• Jesse Williams, LPC-MHSP

Finding the Right Mental Health Therapist for You

The mental health therapy process starts well before you ever consciously think "I might need to talk to someone about this."

Maybe you saw someone work with a therapist on a television show or your best friend mentioned talking to their therapist. Or maybe you saw an advertisement or read about therapy in a magazine. Either way, those ideas of the therapy experience landed within your subconscious and began sprouting. Then one day, it finally came into your conscious mind that you needed to talk to someone in a therapy format. And here is the first big hurdle: how do you even begin finding a therapist? And how do you know if it's a good fit once you find someone? Many of times, this hurdle prevents people from moving forward in their journey towards healing with a therapist. The search for a therapist becomes too difficult with too many dead ends. So people just throw up their hands and walk away from the entire process. And they suffer. And they're stuck. And they don't get the healing that they need.

And then other times, people just don't know what they should be searching for. Is it a psychiatrist? A psychologist? Licensed mental health counselor? A social worker? The terminology can be overwhelming, and there is usually a lot of overlap. Psychiatrists (and psychiatric nurse practitioners) tend to provide medication management for psychiatric issues. They may also build therapy/coping skills into their sessions, depending on their approach. Psychologists tend to specialize in assessments/observations/diagnosing, and they also tend to provide traditional therapy. Licensed mental health counselors and licensed clinical social workers can diagnose and assess, but typically their emphasis is on the therapy process. Life coaches typically do not work with diagnosable issues, and they work to help people regain empowerment by examining choices and decisions.

As if it's not confusing and overlapping enough, there are also counselors and social workers who are also life coaches. There are counselors who assess/diagnose. Psychiatrists who are therapists. Life coaches who are psychologists. But as a general rule:

Psychiatrists = medication management/sometimes therapy

Psychologists = assessments/observations/therapy

Mental health therapists/Social workers = therapy/other therapy approaches (may/may not diagnose)

Life Coach = decision making/goal planning

Then there are the abbreviations. Here are some you might see in a search in Tennessee: LPC = Licensed Professional Counselor

LPC/MHSP= Licensed Professional Counselor with Mental Health Service Provider designation

LCSW = Licensed Clinical Social Worker LMFT = Licensed Marriage/Family Therapist

LADAC = Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

LPCs, LPC/MHSPs, and LCSWs provide general therapy, even though many have specific specialities, such as trauma, anxiety, depression, domestic violence, etc. LMFTs are therapists who specialize family and marriage issues. LADACs are therapists who specialize in addiction issues.

So, now that that's out the way: How do you find a therapist?

The most likely response is to jump on our dear friend Google and type something like "Anxiety therapist near me" or "OCD therapist, Maryville, TN" or "Depression specialist, Knoxville." And that certainly works. This is a great option for tracking down a therapist.

While Google results can be helpful, I typically recommend for people to go to Psychology Today's website (www.psychologytoday.com) and type in their zip code into the search bar. From there, the search results will show all the therapists within the area who are registered with Psychology Today.

What's terrific about Psychology Today is that the search also allows for filtering of results. You can filter the therapists by gender, location, therapy approach, accepted insurances, areas of speciality, religious preferences, etc. This provides a great resource for helping you narrow down exactly who you want as a therapist.

You can also try asking around within your community if you feel comfortable. Ask people whom you trust if they know of any therapists that they know of that they would vouch for. Oftentimes, our friends and family can provide great help and support in getting in touch with a therapist or finding a good fit for us. Our friends and family often know us the best, and so it makes sense that their perspective and opinion can hold value!

Be warned that part of the struggle of finding a therapist is the possibility of making phone calls/emails and not getting responses back. Sometimes the therapist is overworked, out of the office, or not taking clients. This can result in unanswered calls and no responses. It's a sad reality (right or wrong), and the fact remains that it does happen. But don't give up! And remember, when looking for a therapist, your goal is to find someone who you feel as if you could easily talk to and feel safe with. If you don't feel a sense of connection with the therapist or you feel as if it's not a good fit, don't be afraid to keep looking. Yes, the searching gets old and exhausting. But finding a good fit for you is an important piece of the process.

I know clients sometimes feel shame for "therapist shopping" or for working with a therapist for a year and then deciding to change. I actually encourage this in many of cases. Now, it is true that there are times where constant "therapist shopping" can signify an avoidance behavior; however, I also believe that there are times where it simply highlights the difficulty of finding a therapist that is a good fit. Or the client simply outgrows the therapist and needs a new approach. That's okay!

It's not an easy process to find a therapist that works for you. Your personalities might clash. Transference/Countertransference happens (where the therapist reminds you of someone or vice versa). Finances become an issue. The change of location is inconvenient. The available hours aren't working. Their therapy approach is falling flat for what you are really needing.

And while all of the above can provide great grounds to explore issues coming up for you, there are times where it just isn't going to work. No big deal: find a fit that does.

If you are working with a therapist and it just isn't working, bring it up with the therapist! Ask for a recommendation or a referral. Part of being a therapist is helping people find the therapist who is a good fit for them. I can personally say that as a therapist, my goal is always help the person discover their path of healing: whether that involves me or someone else.

And of course, if at any point, you or someone you know is trying to find good fit, feel free to give me a call. I'm more than willing to help someone find that right fit for them, whether it is with me or with someone else.


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