How to Find or Choose a Therapist

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Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/adamr

I posted on this before, but I thought it would be useful to write more of a nuts-and-bolts, how-to version about finding and choosing a therapist.  I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times with potential clients and with family and friends, so I thought it would be a good idea to summarize it here.

Where to look:

It’s become apparent to me over the years that many people aren’t sure where to start when they think about seeing a therapist.  It’s not something they’ve done before or they’re not really sure about the process.  That’s ok, and hopefully this can give some direction.

Back in the day people would look in the Yellow Pages, today Google.  You could do a search, for example, “Chester Springs psychologists” (therapists, counselors, etc.).  This will lead you to some people in your area or wherever you are looking (perhaps in the area where you work, where your child goes to college, etc.).  Most therapists today have their own websites, or if they’re part of a group, they should have information on the group’s site.  Personally, it’s 2017 and I wouldn’t be likely to contact anyone who didn’t have some sort of online presence.  That’s me, but I think most people agree.

There are a number of good online directories where therapists create profiles.  Psychology Today is one of the most common.  My profile is here as an example.  Another popular directory is Goodtherapy.  The great thing about directories is that you can find a photo and everything you would need to know about the person’s practice: location; what clients they work with; cost/insurance participation; and more.  Just like searching for something on Amazon, you can search under many different criteria.  For example, do they take your insurance?; do you want a male or female?; distance from where you are searching; do they treat ADHD or depression?; and more.  When I don’t participate with someone’s insurance and they want an in-network therapist, I often refer them to Psychology Today as a resource (when I don’t have a direct referral to offer).  Checking in a directory can often give you the most information about a therapist before you reach out to them.

Asking your primary care physician or a specialist you work with may be a great idea as well.  Often, he or she will be familiar with some therapists, even who specialize in a certain area (like women’s or men’s issues, weight or pain management, or dealing with a diagnosis like diabetes or cancer).

And of course, friends or family might be a good place to start as well.  If you know someone who has seen a therapist and is open to talking about it, or if you have a friend or a family member who is a therapist, he or she can give you some direction as well.

Lastly, you can call your insurance company or go on their website.  I have often found, however, that these directories are bare-bones, outdated, or inaccurate.  Providers don’t have photos, contact information could be incorrect, or they may no longer be participating with that insurance.

When you have some leads…

Check out their profiles or websites, send them an e-mail, or give them a call.  Talk with the therapist about availability (are they taking new clients), but this is also your chance to ask things like: do they take your insurance?; what are his or her fees?; do they see clients for why you are seeking a therapist?; can you find a mutually agreeable time to schedule?; or what is their style of helping clients?

If you feel comfortable so far and are able to schedule, set up a one-time appointment.  This is often referred to as a consultation or assessment, and there should never be any obligation to become a long-time client if you’re either not comfortable or that’s not what you’re looking for.

Before scheduling, I would look for things like: did the person get back to you in a reasonable amount of time (say, 24 hours)?; was he or she warm and friendly on the phone?; or did he or she seem interested in hearing what you had to say?  It’s important that you feel comfortable, given that you plan to sit down with this person and share about something important to you.

Once you have scheduled, I typically suggest that people give it 2-3 sessions to see if there is a good fit.  This means, is it easy to talk to the person? Do you feel like he or she cares or is listening to you?  Do you feel good about his or her ability to help you?  If yes, keep going.  If not, either keep searching or don’t be afraid to ask the person for some referrals.  Most therapists are very professional and will not be offended if you don’t think it’s a fit.  And there is no reason for you to feel bad about this.  You are coming to this person for help, and if you don’t think you can get it there, then you move on.  You probably wouldn’t feel bad about switching mechanics or hair stylists- or going to Target instead of Walmart, so this is the same thing!  Although I encourage people to give it 2-3 visits, if you get a bad feeling after the first or have any sort of negative experience, then by all means take that as a sign.  Sometimes the first therapist you see may not be the right one for you.  If so, don’t get discouraged!  I know I have seen many mechanics, dentists, primary care doctors, and have used different plumbers, contractors, and so on.  But, if you do your homework and are persistent, you will get what you need.

Best wishes and take care.

Dr. Matthews

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About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 12 and up. Specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's.
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