Many times, there are calls from first-time potential clients that proclaim that they are unsure of the process of therapy.  I love these calls because it is an opportunity to educate someone new to therapy on the ideal process.  Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. Determine whether you would like face-to-face therapy or online/phone therapy.  Face-to-face generally would be for someone who has an easier time connecting with another person when in their presence.  This might involve sensing body language and eye contact (non verbal communications) for example. Some people find online/phone sessions easier due to time or travel constraints, and are generally able to connect very easily without a lot of nonverbal queues.  It’s not that you don’t get the nonverbal queues with online; it is that some people find it harder to notice in non face-to-face modes.  People that travel for a living and cannot maintain consistent face-to-face sessions would find online ideal for them. This decision is a crucial one. You can do an online search for therapists using this criteria and then narrow your search using the subsequent suggestions.  I would add that if you choose face-to-face, decide in what area you would like to remain.
  2. What is your financial situation? Would you be privately paying for a therapist? if so, how much can you afford and how often?  Some therapists will have a sliding scale based on your income, or reduced rate if you ask.  Most will have a private rack rate, so to speak, where the fee is the same no matter what, for everyone. It is not a bad thing to ask for a discounted rate or sliding scale if they have one.  Some therapists may want to meet with you first to determine if you are a good fit and you may bring this aspect up again. If you have insurance, you will want to do your area search online for therapists with the name of the insurance in your search. You can also do this search with the insurance company’s site but the ease in which this would help you find your other criteria will depend on the functionality of their search tools. You will have to take into account whether you have a deductible and/copay.
  3. Once you have done a search with these criteria in mind, you will need to make some calls to the therapists to find out the following:
    1. What type of personality do they have.  With what types of people do you remain the most open to information? Is it someone who is a softer personality that helps you to take in information? or do you prefer a stronger personality? These are reasonable questions to ask yourself and to ask of your potential therapist. I would highly recommend asking the therapist about their personality style.
    2. Would you like to have a therapist that is more directive and will give suggestions, opinions, etc.? or would you like someone who gives a gentler nudge and help you come to conclusions in your own pace and on your own.  This may be closely related to suggestion number 1, but not always. It is still a valuable question to ask of your potential therapist.
    3. Do you want a state licensed therapist (LPC, LMFT, LSW) or unlicensed (LPCC, registered therapist)? Ask about the therapists experience with the area in which you want help. Ask about specialties so that you are informed about how they can help.  You can look up the differences online.
    4. What is their availability and are they accepting new patients? If the therapists hours do not match yours, you will have a very limited ability to see them if you need to.  Ask about typical hours and determine what would work for you.
    5. If they are not accepting new patients, do they have suggestions for other therapists with the criteria for which you are wanting. Quite often therapists have a community of other therapists and may be able to help you narrow your search.
    6. Are there cultural constraints? Do you want a therapist with a religious or regional expertise.  This is not a necessary piece of it, but if you for example, want a specifically christian therapist or LGBTQ friendly therapist, you can ask for that.

The point is not to feel overwhelmed by the process but to make a few key decisions so that your search for a therapist is intentional for what you are looking for.  If you don’t know what you need or are looking for, a therapist may be able to help with that and steer you in the right direction with a few questions. This may not be an exhaustive list but it is intended to be a start.