Finding competent therapists

By Mike DuBose

All of us experience major distress during our lifetimes. As a result, our thoughts and emotions impact happiness, productivity, and relationships. Our mental and physical health are greatly affected by moods and circumstances. Some of us bounce back from life’s major problems, while others need extra help in moving forward. Taking care of our mental health helps us cope with life’s stressors and challenges so we advance into the future with greater degrees of happiness. We should remember we’re surfacing from a serious two-year-trauma that Covid has inflicted on us. When combined with other life struggles, many are at a breaking point.

Psychotherapy allows people to confidentially explore their deepest secrets and painful experiences with non-judgmental professionals in safe settings. Competent therapists help patients develop new ways to think about traumatic experiences that are controlling their lives. They become guides in moving victims to progress without fear. Unfortunately, therapy often carries negative connotations of being unstable, weak, or flawed. So, many avoid help and suffer needlessly.

As a former licensed counselor, I have worked with many professionals and here are some tips to “find the right one” for you.

Costs: Counselors charge different rates and some accept insurance and Medicare. Unfortunately, the August 2022 Wall Street Journal reports therapists often don’t accept either due to low payments or excessive paperwork. Because of Covid and the resulting stresses it caused amongst the population, many therapists have patient waiting lists and restrict their services to cash only. If you like your therapists who doesn’t accept insurance, after several visits, explore if they’ll accept a lower hourly amount by purchasing groups of discounted sessions in advance.

If you have private insurance, search your provider’s on-line directory for lists of approved network counselors. Also, www.psychologytoday.com suggests therapists by zip code. The website includes their fees, education, treatment therapies/specialties, accepted insurance plans and Medicare, hours-of-operation, and contact information, with brief introduction videos. Be sure to determine how many visits are covered by your provider.

Other Sources to Explore to Locate Therapists: Churches, friends, family physicians, and nurses are good sources. Look for the same practitioner to be mentioned. If you are concerned about letting others know you’re seeking personal therapists, just say, “I’m looking for good mental-health counselors for a friend.” Other helpful apps to consider are www.talkspace.com and www.betterhelp.com for on-line and telephone therapy.

Seek Licensed, Credentialed Professionals: Engage with therapists whose experience and education have been verified by your state’s mental health accreditation agency. Counselors have many credentials behind their names including PhD, LISW, MEd, LPC, MD, MSW, MS, MDiv, EdD, and PsyD. Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) require 3,000 hours of post-master-degree-counselling-experience. You want therapists who have received extensive education but also have a welcoming personality, and experience in specific areas. As you explore professionals, note differences amongst therapists who use talk therapy to help individuals make positive life changes. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained in diagnosing and treating patients, including prescribing medications. Many times, patients need both professionals. Remember most family doctors are not trained in diagnosing and treating mental health issues nor prescribing and monitoring psychotropic medications which can have side effects.

I have met many intelligent therapists with various degrees and certifications who were arrogant, poor communicators, quick to diagnose and treat. Look for someone who is warm, a good listener, compassionate, and highly competent. While you want to feel respected and understood, experienced therapists may eventually challenge you to confront your issues and emotions. Your goal is to find counselors who fit “your needs” and one who makes you feel comfortable and supported. A good patient-counselor-match is like finding gold. Avoid counselors who promise quick-fixes or cures and prescribe medications too early in the process. Don’t be tempted by therapists who say they treat anything and everything. You want a professional who has experience in your issues, so the fewer specialty areas they advertise the better.

Initially Consider Several Therapists: After thoroughly researching different professionals, schedule introductory on-line Zoom meetings, telephone conversations, or office visits. This first contact is for “both of you” to determine if the chemistry is “potentially” good for building a professional relationship. Let the therapist know you have researched background information to avoid wasting time probing their qualifications. Outline your therapy goals, symptoms, and concerns. Tell them why you’re seeking therapy. Inquire if they have experience in your issues and how they would approach working with you. Write notes on how you would like counselors to help you. For example, are you having relationship problems? Do you feel depressed and/or anxious? Have you experienced the tragic loss of a loved one? Professionals need to know what you expect in engaging with them and if they can help. Keep in mind, your symptoms may be the result of larger, hidden issues that take time to identify. To expedite progress, word process your life’s relevant story in a saved file for therapists. This should include problems you have faced during your life, professionals you’ve seen, symptoms, and medications taken. Give counselors this information to review before your first formal visit, even if you have to pay them.

The Bottom Line: For those who are suffering current painful events or tragic pasts, there’s hope. Don’t be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to seek help. The key is to find the right guide to help you live a happier life.The DuBose family’s purpose is to “Create Opportunities to Improve Lives.” Mike has been a staff member for USC’s graduate school since 1985, when he founded his family of companies, and is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for free access to his books and 100+ published articles, including business, travel, and personal topics and health research written with Surb Guram, MD. Write to him at [email protected]