How do you know who is the right therapist to treat your depression, your child’s anxiety and difficulties at school or your marriage issues? Maybe you struggle with substance abuse (though you hate to admit it) or you recently lost a parent and just want to talk to someone about it other than your spouse. Depending on where you live, there may be too many or too few mental health professionals that you could potentially choose from. If there are too few, your options are limited, but if you live in a city, where help is around every corner, it can be quite overwhelming to try and pick a provider for what is really, one of the most important parts of our health, our mental health.
How do we choose the right therapist in a field, flooded with grief counselors, marriage counselors, social workers, eating disorder specialists and substance abuse clinics?
I wish there was one answer to all of these questions but the truth is, it depends. It depends on your particular situation and your personal needs. To make the task of choosing a therapist less daunting, I’ve narrowed it down to answering a few basic questions:
Question #1. What is your primary reason for seeking out professional help? Narrowing down the issue that you or a family member is struggling with can help you identify a professional, who either specializes in treating the specific disorder or who works with that population. Are you trying to cope with depression, anxiety, difficulties sleeping, rocky relationships, family problems, etc.?
Depending on the issue, you may need to consult with a few different mental health professionals. For example, if your child struggles with attention-deficit and has a hard time focusing and completing work at school, you may need to see a psychologist for psychological testing, who would confirm the diagnosis; a psychiatrist, who would prescribe medication and a therapist, who would assist you and your child in managing the social and emotional issues that come with that diagnosis. Or, if you are battling a major depressive disorder, you may need to see a therapist for an ongoing psychotherapy in addition to having a regular psychiatrist, who would manage your medication.
Question #2. Who are you seeking professional help for? Is it for yourself or for your child? Is it your marriage that needs attention or an elderly relative that you need to find support for? Answering these questions will narrow down the list of professionals you will need and help you focus the search to best suit your mental health needs.
If you need an individual therapist for yourself, you may wish to look for therapists, who specialize in counseling/psychotherapy of the specific issue you need help with. For example, if you are struggling with substance abuse, you may want to look for a substance abuse counselor, who has been certified to work with substance abuse issues. In the state of Illinois, this would be a CADC (Certified Alcohol and Other Drugs Abuse Counselor) or a CRADC (Certified Reciprocal Alcohol and Other Drugs Abuse Counselor).
If you need a therapist for your child, you would need to look for a child and adolescent psychotherapist. Some specialize in treating certain issues such as self-injury, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, etc., while others specialize in a specific approach to counseling such as cognitive-behavioral or psychoanalytic psychotherapy (like myself).
If you need a therapist for an elderly family member, you will then look for someone, specializing in geriatric counseling or accepting clients from that specific age group. Someone, who addresses a specific issue will also be appropriate, for example, a therapist working with clients, diagnosed with cancer; clients, who lost a spouse or those, struggling with Dementia.
For couples or marriage counseling, you will look for a couples and marriage counselor. Depending on where you live, they may have a different title, but usually an LMFT stands for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Some LCSWs (Licensed Clinical Social Workers) and LCPCs (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors) also work with couples and families and can be a good fit. Finally, for a family issue, you would look for any of the above professionals, who see families.
Question #3. What kind of outcome are you hoping for as a result of the intervention of the mental health professional. This is important as knowing your goals in seeking professional help can determine 1) what kind of professional you need to see and 2) what approach to your mental health you and your provider are going to take.
Let’s me explain. Different mental health professionals have different approaches to treatment that usually yield slightly different results. The ultimate goal is of course for you to feel better, be rid of your symptoms and improve the quality of your and your family’s life. Typically, a psychiatrist will provide you with medication to address the medical side of things but there is always an emotional and psychological side of things. For that, you would turn to a counselor, social worker or a psychologist. We are all mental health professionals, trained to treat the same psychological and mental problems. There are differences and we usually collaborate well with each other to provide you with a high quality care.
What is important for you to ask yourself when making a decision who to see is after you’ve met with that person, did you feel understood, welcomed and supported? Did you feel at ease and did you get a sense that the person knows what they are doing? If your answer is yes, then this sounds like a good person to stick with. Hopefully, the rest with follow as the therapeutic process unfolds.