By Lauri Shedd, MSW, LMSW
Is this your first time considering therapy? First time you’ve started looking at therapists’ websites? I bet you’re wondering if you really need help or if there is anything or anyone who can help you. I bet you’re also wondering how to decide on a therapist… and what that first appointment will be like. If so, I hope these posts help.
First, there is help for you. There are a LOT of therapists out there. They specialize in different types of treatment. They specialize in specific disorders and conditions. They have different types of degrees — you may see a lot of different letters after names! If you’re not sure what they mean, ask.
Maybe you’re embarrassed about your problem? Trust me — we’ve heard just about everything! If your specific problem hasn’t been on our couch before, I promise, we learned about it in school or took a seminar on it. Many people find comfort when they finally call a therapist and hear the therapist say, “Oh yeah, I have patients who are in the same situation.” We feel alone, but likely, there are others just like us out there.
Finding and deciding on a therapist for some is very easy and for others, it causes a lot of stress. Many people start with a Google search or go to Psychology Today. If you’re comfortable with it, asking friends and family for recommendations is a great idea too. Therapists come in all shapes, colors, and sizes; they’re just like you! They speak different languages and work with all kinds of people. They have different styles. Some will share information about themselves while others never share anything personal. Some will want to delve into your past, while others will not. I’m not kidding when I say there are options, lots of options!
Start to think about what you might like and what makes you comfortable. You will likely be seeing this person once a week for a while and sharing a LOT about yourself, so it’s okay to be picky. Don’t feel guilty because you prefer a male therapist, or an African American therapist, or a secular therapist, or a hippie, or… well, you get the idea. Seriously, we don’t mind and want you to feel comfortable.
What’s next? Most therapists offer a free phone consultation. This is not a first session, but rather a chance for you to introduce yourself, give the therapist an idea of your problem, and tell them what you’re looking for and need in a therapist. The therapist will be able to assess if he or she will be able to work with you (given their specialties and availability). Most therapists will bring up fees at this time, but if she doesn’t, ask! You don’t want to feel like you’ve found the right person only to discover that your insurance isn’t accepted or you can’t afford the fee. Speaking of the fee…. If you cannot afford it, ask if they have a sliding scale or participate in any programs that may make services more affordable. If you still can’t book with her, ask for a recommendation. We therapists typically know lots of other therapists and are happy to help.
You can either book an appointment during the phone consultation, or you can take some time to think about it, and if you still have questions, email or call back. We also understand that sometimes it takes a while to schedule. That first phone call is difficult to make and lots of folks feel a placebo effect from the phone call (meaning, they feel better just by talking to a therapist for a few minutes) and don’t book at all or book an appointment and then cancel it because they’re feeling better. That’s pretty normal, but remember, no one likes last minute cancellations so be respectful of your therapist’s time and calendar.
You’ve made a decision and booked your appointment… now what?
Things vary a little from therapist to therapist, so I’ll tell you what I do. When you book (and I should say, some people never call me. Rather, we have the entire conversation about booking via email. That’s okay, too). I will get your email address so that I can send you some documents to read and complete prior to your arrival. My documents cover a LOT of information, from fees and cancellation policies to privacy. You’ll have a chance to tell me a bit of your history, list medications, and goals. Even though the packet is thick, I haven’t had anyone complain about it yet and many say they appreciate having just about all of their questions answered up front.
Thanks for making it this far! In my next post, I’ll talk about what to expect during your first appointment.
This is the first in a two-part series. To get part two delivered to your email inbox, subscribe here and never miss a post from The Center for Mindfulness & CBT.