The word wellness takes on a new meaning with each new scroll on Instagram. It seems to be everywhere: We double tap the reels that explain our potential childhood trauma and wounds, read self-help books, and of course, buy the latest beauty product that's coined to spark relaxation. While these practices certainly aren't fruitless, the question remains: How are you really doing?
Prioritizing your well-being should be a commitment practiced every day, ahem, offline! Though inundated with advice and tips and causes and effects, etc., how much of the information presented in an aesthetically pleasing graphic do you truly digest and integrate?
One of the best ways to tend to your heart and mind is by speaking to a mental health provider. According to Mental Health America, nearly 50 million Americans experience mental health issues, which is why it’s crucial the conversation not only continues but also progresses in order to effectively reduce the stigma. If you’re therapy curious, welcome—you’re in the right place.
For many individuals, taking the initial step to find a therapist is a huge hurdle to overcome, so applaud yourself for being here. Whether you’re longing to heal familial or relational issues, connect with your inner child, adjust to a new life chapter, or become more self-aware (the list goes on, as therapeutic incentives and goals are endless), we have got you covered on the best practices to find a therapist.
Breaking the Big Silence
The silence surrounding mental health issues is deafening. Cofounder of Tone It Up, wellness entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author Karena Dawn knows this all too well, having grown up with a mother who was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Throughout her childhood, Dawn experienced traumatic events that culminated in a suicide attempt. She overcame a dark period of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse and has since created The Big Silence Foundation to help erase the stigma surrounding mental health.
The Big Silence Foundation offers resources, including a mental health helpline, to anyone who is directly or indirectly impacted by mental health issues. If you're in need of help, text HERO at 741741 to receive free and confidential support from a counselor. For Dawn, therapy turned her life around and she believes it ought to be normalized.
"Every time, I wanted an excuse to turn around and not [go to therapy], but you have to be open, vulnerable, and honest," says Dawn. "Then after you leave the session, it's like a weight is lifted off your shoulders. It's important for people to know that you're not going to be so pumped and excited to be driving to your therapist meeting. It's not supposed to be comfortable."
If you're feeling resistant, know you're not alone. Take note of any stereotypes you possess, which have wrongly plagued the field. Common misconceptions are that therapy is for “crazy” people or that to go, something must be actively wrong. You don’t need a diagnosis to go to therapy.
“Just like physical health the sooner you come in the better,” says Lindsay Fleming, a licensed therapist in Chicago who treats children, teens, and young adults. “If you have a broken foot and you keep walking on it, the pain and injury is going to get worse. Why suffer more if you know there is help that is out there?”
A potential reason why? Shame. It underpins the stigma and can make us feel inherently flawed. Defined by psychologists as a self-conscious emotion, shame can make you believe that you're inadequate and unworthy of being loved or accepted. But just like joy and sadness, shame, too, is an emotion—one that we all experience at some point or another. Even the folks who appear to have it all together and beam with confidence can fall prey to shame.
"If someone gets diagnosed with cancer, there's no shame, everyone runs to support you, but for those with a mental illness, a disease of the brain, it's looked down upon," says Karena.
Even with awareness, overcoming shame and finding a therapist can be really difficult. That's why we have crafted the ultimate guide on how to find a therapist, so without further ado, here's the 411, everything you need to know.
How to Find a Therapist
1. Check your insurance.
While it may not be fun, it’s important to know what your insurance will and won’t cover. “The first step is begin scouting out therapists that accept your insurance, identify if you prefer particular gender, specifications, or credential,” explains Arron Muller, a licensed clinical social worker, adjunct professor, and CEO of Modify Wellness, Inc., a nonprofit that provides resources and information on mental health to individuals, families, and programming for corporations around mental health.
It's also worth noting that therapists may offer a sliding scale, which is is treatment priced based on person’s income. “This exists to help make therapy more attainable to those with hardship,” explains Muller. “For those who cannot afford to pay, you may reach out to your human resources department for referral to the Employee Assistant Program; many times they offer six to 12 free sessions.”
2. Identify any immediate needs.
Therapists may specialize in a particular need, like marital issues or grief, which is great should you be hoping to heal or grow within a specific realm. So, ask yourself, what are you looking to gain from therapy?
“If you want to work on your relationship with your partner, it may be best to look into someone who specializes in marriage/relationship counseling,” says Muller. “If you want a deeper understanding of your emotions, then you may need to look for a psychodynamic therapist.”
3. Talk to a family member or friend.
Once you have identified the type of therapist you’d like to see, consider asking your family members and friends for recommendations. “From my experience personally and professionally, word of mouth is the best way to find a therapist,” says Fleming. On the other hand, a fit for them may not be the best fit for you, and that’s okay!
It's also normal to feel nervous about telling the people in your life about your interest in going to therapy—it can be hard to open up. “I often remind people that we cannot control how other people feel or how they act, we can only control our reaction,” shares Fleming. “It is okay if people do not understand why you want therapy, and you do not have to convince them.”
A tip to approach the conversation? “Let your friends and family briefly know that you’re struggling and taking steps to feel and do better in life,” explains Brad Brenner, PhD, a licensed psychologist and cofounder of the Therapy Group of DC and the Capital Therapy Project, among many other organizations. “Let them know that telling them made you nervous and thank them for giving you time to speak to them.” And if you do choose to keep this part of your life private, that’s also perfectly fine–there is no right or wrong decision.
4. Resources to find a therapist.
In addition to talking with loved ones, you can also find a great therapist online.
There are plenty of websites you can reference, such as:
Online research is helpful for someone who is therapy curious. “On therapists’ websites, they’ll see photos of therapists and what their offices look like,” explains Brenner. “This may sound overly simplistic, but in my experience, it helps folks to figure out some crucial questions, like, Could I see myself talking about my struggles to one of these people? Could I see myself in their office or talking to them online?”
However, Brenner also warns that websites like Psychologytoday.com can generate hundreds of results and be overwhelming. To combat this, he recommends contacting multiple therapists at once to quickly narrow your search. You can also contact your Employee Assistance Program at your job for information or your health insurance provider for further recommendations.
5. How long you should stay in therapy?
Once you have made it into therapy, you may wonder how long you should continue sessions—and the answer varies. “There are cases where therapy is brief, focused, and short-term and only require a few sessions,” says Brenner. “Others may require a few months or even years.”
Whichever situation you find yourself in, try three to six sessions to see if your therapist is a good fit for you. This is important because the first few sessions will be solely focused on telling your life’s story and what’s bringing you to therapy.
Should you decide to continue your therapy journey, review your treatment goals with your therapist periodically, and, remember, the great thing about therapy is that you are in control of your treatment, and you don’t have to keep going. “Therapy is not like school, where you are learning lessons and are given homework you will be graded on,” explains Fleming. “It’s more about creating a space and guiding you to help yourself find yourself and improve your mental health.”
Other Ways to Support Your Mental Health
A final word of encouragement: “Like the Nike sign, ‘Just do it’,” says Fleming. “Oftentimes stigma, feeling like your problems aren’t big enough, or not being ready to change are barriers to starting treatment. Again, therapy is a space for you to work on what you want! You are not forced to do anything, and you can always stop at any time.”
If you’re interested in other modalities to better your mental health, consider practicing mindfulness, yoga and meditation, reading self-help books, praying and exercising.
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