At the start of a new year, it is a common practice for us to set goals and intentions and create visions for the year, with hopes that the next 12 months will be better than the last. For a lot of people, the desire to experience “different” leads them to exploring therapy.
The idea for this episode was initially born out of my very challenging experience of searching for and finding a therapist of my own. My goals for this post are to normalize the frustrations of finding the right fit in a therapist, to provide some tips to help guide your search, and to motivate you to embrace the complexities of relationship building – specifically as nuanced in the dynamics of the service-and-relationshp-based client-therapist relationship.
I have been in and out of therapy since my sophomore year in college, and it has been a less than comfortable experience.
My first therapist was assigned to me by my university’s counseling center, he was a youngish white male, and he was also a student completing his practicum (or internship). What made this relationship challenging is that I never felt connected or like he understood my experiences. He shared nothing about himself, he never commented on what I shared with him, I did all of the talking, and there was no guided continuation between sessions. At the time, I thought that that was what therapy was; and it wasn’t until I became a student therapist myself that I realized that his therapeutic style just wasn’t compatible with what I needed.
Because my last therapeutic relationship lacked connection, working with someone who looked like me, and who hopefully shared in my experiences, became a priority. So my second time around I searched for a Black female identifying therapist, and I found one. She was older, and soon after initiating services I learned that she was also religious; and that’s where things took a downturn. Like most therapists, during my intake she asked about my religious beliefs and affiliations. I informed her that I was not religious, and that religion was not a source of coping for me. I EVEN EXPLAINED TO HER WHY, and this is significant because admitting this was very difficult for me at the time; but I knew that to get the help I needed I had to be honest. Despite having this conversation, this therapist often encouraged me to attend church, and she insisted that becoming the member of a church was what I needed to build community and thus to feel better. I stopped seeing her after the third session.
From that experience I learned that while having a therapist who looks like me is helpful, there are other things I need for the relationship to be effective. A few years went by before I felt comfortable with trying again.
In 2020 I decided to go for round 3. Thankfully, the 3rd time was a charm. After a year of searching and contemplating I connected with a therapist, and after the first couple of sessions I knew that I found what I had been looking for. She was a Black woman, older, connected to Caribbean culture (which was important to what I was going into therapy with at the time); and she spoke with me – not at me. We worked together for a year before I made the decision to end the relationship, which was in August of this year. I made this decision because I recognized that my needs had changed (yay for progress), and while she was still a great therapist, I no longer believed that she was the best fit for what I needed moving forward.
My experience with my last therapist motivated me to hit the ground running with finding my next therapist, and to not allow too much time to go by before picking up again with a new therapist. Today, I am happy to report that I have found a therapist and after two months of working together I believe I’ve found a perfect match.
Now, this did not happen without struggle lol…let me explain. I began searching for a new therapist about 2 weeks before ending my relationship with my last therapist. I searched and searched for weeks, thought I found “The One” but moved on after 3 weeks of trying to get an appointment. Then I had an initial appointment with another therapist and I decided not to move forward because it was clear that they weren’t the best fit. Two weeks later I reached out to the person that I’m seeing now, and had a consultation that left me feeling really optimistic about moving forward with them.
As I began brainstorming for this episode I thought that sharing my own personal experience with finding a therapist was important to helping me communicate my understanding of how hard this process can be – EVEN AS A THERAPIST.
I remember having a conversation with someone in which we talked about finding a therapist being like finding the right dress. You walk into a store and there are racks and racks of beautiful dresses. You are likely going to have to try some on before you find “The One,” but when you find it you know it.
I see ending therapeutic relationships like I did with my last therapist in a similar way. She was “The One” for what I needed at the time, just as a dress can be perfect for one occasion and not for another. Relationships change for many reasons, and it is important to me to normalize ending relationships that no longer serve us in the healthiest and/or most effective ways – including the ones that we have with our therapists.
Whether you are looking to start a relationship with a therapist for the first time, or if you’re looking for one who can better support where you are now, I hope that the following tips assist you with maintaining motivation and hope with searching until you find “The One.”
My first tip is to ask for recommendations from people that you trust.
There is no guarantee that what worked for them will work for you, however it can often be helpful to get insight from someone you know and who knows you.
My next tip is to take some time to identify your preferences.
Your preferences can include one or some of the following: Race, ethnicity, gender identity and/or expression of your therapist, in-person or virtual services, time of day for sessions, type of therapeutic intervention, and whether or not you are open to homework.
My third tip is to engage in a consultation call.
One of the things that has stuck out to me during my most recent searches is that not all therapists offer consultations prior to scheduling. Free consultations are standard in my practice, and for others, but they are not for every practice. I find consultations to be important for potential clients because provide opportunity for them to gather information that allows them to assess if a provider would be a good fit. They also help therapists assess if their skills and expertise would be a good fit for the potential clients’ needs. I encourage and provide consultations because I believe that rapport begins at first contact, and starting the rapport building process prior to meeting for sessions often supports my clients’ feelings of comfort coming into their first session.
My fourth tip piggy backs off of the third: Ask questions.
Your therapist is someone that you will be paying to provide you a service. Therapy is not one-size-fits-all, and all therapists do not provide services in the same way. I encourage advocating for yourself by asking questions that support your active participation in your services. Having an idea of your preferences can be helpful with this. Some examples of questions that may be helpful include: What kind of therapist are you (LCSW, LMHC, LMFT)? What type of therapy do you provide (CBT, DBT, EMDR, Talk Therapy)? What issues do you specialize in (Depression, Anger, Trauma, Work Issues)? And Do you offer a sliding scale for people who cannot afford your full rate ?
Which brings me to my fifth tip: Know what you can afford.
Therapy can be very expensive, and challenges with finding the right fit can make the cost feel heavier. I encourage you to become aware of and honest about what you can afford to pay. If you have insurance, I suggest first looking through your insurance provider’s list of in network providers, and confirming what your copay would be. Now, while many providers will accept and bill your insurance, not all therapists do. I encourage confirming the cost of services (and the potential for a fee increase) before scheduling your first appointment. I run a private pay practice and have had many clients decide that working with me specifically was more important to them than using their insurance. I’ve also had clients assess that their copay with an in-network provider would be just a few dollars more than my private pay rate, and thankfully all of those clients were able to afford the out of pocket costs.
There are networks like Open Path Collective who I’ve mentioned on the podcast before, that is comprised of therapists that have agreed to offer sliding scale prices of no more than $60 for individual sessions. The Loveland Foundation is another great resource that maintains a therapy fund to support access to therapy for Black women and girls. I will include their information in the show notes.
Another note on costs: therapy costs money but it also costs time. Many providers assess late cancellation and no show fees that can be financially detrimental to clients that are not consistent with participating in session as scheduled. Many also have policies that support discharging clients after a certain number of no shows and/or cancelled appointments. These situations result in a financial cost but also the cost of time given to developing a relationship that has now been ended (and we’ve talked about how hard finding someone to initiate a relationship with can be). So in short, I encourage being sure that you can dedicate the time needed to actively engage in the service to avoid costs that can become financially and emotionally overwhelming.
My sixth and last tip is to have some idea of what you are looking to accomplish in therapy.
In my experience, clients that are aware of their ‘what,’ are more effective in their process than clients who expect the therapist to decide for them. Knowing your ‘what’ reflects a level of awareness that is essential to the process of change, and it also often presents as a source of motivation to engage in the ‘how.’ I do not believe that this is a requirement for therapy to be effective, but it is helpful.
I will continue to update my list of tips with plans to share them in the future. Please feel free to share any thoughts, questions, or tips of your own in the comments.