If you are recovering from a substance use disorder or even just considering getting help, a good therapist should be part of your foreseeable future. Substance use issues are rarely just about drugs and alcohol. They are almost always embedded in a nest of trauma, mental health issues, dysfunctional relationships, and other unhealthy behaviors. Just trying to abstain from drugs or alcohol without addressing these other issues is difficult and typically short-lived.
If you have been through a treatment program already, finding a good therapist is an excellent way to stay on track and work on applying the lessons of treatment to real-life challenges. Even if you don’t see your therapist regularly at some point, it’s helpful to have someone to call when things get tough. However, the task of choosing a therapist is not that simple. If you live in a mid-sized city, there are likely hundreds of options. And now that more therapists are holding remote sessions, you have even more choices. The following are some ways you can find a therapist you like.
Ask for Recommendations
Asking for recommendations is a good place to start. There are several ways to go about this. Probably the single best way is to ask a therapist. Therapists know each other, know what their colleagues specialize in, know their treatment styles and personalities and, most importantly, know who to avoid.
The best situation is if you have a friend or relative who is a therapist because they know you and can better match you to someone you might work well with. However, if that’s not an option, you probably know someone who is in therapy. If they like their therapist, you might contact them and ask for recommendations or have your friend ask. You might even consider seeing your friend’s therapist. It doesn’t hurt to put them on the list. Keep in mind, though, that therapists have rules about conflicts of interest, so your relationship to the person will affect whether you can see the same therapist.
Another possibility is to ask your doctor for a recommendation. This has the particular advantage of allowing you to describe your needs in some detail without worrying about confidentiality. However, it’s also important to make sure your doctor’s recommendation is based on personal knowledge and they’re not just picking a name off a list.
When asking for recommendations, always ask for two or three names so you have some options.
See Who Your Insurance Covers
If you’re paying out of pocket, this isn’t quite as important, but if you’re relying on insurance to pay at least some of the cost of therapy, then this will narrow down your options to some degree, depending on your insurance. If you can afford it, it might be worth it to pay out of pocket even if you do have insurance. That way, you’ll be making your decision based on who you really think is best, not based on who is willing to accept your insurer’s rates.
There are several online listings of therapists. The most comprehensive is on the Psychology Today website. There, you can narrow down your choices by location, issues, type of therapy, insurance, and other factors. Not everyone is listed in these directories but you can usually find several strong candidates. Their profiles often link to their professional websites so you can get more info. Do not look on Craigslist for a therapist.
Check Cut a Few Before Committing
It may be tempting to just commit to the first therapist who looks like a good fit. However, there is sometimes a huge difference between a good fit on paper and a good fit in person. Start by calling or emailing a few promising candidates. See if you can do a 10 or 15-minute consultation. This should give you a pretty good idea if this is someone you feel comfortable talking to and has a therapeutic style you feel good about. Doing this over the phone instead of coming in for a whole session makes you feel less committed to a particular therapist.
Ask About Their Specialization and Experience
When you email, or during your initial consultation, be sure to ask about their background, their education, and their experience with your particular issues. Where they were educated is not nearly as important as their relevant experience. This is especially important because most people struggling with substance use issues will need a therapist who specializes in addiction and something else.
Most therapists will list depression and anxiety disorders among their areas of expertise, since these, by far, affect the most people. However, you should be able to get a sense of their specializations--whether they primarily treat children or adults, families or individuals, and specific issues like addiction, PTSD, sexual abuse, and so on. Beware of therapists who claim to be experts in everything.
Ask About Their Approach to Treatment
Different therapists have different treatment philosophies. Some are happy to use whatever works while others are more orthodox. Most therapists these days rely heavily on cognitive behavioral methods but there are still some practicing psychoanalysts. More therapists are now incorporating things like mediation, exercise, and healthy eating into their treatment. Some have a more religious or spiritual bent while others pay close attention to the science. Ask open-ended questions like, “How would you describe your approach to treatment?” The more research you do beforehand, the better questions you can ask.
Ask About Price
If your insurance covers a therapist, ask about price anyway. Insurance is still very dodgy about covering mental health. Even if a therapist is in-network, you may end up having to pay for sessions exceeding a certain amount per year. In other words, in October, you might discover that your insurance has paid for all the sessions they’re going to pay for that year and you’re on your own for November and December. Or your therapist may drop your insurance, meaning you have to pay out of pocket if you want to continue working with them. Either way, it’s best to know what it might cost you and decide accordingly. Often, therapists will work on a sliding scale, so ask about that before you decide you can’t afford to work with a particular therapist.
For some people, a good therapist is all they need to change their substance use habits. For others, a therapist can help them make the often difficult transition from treatment back to regular life. For anyone with co-occurring mental health issues, a good therapist is crucial for maintaining recovery. Ask for recommendations, do your research, ask questions, and take your time deciding. There are many good therapists out there but there might not be many good therapists for you. At The Foundry, we know that good mental health is the core of a strong recovery. That’s why we use a variety of evidence-based methods to help our clients address co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.