Connecting With a Therapist 101 :: World Mental Health Day

I blog for World Mental Health DayIn honor of World Mental Health day, I thought I would do a special Monday blog post.  As I thought about this post, I tried to think about what I most wanted to convey on a day dedicated to mental health.  I’ve read some of the other posts from the PsychCentral blog party for today (and you should definitely check out their collection of posts, there’s some great stuff going on there).  And what I realized is that, there are lots of folks who are doing an incredible job of sharing stories, giving some context to mental health issues, and spotlighting specific concerns.  So I wanted to approach this topic from a slightly different angle.  For a while now, I have been thinking about the challenges that prevent people from getting access to good mental health services.  That’s a topic that is much too big for one post, so I’m going to tackle one piece of it today–a basic look at how to reach out for mental health support.

Barriers to Finding a Therapist

Finding a therapist can be a pretty overwhelming process.  Lots of people provide therapy services, with lots of different credentials.  Your insurance company may direct you to their website, where you will find a list of names and phone numbers (which may or may not be up to date).  If you’re just starting to search, then you may find yourself overwhelmed by the number of choices (if you’re in an urban area) or the lack of choices (if you’re in a rural area).

In addition to the issue of choice, whether there are too many or too few options, making that initial phone call to ask for support can be hard.  You are doing a lot of different things with that phone call.  You’re admitting to yourself and to a stranger that things feel overwhelming.  You’re articulating what is difficult–maybe for the first time.  You’re cold-calling someone you don’t know to ask for help in dealing with some very personal stuff.  It may even feel intimidating, as though you will be judged.

Tools to Overcome the Barriers

Here are a few good initial steps to take when you realize that you are ready for some support:

  • Remember that you are hiring a therapist.  So your initial contact with us is really a job interview.  It is up to us to put you at ease, help you determine your goals, and then work toward those goals.  Your needs drive this process.
  • It helps to search by specialty.  Searching by specialty can help you narrow the field of possible candidates. If you need couples counseling, than you want to find someone who specializes in couples work.
  • See what is available online.  If a therapist has a website, or a blog, you can get some sense of their practice focus, their personality, and their style.  My clients have talked about feeling like my blog is a way to have “Ann on-demand.”  If you connect with a therapist’s written work or videos, you may have a better chance of connecting with them in person.
  • Use consultation calls.  Many therapists will offer a free initial phone call, so that you can ask questions about their personality, specialty, working style etc.  That call can often be enough for you to get a sense of whether the therapist is someone that you’ll feel comfortable with.
  • Your sense of comfort matters.  Research consistently demonstrates that a strong therapeutic relationship is the factor that is most related to change and satisfaction in therapy.  You deserve to find a therapist who provides that relationship–even if it takes some extra time.

This is a very basic list.  If you have more specific questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email.  If you have a favorite suggestion of your own, please add it in the comments.


8 thoughts on “Connecting With a Therapist 101 :: World Mental Health Day

    1. Kathy–Good to hear from you. And yes, I think one of the most important things we do as clinicians is to recognize that we’re not going to be the best fit for all potential clients. I think that it’s more therapeutic to connect someone with their best fit than to do work in a “so-so” relationship.

    2. I agree with Dr. Becker-Schutte completely, and that’s my problem or concern about getting therapy. I do need some, but the last two people I met with were inexperienced and seemed painfully bored and sleepy while I shared my life and its issues. I have talked to one lady who got it and got me completely!! Now she is not treating anybody any more. And I haven’t found anyone else to replace her. I have tried, but, as I said, other therapists are often thinking about something or someone else. Just agreeing with her.
      I am going to try and fine someone that will see me and doesn’t live too far away from home. That was a good post. Pat

      1. Pat,

        I’m so grateful that the article felt helpful to you. My wish for you is that it encourages you to persevere and find the therapist who can truly give you what you need. Remember, you’re hiring someone, so it’s okay to interview them and be assertive about your needs.


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