So, you've decided to find a therapist...
If you are already feeling stuck in the depths of depression or grief, or experience intense anxiety, actually finding a therapist can be a stress in itself. Sometimes past relationships and attachments make it very difficult to trust a new person, especially with personal history and feelings.
Know that therapists are trained to understand this and should only expect you to open up at your own pace.
So where to start?! Hopefully this post will give you some tools to begin with on your search!
1. What is your intention?
Maybe your goal is to reconnect with your partner? To improve your self understanding and explore your identity? To allow space and support for yourself in grief? Perhaps you are looking to understand your emotions better and how you express them? Maybe you would like to learn skills to cope with intrusive or self-deprecating thoughts, and also understand why they are happening?
Maybe free write a bit on the topic and see what happens. Trust that you already know what it is you need.
Not only will your new therapist likely ask you about goals, but identifying them at the outset can help you be specific when reaching out to a potential therapist. Asking goal-oriented questions can help you better determine if a particular therapist will support you in actualizing those goals. Further, it will give you agency in your own healing process.
And if defining a goal feels like too much for you at this point, that's okay as well -- just move on to #2.
2. Where to start looking?
- PsychologyToday.com -- Psychology Today is a great resource to quickly search for therapists in your area. You can search for therapists that specialize in specific challenges (i.e., depression, relationship issues, addiction, etc), by zip code, by theoretical orientation (i.e., trauma-focused, art therapy, cbt, etc.), by insurance, etc. Each therapist has a profile space for their bio and contact information to help connect you to them easily.
- Goodtherapy.org -- A similar site with a great directory of practitioners. Fully searchable with filters!
- Google -- I know, this one seems obvious. But, even if you find a therapist on one of the directories above (or elsewhere), google them! Check out their websites. See if they've written any academic articles or blogs. Sometimes you can even find videos of the therapist lecturing or speaking. See if you can get a sense of them through their online presence.
If you are comfortable looking outside of the internet, ask people you trust!
- If you are religious, and finding a therapist that is familiar with your religion is important to you, consider asking your pastor, rabbi, imam, etc. for a therapist recommendation. Therapists specializing in Transpersonal Counseling are trained to respectfully help you explore your spirituality (if you wish) in session. To learn more about Transpersonal Counseling click here!
- Sometimes your primary care provider will have a trusted referral to give you!
This is just a starter list, but hopefully it will get you going. Below are more things to be aware of as you search!
3. What are all these credentials?
To make things more confusing, these licenses vary by state, and so you may see other credentials in others states.
I'll break it down for you (as it pertains to Colorado practitioners):
- Registered Psychotherapist (RP): In the state of Colorado, Registered Psychotherapists are not required to have a master's degree (or any training whatsoever) to practice psychotherapy. Strange? Yes, but true. This fact does not necessarily mean that a RP is a bad choice for a therapist (I know some excellent RP practitioners) -- just double check that they have a master's degree or some other relevant training. People with RPs are often students or recent graduates, or have some other applicable training or specialty. RPs cannot prescribe medication, but can work in conjunction with a psychiatrist if necessary.
- Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate (LPCC): These are folks who've completed their master's degree in counseling, and are in the process of completing 2 years of clinical experience, with external supervision by a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). LPCCs often offer slightly cheaper rates for sessions, and are still master's level practitioners, but have less years of experience than an LPC would. LPCCs cannot prescribe medication, but can work in conjunction with a psychiatrist if necessary.
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): LPCs have a master's degree in counseling, and have completed 2 years of supervised experience and a licensure examination. This is the highest level of licensure a master's level counselor can receive in Colorado. LPCs cannot prescribe medication, but can work in conjunction with a psychiatrist if necessary.
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): LMFTs have a master's degree specifically in marriage and family counseling, and so often focus on couples and family therapy. These practitioners are also licensed to practice individual psychotherapy and may emphasize the role of family and social systems in an individual's life. An LMFT has completed a certain number of supervised clinical hours and a licensure examination. LMFTs cannot prescribe medication, but can work in conjunction with a psychiatrist if necessary.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): LCSWs have completed a master's degree in social work and are licensed to provide counseling to individuals as well as social work. LCSWs focus on providing clients with resources and connections necessary for functioning, and also are trained to provide social-emotional support as well. LCSWs cannot prescribe medication, but can work in conjunction with a psychiatrist if necessary.
- Psychologist (Psy.D): Psy.D's have a Doctorate in Psychology and have often also completed master's degrees in counseling or psychotherapy. Psy.D's have extensive training in assessment and diagnosis, and often have a focus on evidence-based practices in psychotherapy. A Psy.D cannot prescribe medication, but can work in conjunction with a psychiatrist if necessary.
- Psychiatrist (MD or O.D.): Psychiatrists, also sometimes known as Psychopharmacologists, have a medical degree and can prescribe psychotropic medications. Some psychiatrists also practice psychotherapy, though many exclusively prescribe medications.
Sometimes, therapists will have a second or third credential behind their name. These often indicate specialties such as Registered Art Therapist (ATR), Registered Dance/Movement Therapist (R-DMT), or Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC).
These are but a few examples of common credentials, as there are too many to account for here. If you come across letters you don't know, google it!
4. Ask for a free consultation
Most therapists offer at least a free 30-minute consultation to new clients. Take advantage of this and shop around till you find someone you really connect with! Your mental health is too important to settle for a therapist you don't jive with.
When you consult with a new therapist think about what questions you might have for them. Therapists will often ask you generally why you are coming to therapy, your history with therapy, and if you have and specific things you are looking for. Don't be afraid to ask them about their approach, training, and experience. You are interviewing them for a job!
Most importantly, ask yourself if you feel you could open up to this person. Sometimes it's a slow process to trust, but you will get the most out of therapy with someone who you feel safe with.
Remember: Trust your gut!
Best of luck!
-Sarah Klein, MA, LPCC
Art Therapist and Co-Owner at Open Mind Holistics
Learn more about Sarah in this blog post, or on her bio page.