Tips for Caregivers: Finding a Therapist for Yourself (with Suggestions for Your Loved One, Too)
January 7, 2020
If you have decided that it’s time to find your own therapist, you have taken an important first step towards balancing your wellness with supporting your loved one. Realistically, the process for finding one may not be easy. From working with insurance to physically getting to the appointment, obstacles can make it easy to admit defeat before even getting started. Here are some tips to guide and encourage you along the way.
Step 1: Understand what therapy is and isn’t
For you: We often hope that our doctors have answers to resolve all of our health issues, but medical professionals – including therapists – aren’t magicians. It’s up to you to do a lot of the work. Therapists will help you uncover your feelings and develop tools and coping mechanisms for addressing concerns. It’s crucial that you have realistic expectations and are ready to make changes in your life to make the most of therapy.
For your loved one: If your loved one has never been to therapy, ask them what they think therapy is like. Some people may think a therapist appointment means lying on a couch and either being told how to fix their life problems or talking to a non-responsive note-taker. Help dispel any myths by sharing what a typical session may look and feel like.
Step 2: Narrow down your reason for seeing a therapist
For you: Before you start contacting people, develop a basic understanding of the main area you are looking to address. This will help you choose the kind of therapist that may be most helpful.
For example, are you having trouble connecting with your spouse? You might look for couples counseling or a family therapist. Struggling to focus at work or worrying about something from your past? A social worker, psychologist, or licensed mental health counselor could be a good fit.
For your loved one: Ask your loved one about their main concerns. What do they want help with? It may be different from what you think they should get help for and that’s okay! If they don’t want to tell you the specific reasons why they want therapy, don’t push them.
Step 3: Choose a starting place to look for a therapist
For you: There are many different ways you can find a therapist! You can ask your primary care provider for a referral, contact the behavioral health line on your insurance card, search on PsychologyToday.com, or talk to your friends and family. While it’s helpful to have options, it can also feel overwhelming. Choose one place to hone your search. If you get stuck, try another avenue. For recommendations on where to start your search, visit our webpage on Finding Care (bookmark the page to easily find it again).
For your loved one: If your loved one is struggling with their mental health, they may need you to follow the steps above to get them started on the search.
Step 4: List your preferred therapist characteristics and review therapists in your area
For you: What kind of therapist do you want to see? Does their gender, ethnicity, age, type of therapy, geographic location, or insurance coverage matter to you? Take a few minutes to make a list of qualities that you’d like to find.
For your loved one: Brainstorm these questions with them. It may be difficult to find the dream therapist, so try ordering the qualities from most to least important. Using the starting place you selected (above), start reading the therapists’ profiles or visit their websites. Whether it’s for you, your loved one, or both, make a list of the therapists that you’re interested in.
Step 5: Find clarity for terms you don’t understand
For you: Medical providers can use a lot of jargon that may not be in our day-to-day vocabulary. If you don’t understand terms the therapist is using to describe themselves – like “trauma-informed” or “cognitive behavioral therapy” – look online to get a basic understanding. You can (and should) also ask the therapist to define such terms when you meet with them.
For your loved one: As part of your discussions on Steps 1-4 and after any therapist appointments, ask your loved one if there are terms they don’t understand. Email or print a list of simple definitions for them to have.
Step 6: Email or call to ask about availability
For you: Narrow down your list of providers and email or call one or two (or contact them through their website contact form). Calling is often more efficient, so if you don’t hear back from an email, make sure to follow up by phone. Start off by asking if the therapist is accepting clients. If they are not, move on to the next person on the list. Some therapists maintain waiting lists so, if they take your insurance or you can pay otherwise, you can ask to be added, but don’t let that stop you from continuing your search for someone who is available.
If they are accepting clients, schedule an introductory call or use this time to ask a few questions about their practice. (See “Questions for the Clinician” for ideas of what to ask. If possible, talk to a few therapists you are considering so you are able to compare and make an informed decision.
This part of the process can be very frustrating. You may have to make a lot of calls before you find someone accepting clients or that has the specialty that you need. Don’t give up. Take a break from the search if you need to or ask for help, but don’t stop altogether. The right therapist is out there.
Step 7: Choose, schedule, and attend!
For your loved one: Your loved one may be overwhelmed by the choices or nervous about calling, or feel too unwell to keep up with the process. You can make the first call on your loved one’s behalf and keep the information organized.
For you: Now that you’ve talked to some therapists, it’s time to choose the person you’d like to work with. Trust your gut! Who gave you a good feeling? Who do you think you can build a trusting relationship with? Decide which therapist you want to see and schedule your first appointment.
You may hear an inner voice telling you to cancel for whatever reason. Remember all the hard work that went into scheduling this appointment and make sure to attend.
Step 8: Reflect and commit
For your loved one: Depending on how well your loved one is, you may or may not have a lot of input from them at this point. Make the best decision you can keeping their needs and desires in mind and schedule the appointment. Offer to drive them there to increase the likelihood that they attend.
For you: After the appointment, take time to reflect on the experience. Did you like the therapist? Do you have questions that weren’t answered? If you’re unsure how you feel, try meeting with the therapist a few times. It can take a few sessions before you feel like you can connect with or trust your therapist.
However, if you don’t feel like you can trust your therapist, repeat the process and look for someone new.
For your loved one: Check in with your loved one after the appointment. Don’t take it personally if they didn’t click with the therapist right away. If they are open to seeing that therapist again, support them in this decision. If it was a total miss, verbally commit to helping them through the process until you find the right fit. Offer words of encouragement to help your loved one stay motivated.
Although the steps to get there may take time, therapy can be an incredibly rewarding experience for you and your loved one. Use these steps to invest in yourself and commit to wellness.