Once you’ve drilled down to who you’d like to see, try out a session. During this time, notice the following to make your decision to continue or not:
- Do you feel heard by them? This means they actually listen (e.g. they’re not looking at their phone or distracted by other things during the session) and they also ‘get’ what you’re saying
- Do you feel safe?
- Do you feel judged?
- Do you feel they are genuinely interested in understanding your experience? Are they curious and asking questions?
- Do you like them and the way they relate to you?
- Do you like their way of working with you?
You may or may not be able to assess your fit after the first session, as this is usually geared towards getting to know you, your issues and your goals for therapy. I’d suggest giving it a little time and sticking with your first choice for three or four sessions before you decide whether to move on.
If you feel it’s just not working out, talk to your therapist about it – and allow a little time for discussing it within your session. It may be difficult to bring it up, due to fear of confrontation or of hurting the therapist’s feelings. But good therapists know how to take constructive criticism and will take responsibility for their feelings. Plus, they may know someone more suitable to refer you to.
Being able to have a conversation about what’s not working for you can also be a very important and empowering step in your healing journey.
Don’t forget, however, that sometimes the desire to not go back can also be motivated by fear, anxiety and resistance towards the challenging issues we bring in the first place. Discussing them with your therapist can be a great opportunity to work through them too.
So there you have it – the secret to finding the right therapist. As you can see, there are many things to consider. All of them are stepping stones in your therapy journey. Any questions, make sure you contact us!