Finding the right counselor/therapist for you and your family
So..you decided that you want to find a therapist for you or your child. How in the world are you supposed to know how to do that? What an intimidating thing to do, and, like any other doctor you see, who you pick can have a strong influence on your outcomes. While your first instinct might be to go through your insurance to find a provider, this is actually not the path I would suggest for the majority of people (even if money is an issue).
My first suggestion is that you identify the reason you are seeking a therapist. Is it for marital issues? Are you looking for a social skills group for your child who has a diagnosis of ADHD? Have you had a history of trauma and are you seeking to heal from it? If you know anyone who has had similar experiences and you are close enough to them to ask, check with them if they have found a good mental health provider. Even if you do not want to see their provider because that might feel weird, if their person is good, you can call them and ask for referrals. Similarly, do not be afraid to ask a mental health provider that you know personally about referrals as long as you trust their opinion. While someone you know personally can not see you for ethical reasons, they may know of a referral for your specific issue. If you do not have a resource like this, look up local groups in your area that specialize in the issue for which you are seeking treatment. They may have some providers they commonly refer to. School counselors also typically have referral resources. If you are attending a college or university, you may also be able to see a therapist on campus.
On a side note, if you are not clear on the specifics of who you are looking for, think of mental health professionals being like other health providers. There are specialists and general practitioners. If you are unsure, go to a general practitioner. If you work for a large company, there may be an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider who will see you for a few sessions and steer you in the right direction (with the understanding that then your work has a record you saw someone), or there are many good, general mental health practitioners out there that you can find using your personal network. If you find a good one and they identify that you need a specialist, they may refer you out for more specialized treatment.
Now that you have identified possibilities, it’s time to make some calls. I would encourage you not to be put off by someone if you can not find them on-line, you may find that in my profession, there are not as many technologically savvy people out there so there are tons of wonderful professionals who may not have a website- or even email! Call the professional directly. Try to speak with them on the phone to get an idea of availability and whether they specialize in the area for which you are seeking help. Ask about what insurance they take, if any. Those lists you find on line from your insurance company can be hopelessly out of date so always ask.
Pay attention to how you feel when you are speaking to the provider on the phone. Do you feel they listened to you? Do they have availability to see you at times that work for you? If you are uncertain, do not be afraid to say that.
Now is the time to check with your insurance. If the provider you want is in-network for your insurance, great- skip this paragraph! If not, call your insurance and see what your out-of-network benefits are. For instructions on how to do this, you can look under the insurance button on my practice website: www.ahealingplaceincolumbia.com. Do not give up if you do not have out-of-network benefits and your selected provider does not take your insurance. Call your insurance, ask them to find someone in-network who works with the specialty you are looking for. If they can not locate someone in-network with the specialty you need and who has openings to see you- they must offer you an option to reimburse the person of your choice. There is a law that says insurance companies cannot deny you coverage simply because they do not have an in-network provider that provides that specialty.
If all else fails, ask your chosen provider if they are willing to give you a sliding scale for payment up front- you would be surprised how many providers are willing to negotiate. Finding someone that you work well with and trust, while it may cost more up front, you will also probably get better quicker so you do the math- say you go to see someone 10 times for $75/ week sliding scale vs. seeing someone who takes your insurance with a $40 copay but since they don’t specialize, let’s estimate it takes twice as many sessions- 20 for you to feel better. That’s a total of $750 for the first treatment and $800 for the second (plus the extra time in your life you spent in treatment). When you look at it that way, it’s a no-brain-er. And, don’t forget, if you have a health spending account through your work, mental health care is covered and reimburseable.
Next it’s time to go ahead and meet with the person you feel comfortable with on the phone and remember- you are a consumer! As a consumer, you have the right to decide where and from whom you are going to get treatment. If you go in and see someone and they just are not it- try someone else. Not all therapists are a good fit for every person. However, if you find you have gone to meet five different people in search of the right person, you might want to think about whether your expectations are realistic and give the one you found the most helpful another try.
I will be the last person to tell you that all therapists are good, or even the same. Look for my future post on different kinds of therapists to learn about just how different we can be. No matter who you see, what is found consistantly in studies about mental health is that it is the relationship between the therapist and the client that is more important than the choice of intervention when we look at whether therapy has been successful. You have a right to getting what you want from treatment.
Look for future blogs to address red flags when looking for a therapist and when it might be time to move on. Since I specialize in attachment disorders, I will also be posting about finding an attachment focused therapist.
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