April 24, 2019

By Larry Shushansky, LICSW

I have been a therapist for forty years. I’ve also been in therapy myself, on and off, for about ten years as an adult. When it comes to therapy we often ask ourselves, which one is truly best for me? Is it individual therapy? Family? Group? Should I try attachment-based therapy? Cognitive behavioral therapy? Dialectical behavioral therapy? There are so many different types and strategies of therapy. And while it may be helpful to find that right type of therapy for you, I’ve found that the key to finding the best therapy is finding the right person for you. 
While someone may be an expert in a particular style of therapy, it doesn’t mean they are a match for you. They may have their own issues that get in the way of their effectiveness. They might not have the time or energy for the kind of issues you bring to them. If you feel you aren’t getting the kind of help you’re looking for—then it doesn’t matter what they specialize in.
Finding the right person can be difficult and time consuming. Across the U.S., there’s a shortage of competent therapists and stigma can make getting a good referral more difficult. Given this, here are a few things to keep in mind that might help make the process easier.

Finding a Therapist

When trying to find a therapist, try to get a referral from a trusted friend, doctor, family member or your insurance company. Also, check with local colleges and universities as well as looking on credible websites such as Psychology Today where you can find reviews, bios and other information about therapists in your area.
If you find a therapist you are interested in, feel free to call them. Talk to them and ask as many questions as you want. Do they take your insurance? If not, do they have a sliding scale (adjusted cost for sessions)? What are their hours? What is their training? How long have they been practicing? Do they have experience with your kind of problem or with what you’re trying to accomplish? Sometimes, you can even tell if a therapist might be a good fit by their answers on this initial screening call. 

Knowing It’s the Right Person

Once you’ve found someone and set up an appointment, make sure that you have a good rapport with them—that you feel comfortable, safe and can communicate easily. They should seem to understand you and your situation. It’s also important that they are willing to be flexible and attentive to what you need.
You should also try to get a feel of whether they can help you, or not. You may like them, but simply getting along isn’t enough. Sometimes, you can tell in the first session if they have the expertise you’re looking for. But, if you’re not quite sure, set up a second appointment. If you’re still not sure by the third session, and you don’t seem to be making any progress, you’re probably with the wrong person. Remember, mental health care is too important to stay with someone just because they may be nice or you don’t want to hurt their feelings. This is your life and mental health! Stay with someone who can be helpful.

Once You’ve Found “the” Therapist 

Once you’ve made your decision and are feeling pretty good about the therapist you’ve chosen, keep your motivation high. Make sure you keep appointments, jot down notes after each session and between sessions put into practice what you have learned in each session, regardless if your therapist gives “homework” or not. Make it a point to “do the work” not just attend the meetings. One of the most telling variables in whether you will grow from any therapeutic experience is your own motivation and level of effort. 
If you rely too much on any therapist, you might lose some of your motivation, which reduces the benefit of the therapy. For example, if a therapist comes highly recommended, or is published, you may put too much weight on them coming up with the answers to your problems. It’s easy to become too dependent on a therapist who is “good,” but this only serves to diminish our own resolve. We can pick the best therapist in the world, but if we enter therapy with a half-hearted motivation, we’ll get a half-hearted result.
I am not currently in therapy. However, I always keep my eyes and ears open for good, skilled therapists for when I might want to see someone or when I need a referral for someone else. Something just as important as therapy itself is taking the time to find the right person for you. Be good to yourself and take that time. 
Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com.


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We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices. Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.


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