I’ve seen more therapists than I care to remember, but not all therapists are created equal. There are different types of therapy, different degree types (LMFT, LCSW, PhD, PsyD, MFT, MA..) different settings, individual versus group, couples counseling…etc. etc.
Navigating therapists can be tricky. I’ve definitely had my fair share of quacks that didn’t help me at all, or people who were helpful at one point but as time wore on, I wasn’t getting much out of it. Our needs change over time and that might mean finding a new therapist.
As an avid pursuer of mental health services, I think I’ve finally got it down. After 4 years of trying out different therapy types and different people, I think I know what works for me. Of course it all varies from individual to individual, but here are some guidelines I’ve found helpful:
1. Yelp Reviews. Period. After struggling to sift through the “Find a Therapist” component of the Psychology Today website, I’ve turned to Yelp. It’s kind of strange that therapists don’t have reviews–after all, there’s a lot of insurance weirdness here in the states and ultimately it can be very difficult to get insurance coverage by a psychotherapist. So basically we are paying them for a service, and thus I think there should be a better review system… But for now we have Yelp. Although many people are probably hesitant to review a therapist on Yelp due to the stigma of receiving mental health services, as you have to have a Yelp profile with your name and oftentimes a photo, I am forever grateful for those brave souls who post on Yelp like there’s no tomorrow. Yelp helped me find my current therapist– and I already feel like I’m making a lot of progress with her; more than I did with most of my previous therapists.
2. Try to find someone on your insurance policy (For us suckers in the United States). It’s VERY hard to find someone on Yelp who also takes insurance. Many of the therapists I’ve found on Yelp are usually very successful and don’t want to deal with the hassle of insurance. That’s why they have so many Yelp reviews–because they’re awesome at their job. But therapy is very expensive without insurance. Even with insurance it’s expensive for me because I have a shitty plan, but that’s another story. What I did to find my current therapist is 1. I found her on Yelp and 2. I used the Therapist Finder on Psychologytoday.com. You can search for the person on there and see which policies they accept.
3. Decide which type of therapy you want to try. I’m going to write a post about different types of psychotherapy that will go into more depth on this topic, but as I said previously, there are a lot of different types of therapy. There’s talk therapy (the typical image most people get when they think of therapy), EMDR, CBT, DBT, EFT, ACT, hypnotherapy, psychiatric treatment, and many many more. Here’s a comprehensive list. I’ve tried CBT, psychiatric treatment, group therapy, EFT, hypnotherapy, talk therapy, and EMDR. For me, I’ve found EMDR to be the most helpful. And I think it would be helpful to almost anyone. It was originally developed for people suffering from PTSD and it helps relieve trapped memories from the past that are haunting our present. I’ve found that a lot of the anxieties I’ve had stem from childhood experiences or experiences/beliefs about myself that were formed as a result of fear. EMDR helps us quickly access those areas in our brain that we haven’t been consciously aware of and relate it to problems affecting us today. I’ve found it to be very helpful in dealing with the loss of my mom as well as other traumatic events that I would normally repress. It’s very intense and isn’t for everyone but it amazes me how well it works. I’ve also tried talk therapy and depending on the therapist, it could be helpful, but often I left the session feeling more fired up than when I came, or that I hadn’t really resolved anything. Also, it can take a lot of time to get to that point of resolution, whereas EMDR is very fast. And as for CBT–I hated it. But again, like I said, it varies from person to person, and you may have to try a few types before you find one you like.
4. From what I’ve experienced, the person’s degree doesn’t matter. Except for a psychiatrist–they need an MD, DO, NP, or physician assistant degree to prescribe medicine. The best therapists I’ve worked with had an LMFT degree (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), a two-year masters degree. And the worst therapists I’ve gone to had PhD’s or PsyD’s (which can take 4-7 years to complete). Initially I thought that the more advanced the degree, the better the therapist, but what it really comes down to is if they are good at their job and interacting with people. And that can’t be decided by a degree.
5. Go with your gut. This is something I wasn’t always good at. I would sit through therapy sessions not feeling like I was connecting to the therapist or really being heard. But I sometimes blamed that on myself. Like maybe I wasn’t good at explaining what was going on or maybe it was my anxiety. Or I’d feel bad for “dumping” them. But if you don’t connect to someone, don’t waste your time. Maybe give it max 3 sessions, and if you don’t feel 100% comfortable, find someone new. I’m serious. I make a lot more progress when I feel like I relate to the person or that they genuinely care. I had one male therapist who was in his 90s and would tell me how beautiful I was every time I came in and it made me VERY uncomfortable. He even kissed me on the cheek. I had another therapist who would cancel on me the day before because she didn’t have enough clients coming in that day so it wasn’t worth her time to come into the office. I’M NOT JOKING! There are some really bad therapists out there. Follow my advice and hopefully you won’t run into any of these situations. I’m glad to take one for the team if I can help others find a good mental health counselor/therapist.
It can be really tough to find a good therapist. It can be even tougher to tell if your therapist is really benefitting you. And sometimes therapy itself or admitting you even need help can be really tough, but it’s super important to talk to someone when you’re not feeling well. Even if at first you only have the wherewithal to call the first person you find, if you’re going through a tough time, that itself can be crucial, which was my case when I first started talking to a therapist.
At this point in my progress, I don’t have a lot of bad things happening in my life, *knock on wood* but I do have a lot in my past that still impacts my present. I’m slowly chipping away at all of that and my anxiety has already improved a lot since starting EMDR therapy again 2 weeks ago after a 5 month break. I don’t plan on always having a therapist, especially with EMDR–I think that after a certain amount of sessions I’ll be back at 100%. But if you’re at all dissatisfied with your life I recommend finding a good therapist– it can really help change your life!