Since the beginning of the year, I've had a tremendous number of friends, acquaintances, and social media contacts reach out to me wanting information on how to go about finding a good therapist. I don't mean to be dramatic or extreme, but after the two most difficult years in many of our lifetimes, it's safe to say we're in a mental health crisis.
I've seen many excellent social media posts, often written by professionals, explaining and normalizing some of the difficulties you may be experiencing right now. This is good--that information is kind, compassionate, and accurate. I hope the normalizing of "not being ok" is one positive thing that comes out of this difficult time.
But the thing is, most of us are not able to just stop indefinitely when we're not ok. Sometimes we can for a day or even a for a couple of weeks. We might be able to call in help for a little while. Often there are many things we can take off our plates to lighten our loads significantly, and we should do those things. But there are things that HAVE to be done--children have to be fed, laundry has to be done occasionally, bills need to be paid, and many of us need to go to work.
It's absolutely normal and ok to "not be ok" right now--but that's not where we want to stay forever. We need to be able to function, and more importantly, find some enjoyment in our lives that are still full of so much beauty despite the difficulties. This might be where finding a therapist comes in.
What Is a Therapist?
This is not an official definition, it's just my definition based on how I most commonly see this word used.
Therapist can mean:
- A Licensed Professional Counselor
- A Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor
- A Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- A Clinical Psychologist (can also provide psychological evaluation if needed)
- A masters-level graduate in one of these areas working under a licensed supervisor.
- A masters-level intern working in an accredited graduate program under a licensed supervisor.
A Therapist IS NOT:
- A psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in psychiatric medications. A good psychiatrist is a crucial resource, but this person is not a therapist.
- A psychiatric nurse practitioner. A psychiatric nurse practitioner has additional psychiatric training and can be a truly wonderful and necessary resource, but this person is not a therapist.
- A family physician, a pediatrician, or a nurse practitioner.
- A Biblical Counselor. Some churches provide a Biblical counseling program, which can be a positive thing for certain issues. These people have typically attended a seminar or retreat-type training. Though these programs may be full of wonderful people who are kind, wise, and discerning, a Biblical counselor does not have the training necessary to recognize and help a person in trauma or crisis, among other things.
- A pastor.
- A graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology or social work.
How Do I Find a Therapist That's Right For Me?
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but these are some options that I've personally found to be reliable and productive.
- Contacting counseling and psychology departments at local universities, even if the closest option is a couple of hours away. These programs often keep up with their graduates across the state.
- Contacting churches within your faith tradition. Many churches, particularly larger churches, keep a great list of counseling contacts and will occasionally even help financially. Be sure to clarify that you're looking for a licensed therapist.
- Your OBGYN will have a list of therapists available.
- Your child's pediatrician may have a contact. Our local pediatricians are one of my greatest referral sources. They will often refer parents of patients. If I don't feel like I'm a good fit for that person, I'm able to personally choose a therapist for them myself.
A Few More Things to Consider:
- What will your insurance cover? Find out before you get your heart set on a therapist who is not in your network.
- Would you prefer a male or female? Someone older or younger? There are no right or wrong answers, just things to consider.
- Do you need a therapist with specialty training in any certain area?
What If I Don't Have Insurance?
- Community Mental Health Centers offer services to clients with medicare, medicaid, and a very affordable sliding scale fee to clients with no insurance at all. These therapists are overworked and underpaid, but are typically doing their absolute best to provide quality services. I worked with some truly quality, wonderful therapists during my time in community mental health. To receive the best services possible, I recommend seeing your therapist in their office instead of in your home--and keep your appointment!!!
- All graduate programs have interns. Many of them even have their own clinics and offer excellent services for a very reasonable sliding fee.
As I've shared before, I'm no stranger to anxiety myself. I know how daunting finding the right therapist can feel, and I also know about the relief, freedom, and empowerment that can come when you find the right person. James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift is from above and I truly believe that this includes quality mental health care.
I dream of a time when the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties is completely gone and quality, affordable mental health care is available to every single person. Until that time comes, I'll do my part by sharing what I know, encouraging others to get the support they need, and providing the best services that I can.