First, understand what therapy is and isn’t – a chance to connect with a professional mental health provider who will not solve your problems but who will help you resolve (some of) those you cannot fix on your own. Because the possible combinations of clients and therapists, contrasting personalities, methods, and ideologies are endless, having a checklist of what your issues are and what you need help with will narrow your search when you start to actively look for a provider. These are some categories and questions you might want to think about:
1. Insurance (if applicable) – what kind of coverage do you have? If you won’t be able to afford therapy without behavioral health insurance, you need to find a provider (therapist) who will work with your insurance company. If insurance is not an option or necessity, what price range do you need to stay within?
2. What gender will you be most comfortable working with? 3. What therapeutic specialties would be most helpful in your situation? Are you dealing with trauma issues, PTSD, gender/sexuality issues, a mood disorder, depression, anxiety, grief, or some other disorder?
3. What mode of therapy do you need or want? There are many different options and models, some of which are better for certain diagnoses than others. (http://www.goodtherapy.org/types-of-therapy.html )
4. Where is the provider’s office? Is s/he accepting new clients? Does s/he have openings that fit your schedule? Can you see the person regularly?
5. Do you need your therapist to coordinate with your prescribing psychiatrist?
6. What is your stance of being labeled with a diagnosis? Some people find a lot of comfort in a name to go with their symptoms because they realize that they are not the only ones who experience them while others react against being put in a diagnosis box.
When you have interviewed a therapist, check in with yourself to see how you feel afterward. Meeting with a new therapist a few times can be helpful in deciding whether you want to work with someone, but you do not have to go back to someone who left you feeling uneasy or unsettled. The person’s energy can do this as well as the energy in the office, the degree of clutter or serenity, etc.
Overall, compile a list of concerns and questions before you make your calls, and be realistic about what will work for you and what will not. We work best with therapists whom we can trust and those who are accepting, but the field is growing and not all therapists are equally competent. In addition, clarify what your goal in seeking treatment is and communicate that as you interview providers. Therapy can be a wonderful and even life-saving venture, so take your needs seriously and take the opportunity to grow.
* I have gone to gay and straight counselors and there was never a huge benefit in working with someone else who is also gay.
** If you are dealing with an eating disorder, a therapist’s body type might either subconsciously or overtly barge into the picture and influence your decision. Maybe this is not how things should work, but the way that eating disorders operate and affect our thought process is tricky to navigate. If you are overweight (an overeater, bulimic, a binge eater, or any combination thereof), seeing an overweight therapist might mean that he or she will not know how to deal with that issue effectively because it hits so close to home. Sure, therapists are supposed to be above all that, but they are human, too. On the other hand, if you are overweight and decide to see a therapist who has never battled with weight and the resulting body issues, you might have trouble relating because an academic specialty in eating disorders often does not create empathy to the depth it can with someone who knows what your specific struggle is like.