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Demystifying Therapy: 5 Insider Tips for Finding a Good Therapist

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It's a new year, you've set new goals, and you've decided it's time to go to therapy. Now what? Entering "find therapist" into your google search window is not going to help. There are a lot of therapists out there, but finding the right one for you can be as daunting as trying to find a good date online.

After more than 15 years of seeing a variety of therapists myself, I've had my share of bad experiences. I once met with a therapist who greeted me at the door dripping sweat and dressed like Run-D.M.C. (sans gold chain), straight from the gym. And while I don't think a therapist's outfit is a reflection of competence, I do appreciate a person who cools down first and dresses in a professional manner. And then there was the woman whose first question was "So, what's wrong with you?" Not exactly the best way to create a sense of safety.

But don't let me scare you off, I've also had amazing, life-altering, not-sure-what-I-would've-done-without-'em therapists. So even if it sounds like you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your "theraprince," the result is definitely worth it. Below you will find my top five tips for how to find an awesome therapist.

(Still not sure therapy is for you? Check out my top five reasons why everyone should go to therapy.)

1) Ask People You Trust For Recommendations
Asking people you trust for recommendations is a great place to start. This could be a friend, family member, coworker or other health professional. If someone you trust can make a referral, this can act as a prescreening process. If you have a friend or family member who is a therapist, they would also be a good person to ask as well. Therapists tend to have good information about other reputable people.

2) Pick a Specialist if Necessary
Think about why you are seeking help and if necessary, find someone who specializes in treating your particular issue. If you are struggling with something very specific like OCD, ADHD, addiction or an eating disorder, it is very important that you see someone who specializes in the treatment of these disorders. There are evidence-based protocols which are used specifically to successfully treat issues like those listed above. If you are seeing someone who doesn't have specific training in your issues, you might be wasting your time and money. Also, someone who claims to be an expert in everything is likely an expert in nothing. The field of mental health is just too broad for any of us to be experts in all issues, so beware of someone who claims such things.

3) Use the Web, But Don't Be Limited By It
The web is a great resource for locating and learning more about local therapists. Psychology Today has a comprehensive listing of therapists and allows you to search based on several different factors. To be listed on Psychology Today, therapists must prove that they have an advanced degree and up-to-date professional license. You can read profiles or click through to individual therapist websites. If you are immediately turned off by someone's tone, listen to your gut and keep searching. Just make sure you are looking in industry-appropriate locations. For example, Yelp is great for restaurants, but the same principle doesn't apply to therapy. Finding a good therapist is a lot more nuanced than finding out which restaurant makes the best duck-fat fried Brussels sprouts.

4) Interview People Who Might Seem Like a Good Fit
Once you've narrowed down your list of potentials, give them a call. Get a feel for what they are like on the phone. Do you feel comfortable talking with them? Do they seem interested and empathetic? In addition, you might ask the following questions:
A) What is your style like?
This is important. Even if someone is a very skilled therapist, his or her style may not jive with yours. Try to get a feel for what it would be like to be in the room with the person. Are they active and engaged or will you be doing most of the majority of talking? Will they be giving you homework or will all the "work" happen in the sessions themselves?
B) Do you have experience working with my issue? If we were working together on this issue what can I expect?
You want to make sure that the therapist has familiarity and is comfortable working with the issue that brought you to therapy.
C) What is your theoretical orientation?
There are many different schools of thought in psychology and each therapist approaches problems differently based on their training and theoretical orientation. For example, a psychodynamic therapist might focus on childhood history, dreams and the unconscious roots of your behavior, while a cognitive behavioral therapist will help you identify problematic thoughts and help you shift those thoughts and their resulting behaviors. There are many different ways to approach the same issue, and while you may have no idea specifically what style you want or need, make sure that what the therapist is proposing is something that sounds aligned to your personality and needs.

(For a more detailed description of some of the most popular types of therapy click here.)

5) The Relationship Is More Important Than the Resume
Don't be overly focused on finding someone with long list of accomplishments. Just because a therapist has written several books or has a busy public speaking schedule, it doesn't mean that they are the right fit for you. Research has found that the most effective therapists build strong therapeutic relationships with their clients and have highly developed interpersonal skills including warmth, acceptance, empathy and the ability to accurately identify how a client is feeling. So give more weight to how you feel in the room with the therapist, rather than their list of accomplishments.

Now that you are armed with strategies for finding a great fit I wish you the best of luck in your search. I hope you find the therapeutic experience as rewarding and life altering as I have. Happy therapist hunting!

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