If you’ve decided to pursue therapy, you’ve already made an important step toward caring for your mental health and creating change to have the life you deserve. But getting to that decision is only the beginning. Many people feel unsure how they should proceed, now that they’ve decided to find a therapist.
What therapy is all about can be confusing at first, so you may not even know what questions to ask. However, there are some basic ways to clarify which therapist is likely to be the most effective person for you to work with. If you’re struggling to figure out the next step, here are some of the issues you can consider to help get you started.
What Qualifications are Important?
Although your mental health is the most critical issue, insurance details need to be considered too. Not all therapists may be covered by your insurance, so it’s important to understand what is required. These coverage requirements aren’t just bureaucratic hoops to jump through; they exist to protect patients and ensure that the health care professionals they work with are capable and qualified to help them.
A psychotherapist is an umbrella term for mental health professionals who help patients by using talk therapy. This classification includes many types of mental health professionals, including social workers.
A social worker will have letters after their name to show that they have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW). A BSW means that they have completed an undergraduate social work program, which usually takes about four years. MSW indicates that they’ve completed a BSW and added another year of post-graduate study at the university level.
An important designation to look for is whether a mental health professional is registered. This means that they’ve pursued additional, specialized education in their field at the university level, and they’re also registered with a professional college. Being registered means that they participate in continuing education and ongoing development of their professional skills. Social workers with these qualifications are Registered Social Workers (RSW), and psychotherapists are Registered Psychotherapists (RP).
These professional standards are required by insurance companies, so they generally only provide coverage for therapists with these credentials. To ensure that a therapist meets these standards, look for social workers with MSW, RSW after their names, or psychotherapists with RP after their names.
What Type of Therapy Do You Want?
Now that the insurance expectations are clarified, let’s consider what you personally may be looking for in a therapist. It’s helpful to have some idea of what you want from therapy to guide your search. Some patients begin this process by seeking a certain therapeutic approach.
Before we get into this, however, we must stress that you don’t have to know exactly what you’re looking for to start therapy. If you’re simply seeking relief from emotional pain, and you aren’t able to unpack your needs beyond that right now, please don’t let that hold you back. Therapy is a safe place to explore these questions.
Some patients may already have a clear idea of the type of therapy they’re interested in before they begin. You may have had another health care professional recommend a certain approach. On the other hand, it’s possible that your own research has led you toward a specific therapeutic style. Either way, it’s a good idea to narrow your search to professionals who specialize in the type of therapy you want to explore.
For example, many patients are drawn to the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has clear goals and measurable ways to work toward them. CBT focuses on exploring how thoughts and behaviours impact our emotions, and it can provide patients with relief in a relatively short period of time. However, CBT requires some level of homework between sessions, so you should be certain that you’re willing to commit to this work before you choose this approach.
Some patients who are facing more persistent, global issues may be best served by an approach such as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT). An offshoot of CBT, this approach pinpoints such things as emotional regulation and improving interpersonal relationships through changed behaviour. DBT can be life-changing, but it does require a high level of commitment, with homework and other efforts between therapy sessions.
For people who are living with the effects of trauma, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may be an effective treatment. This form of therapy can help patients to process traumatic events in a way that restores their ability to respond to these memories in a healthy way.
Again, you aren’t expected to come into your first session with a plan for your own treatment. One of the remarkable things about therapy is that it’s a collaborative process between you and your therapist. Patients often report that they were surprised at where therapy took them and the unexpected ways that healing came about. If you don’t know where you want to start, a therapist can guide you through the options that are available.
However, if you are interested in pursuing a certain approach, make sure that the therapist you choose has the skills you’re seeking. Together, you may decide to go in a different direction, but you want to be sure that the options you’re interested in are available.
Finding a Good Fit for You
Remember how we mentioned that therapy is a collaborative process? For therapy to be effective, you must feel comfortable with the person you’re working with. Unlike some forms of health care, how you feel about your therapist can impact the course of your treatment. After all, you don’t need to feel safe to share your emotions with a surgeon in order to benefit from their skills. But if you aren’t able to open up about difficult topics with your therapist, it will be hard to make significant progress.
It is completely reasonable to ask for a short phone consultation with a potential therapist to see if they might be someone you could feel comfortable working with. 10 to 20 minutes on the phone can give you a good idea about whether you want to move forward with someone. Trillium Counselling offers the option to have a 20-minute initial consultation at no charge.
There are also practical considerations to think about. During a phone consultation, it’s a good idea to have a list of questions you may want to ask. According to the American Psychological Association, these include the following:
What are your credentials? How many years have you been a therapist?
These are the things I’m struggling with (anxiety, depression, anger, substance abuse), and this is how they’re affecting my life. What is your experience with treating these types of problems?
What are your areas of expertise — for example, have you worked with adults or children primarily?
What kinds of treatments do you use, and what evidence is there to support their use for what I’m dealing with?
A professional therapist is happy to answer your questions and address any concerns you may have. Don’t worry about offending them by clarifying your expectations. Therapists want to establish an effective therapeutic relationship, and we want to work with you to see that happen.
Do You Prefer Online or In-Person Therapy?
One of the positive things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it made the option of online therapy much more common. Some people prefer the online format for a variety of reasons, while others find that they’re more comfortable working in person. Be assured that research shows that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional, face-to-face sessions.
During a consultation, you can discuss which setting works best for you. Not all therapists have online appointments, while others only offer virtual counselling. Trillium Counselling offers both online and in-person sessions to provide the setting that is most comfortable and effective for you.
You should also consider when a therapist is available to schedule appointments. If you need evening or weekend sessions to fit therapy into your schedule, be sure to verify if this is possible. The best therapist in the world can’t help you if you aren’t able to make an appointment with them.
Does Trillium Counselling Have What You Need?
Hopefully, this gives you an idea of where to start in your search for the right therapist. At Trillium Counselling, we believe strongly in the benefits of therapy. To help you get the most out of your work, we also believe it’s vital to find the right therapist to meet your needs.
For more information, we invite you to take a moment to read through the biographies of our therapists and see what each of them has to offer. If you’re interested in exploring therapy with any of our highly qualified mental health care professionals, please contact us today for an appointment or consultation.