Finding a therapist

Use these tips to find a therapist that works for you.
Illustration by James Heimer
Rachel Lettinga Courtesy Mercy Health

Looking for a therapist but not sure how to find the best fit? We talked with Mercy Health behavioral health specialists Rachel Lettinga, LMSW, CAADC, and Jacques Green, LMSW, CAADC, TPS, to get you in the know.

What’s the best way to search for a therapist? Ask your physician, family and friends for recommendations. Also, many private practice therapists have a Psychology Today or Good Therapist profile which allows you to search by insurance, gender, area of expertise, ZIP code, etc.

“Call the practice and talk to the therapist if you can to get a feel for the office and therapist,” Green said.

Pay attention to how you feel during the conversation. Are you comfortable? Nervous? Do

Jacques Green Courtesy Mercy Health

they sound nervous?

“Most therapists I know offer a short phone consultation prior to scheduling a first appointment,” Lettinga said.

Are online reviews helpful? “These are not commonly used in the therapy world,” Lettinga said. “Typically, online reviews reflect the experiences of the most and least satisfied persons. Call a few therapists and speak to them to get a feel for their approach, rather than checking online reviews.”

How important is insurance in choosing a therapist? “Therapy can be expensive,” Lettinga said. “Limit the search to in-network providers.”

Many “experts” only accept cash-pay clients.

“If you need an expert, ask if they will provide a ‘super bill’ that you can send to your insurance for reimbursement,” Lettinga said. “Many therapists offer
a sliding scale for those who may not have insurance.”

What questions should you ask of the therapist before scheduling an appointment? According to Green:
• Are they licensed?
• What are their specialties?
• Have they worked with people who have the issues that you do?
• What is their training? You want to find someone who’s gone through certified training in the specialties they have listed and not done an audit of a course or a couple-hour training.
• Have they been through counseling before?
• What insurances do they accept?

What questions should you ask of yourself? Do you want to be more patient with your kids? Kinder to your spouse? Want more self-confidence?

“Many people come to therapy having identified what they want to experience LESS of but haven’t started to think about what they want MORE of in life,” Lettinga said. “Ask yourself if you’re ready for therapy. It can be a life-changing process, but also an intense process that some people may not be ready for.”

What should you expect during your first appointment? The initial therapy session is usually an assessment, according to Green. The therapist should ask you about your demographics and how you like to be identified and addressed, talk to you about the presenting problem, how long you’ve been dealing with that issue, symptoms, family background including where you’re from, family history of mental health and substance use.

The therapist will likely ask if you’ve had previous mental health treatment, including medications and therapy and if you’ve ever had suicidal thoughts.

What are some tips on what to look/listen for during the first appointment? “Do they really listen to you?” Lettinga said. “Are they distracted or appear to be disinterested? Are they non-judgmental? Do you feel comfortable talking with them openly?”

Green said it’s important that you feel comfortable.

“Pay attention to how you feel/felt and if you felt comfortable opening up to them,” he said. “Are they communicating with you and talking to you in a way that makes sense?”

How will you know if the therapist is a good fit? “I think this comes down to feeling comfortable talking with your therapist openly and their ability to effectively treat what is bringing you into treatment,” Lettinga said. “After a few sessions, you should have a good ‘gut feeling’ about whether this is the right therapist for you.”

What qualities would an “ideal” therapist have? “An ideal therapist will be the one who makes you feel comfortable and safe when you are talking, the person who has the training and specialties that fit your needs,” Green said. “An ideal therapist shouldn’t just be convenient, they should be good. Don’t just go to the therapist that comes up first in your insurance company’s website because they are right around the corner from you. Do the research and find that therapist that is good at what they do, has checked all the boxes for you and answered the questions you have for them as well.”

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