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Why Your Therapist's Personal Experience May Not Actually Be That Important

Choosing the right therapist can be a daunting task. While we often consult with our neighbors and friends when searching for the best lawn service, internet provider, or family physician, we are less likely to open up regarding our needs for a mental health professional or couples counselor. Instead we find ourselves aimlessly sifting through profiles on Psychology Today, Yelp, and Google as we attempt to find a therapist that "looks" kind and caring, has an impressive education, positive customer reviews, or maybe we end up selecting one that seems to have some similar life experiences to our own.

Although not all of these measures are "bad" or "wrong," they may or may not be the best indicator of which therapist will actually connect with us and help us the most. So, before selecting a therapist based on physical appearances, degrees, or the fact that he/she also appears to have five kids and a Goldendoodle pictured on the website, take a look at these five tips to help refine your search for the mental health care provider that is right for you.

1. LPC's, LMFT's, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Life Coaches and more...

​One of the best ways to narrow down your search for the right helper for you is to educate yourself on the variety of licenses and qualifications of counseling professionals that are available to you. If, medication adjustments or refills are what you are looking for or suspect you might need, consulting with a medical doctor or a psychiatrist is where you may want to start. As a means of ruling out any medical conditions coinciding with your mental health concerns, it is a good idea to make sure you are up to date on yearly physicals and routine family physician visits in addition to seeking help more specific to your mental health/counseling needs.

Amongst the mental health providers, Psychologists and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC's) are more likely to be trained in one to one counseling, while Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT's) may be more apt to focus on interventions that incorporate family members, spouses, or close friends in the treatment process. LMFT's are trained systemically and often specialize in couples/marriage counseling and family therapy in addition to treatments of individual mental health. Psychologists, LPC's, LMFT's, and LCSW's are all (at a minimum) master's level clinicians and are regulated by both state and national licensing boards. While the Life Coaching certification is not as rigorous in its qualifications or certification requirements, life coaching can benefit individuals who are looking for more generalized help, where life coaches often take on a motivating/advising role and meet with individuals in a more relaxed environment such as a home office, by phone, or at a coffee shop.

2. Consider Your Budget

Mental health services can be expensive with psychiatrist sessions reaching upwards of $300/session, it is important to take into consideration how you might utilize a treatment team as more cost effective way to meet your needs. While psychiatrists can be pricey for a full 50 minute session, you may find that medication consults combined with weekly sessions conducted by a therapist to be a better route for you. In addition, there are more affordable options amongst counselors where you might consider looking into associate or intern level clinicians who are still professionally licensed, but may have lower fees as they build up their practices. Other options for cutting down on costs might be engaging in support groups, looking for larger agencies that use a sliding fee scale, or checking into insurance reimbursement. Even for providers who are not "in network" with your insurance, you may be able to provide receipts for more reimbursement than you might expect.

3. Look for a Specialty

Although most mental health professionals take on a variety of presenting problems, it is likely that they have developed a specialty or a handful of specialties within their practice. So, as you consider your goals for therapy, you may also consider who in your area is specializing in treatments that match your needs. Some examples of a specialized focus may include couple/marriage counseling, therapy for individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, or bi-polar disorder, collaborative care or medical family therapy (helping individuals, couples, and families who are going through a chronic, life-changing, or even terminal illness). Other specialties may be a focus on a particular age group, teen counseling, play therapy, or geriatric counseling to name a few.

4. Ask Another Trusted Healthcare Provider

While we may not be comfortable revealing mental health or relationship concerns with our friends; our family doctors, psychiatrists, or other's in specialized medical professions may have more connections than you realize when it comes to seeking out an effective therapist. The information you reveal to your doctors is protected by HIPAA and will stay between yourself and physician, except in certain cases where confidentiality is limited. Limits to confidentiality are slim, for example, among individuals under the age of 18, doctors may have the duty to report safety concerns to parents, or in other cases, health care professionals may have the duty to report concerns of child abuse or dependent adult abuse, but aside from the few exceptions you can consider your secrets safe with licensed professionals in all realms of healthcare.

5. Check It Out For Yourself

In a world where people often don't wish to "rant" or "rave" about therapy, regardless of how awesome or traumatic their experience was, (openly posting about their experience online may leave the client feeling exposed from sharing that they sought counseling in the first place) thus, it's likely you won't come across too many reviews. Further, most mental health professionals' governing bodies frown upon soliciting referrals from their clients which creates even less likelihood that clients will go out of their way to find a place to post about their experience. That being said, I would encourage those of you currently searching for therapeutic services to check out a variety of mental health professionals before deciding which one is right for you. Don't be afraid to make a phone call or even sit down for an intake visit with a therapist before deciding if, the counselor is one you feel safe and connected with, and if he or she is one you trust will meet your needs for therapy.

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