How to select a new therapist or counselor

Hello, and welcome to my new blog.  My name is William Strong and I’m a licensed therapist in the Denver area.  I have often had clients suggest that I start a blog, so here is goes.

Several times a week I get calls from people shopping for a new therapist or counselor.  Some are very experienced in therapy, and others have never seen a therapist at all.   As would be expected, I often hear great things about what individuals, couples and families have accomplished with a professional counselor.  Unfortunately, I also hear stories where a therapist was unhelpful.

With that, I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts about what a person might want to keep in mind as they search for a therapist or professional counselor.

First off, please take the time to identify just what it is that you’re wanting to accomplish by seeing a therapist.  Get as specific as you can with yourself, or your spouse, about just what changes you’re hoping to accomplish.  I believe that this is an extremely important step in making the process successful.  If you are wanting to see someone individually, just what would make you feel that the therapy “worked?”  You may be looking for changes in relationship patterns, work situations, an increased ability to manage mood difficulties (anxiety, depression etc), grief counseling, or to address some other aspect of your life.  Once you have a set of clear goals, you can identify for the therapist just what you’re seeking help with. If you find yourself stuck in identifying your goals for therapy, at least we know what you’ll be talking about in your first session.

If you plan to use insurance, it’s best to first check with your insurance company to see exactly what your mental health benefits are.  It will be helpful to know if you have to stay “in-network”, if you have a mental health deductible, just how many sessions your insurance covers per year, and how much your co-pay is.  Having this information ready when you start the phone interview process will save you a lot of time.

Now that you have that out of the way, if possible, see if anyone you know and trust has a suggestion about who they’d recommend.  It’s always nice to have a recommendation so you’re not entering into the process blind.  You may find just the person your looking for from the suggestion of a trusted friend, family member or colleague.

Now you’re ready to make some calls.  If you’re just using a list of “Network Providers”, call as many as you can in your area.  You’re obviously looking for a therapist that has the time to call you back, so use their response time on your check-list.  I’d like to think that most therapists call back within 48 hours.   Listen to the out-going message as the therapist might indicate that she/he isn’t taking new patients.

Because the “Therapeutic Relationship” is considered to be one of the most important aspects of therapy, I really want you to listen to your gut about who you choose to see professionally.  Most therapists won’t have the time for a detailed phone call about your goals, so keep it focused on the therapist’s availability, training, areas of expertise, fees, and style.  All of these topics will assist you in getting a “gut-feeling” about the professional.  If the therapist seems short with you or unfriendly, move to the next one on your list.  Please keep in mind that most therapists return calls between sessions, so the time available to talk might be limited.

Once you’ve selected a therapist, schedule an appointment.  Again, I believe the fit between therapist and client is the most important aspect of a very complex process.  I hear all the time from new clients something like “Well…I saw someone for about 4 months, and never really liked him (or felt comfortable with him).”  Then I ask “I’m sorry to hear that.  Did the counseling help?”  The answer in that scenario is almost always “No.”  Never forget that you’re the customer.  Find a counselor you’re comfortable with and go from there.  Now…if you go through 10 potential counselors without finding one, perhaps you need to lower the bar a bit or assess just how realistic you’re being about what you’re looking for.

Find someone you like and are comfortable with.  Someone you trust.  Someone who your “gut” says has something to offer you. Talk in that initial session about what your goals are for counseling.  If you are seeking help for your family, the therapist should have some ideas or thoughts that you haven’t thought of yourself.  If you are seeking someone to see individually, see what the therapist says about your goals and what he/she adds to the discussion.  I want my clients walking out with helpful ideas from the first session on!

Keep in mind that there are very many different styles and schools of thought for counseling.  Some therapists are more “insight” oriented.   Some specialize in mood disorders, others in relationships.  Most competent therapists use a large bag of tools in their work, borrowing from many different schools of thought to provide the best possible outcome for their clients.  Ask the therapist what theories she/he believes in and uses for their work.   No one style is right or wrong.  I will say again that I believe it’s very important that specific goals be set for the sessions.  If not, how will we know when it’s no longer needed?

One other comment that I often hear during an initial session is something like this:  “I was in therapy for 6 months.”  I say: “Great, what were you working on?”….and the person then says “Huh, I’m not sure.”.  Please, set your goals and make sure the therapy being provided is addressing what you’re hoping to change.

Lastly, I want to complement anyone who is seeking help for a life pattern they want to change.  You have the power to create change in your life, and there are helpful professionals out there who can assist you in doing just that!

Best regards,

William Strong, LCSW

 

William Strong practices in the Denver area.  He is a Solution Focused therapist who helps individuals, couples and families.  William can be reached through his website: strongsolutionsonline.com or by calling 303-757-5390.

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