There are many things to consider when looking for an individual therapist or a mental health treatment center. Yet, many people don’t take any time to do the necessary research. The result of choosing haphazardly is that you may find someone who is not a good fit, or doesn’t have the necessary experience to truly help you. You wind up wasting your time, money, and energy and postponing your opportunity to get better.
Spending even a few minutes to think through your selection criteria will help greatly in finding the right therapist. Here are some considerations:
1. Therapist experience and specialty. Look for programs that are facilitated by qualified individuals with past experience in the particular area of treatment. If you are battling with addiction, you don’t want to go to a generalist. You want to speak with someone who has worked through the particular challenges of that condition. If you are an adolescent, you don’t want to go to someone who has no experience working with people in your age group.
2. Testimonials from past clients. It is important to see client feedback, even if published anonymously. Given HIPAA restrictions, it is very difficult to publish full names of clients. So, you will have to trust the anonymous testimonials that are published by the therapist or center. Do they have testimonials from clients who are working through a similar situation as you? Do they have both older and more recent testimonials published on the site?
3. If joining a group therapy setting, like an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), group meeting attendance levels are important. Look for a program that has enough participants to remain intimate and beneficial, with good group conversations. Some group-oriented programs will just pile people into the room for financial reasons, or because they don’t have enough of a specialization. While there is no ideal group size, we tend to find that smaller groups are more beneficial for our clients.
4. Availability of free consultation and initial group meeting participation. while a free consultation is not always necessary, it’s good to know that you have the option to “kick the tires” so to speak. Note that attending a free group session may not be appropriate. Typically, a center will want to meet you in private first to assess your situation and fit. But after this is done, it’s possible to ask to sit in on a group session before officially joining.
5. It is a two-way street. It is good when a center asks pointed questions to assess client fit. This shows that the program administrators care about the impact that a new patient will have on their existing patient base. Sometimes, the sign of a quality center is one that actually turns potential clients away. Of course, if the center is not able to take you, for whatever reason, they should at least give you a solid referral to another center or individual therapist.
6. Availability of therapists outside of formal sessions. Some situations call for quick access to a therapist to discuss an urgent matter. Depending on the condition, people will often have relapses or will have situational emergencies. Sometimes, you wan’t wait until your weekly appointment. It’s good to have access to a treatment center or therapist who can take the occasional emergency call. This sort of availability also goes a long way towards strengthening the bond between patient and therapist and ensuring the therapist is truly vested in your well-being.
7. Treatment planning sessions and the creation of a personalized treatment plan. There are various things that can go into a plan and this will be discussed in another article. What is important is that the treatment center or psychologist takes the time, up front, to understand your situation, your background, and your objectives. Together, then, you should work towards creating meaningful milestones, setting expectations for what progress looks like, and discussing the course of care.
8. Cost considerations. Find a therapist or program that takes advantage of your health benefits and fits in your budget. But also realize that therapy is not free. How much you want to invest into your therapist is a direct indication of how serious you are about getting better. You are about to invest a lot of your time and energy into overcoming whatever issue you are working through. Give the therapists the respect they deserve and invest in them so that they may invest in you.
9. Availability of external resources. If the condition requires external support, it is good to find a therapist who is networked and has access to outside groups, adjunctive therapies, etc. Often times, therapy is not a one-trick pony. A good psychologist or treatment center will look for the right combination of internal and external resources to help you. Additionally, when it comes time for discharge, it’s good to know a therapist that can align you with external and long-term resources to help you on your on-going journey to mental wellness.
10. Track record. While it is hard to find accurate information about how effective a therapist is, reviewing testimonials can help. If you are joining a group like an IOP, talk to the other participants and see how they are improving. It’s important to note, as well, that the entire health field is quickly moving to a demonstrated efficacy of care model. More and more, doctors and therapists of all areas will be judged and compensated by insurances on the results they deliver for their clients.
11. Rapport. During the initial consultation, it is important to establish some rapport with the therapist. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to find a therapist who validates your every statement. At times, therapy requires tough conversations and helping you look at your deepest thoughts and feelings. Going through this journey with someone you feel safe with is key.
Selecting a psychologist or a psychology treatment center should not be done without some research. Some people just choose the first therapist that shows up on their insurance company’s in-network list. Spending time to assess some of the above criteria also takes away some of the emotional resistance that some people have towards seeking help. By focusing on the research itself, the exercise becomes less emotional and more analytical. People often hesitate to even pick up the phone. This way, the first call becomes less about “I need help and I don’t know what to do” and more about “help me understand why you will be a good therapist to help me through this period of time in my life.”
All the best.