If you’ve made the difficult decision that it’s time to seek some professional help with any mental health issues you may be experiencing, then you are to be not only congratulated but admired for taking this brave step forward. It’s often hard to recognize or admit that we’re struggling from an issue such as depression or anxiety, much less realize that this isn’t something that is going to go away on our own or that we can fix it with a DIY approach of eating the right foods, meditating, or even adopting a pet. While all of these things might help to alleviate your symptoms, particularly if they’re very mild ones, therapy is something that has a much better chance of helping you get a handle on what’s really going on in your head as well as giving you coping strategies that can help you work through your problems. You can almost think of a therapist as a powerful flashlight that will help you make it out of the dark woods a lot faster than you could ever make it stumbling through on your own.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Adolph Brown, who is also an author, an educator, a speaker, and a powerful advocate for mental health, spoke with us about the next important step in your journey towards wellness: choosing the right therapist for you.
Decide what type of therapist would be right for you
Brown told us, “Before delving into the different types of therapy offered, I think it’s important to distinguish between the different kinds of therapists.” He explained that there are four main types of practitioners: psychologists, who ‘”help individuals cope with stress, and…are able to diagnose and treat mental health conditions,” psychiatrists, who “do the same with the enhanced ability to prescribe and administer medicine,” licensed mental health counselors who “evaluate and treat mental problems through counseling and coping strategies,” and licensed clinical social workers who “perform the same functions as licensed mental health counselors [and] in addition…provide case management and advocacy for patients.”
It’s also important to decide what type of therapy will best benefit you since, as Brown points out, “therapy is a huge investment into one’s mental well-being.” He says that while numerous forms of therapy exist, two of the most commonly used are psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). He explains the first by saying, “Psychotherapy is rooted in psychoanalysis, and this form of therapy focuses on how past experiences consciously or unconsciously influence one’s current state of being.” CBT, he says “is a bit less focused on the influence of feelings, but rather on ingrained behaviors,” and explains that this approach can be particularly effective when used to treat “difficult behaviors like smoking or drinking.”
Set your therapy goals
Once you’re clear on the different types of practitioners and therapies available, the next step involves asking yourself, as Brown says, “What do I want to get out of this?” He explains that “once the end goal is understood, then the search and selection process can begin.” As far as this process goes, he suggests you arrange phone consultations with several different therapists to learn a little bit about their style as well as their level of experience. Brown is aware, of course, that your selection will also be limited by your out-of-pocket cost (which in itself is determined by your level of insurance coverage), how accessible the therapist is (do they have appointments now, or 6 months out? are they around the corner, or 60 miles away?). He also brings up comfort level, something that may be influenced, he says, by “demographic components like race, sex, and age of each therapist” since you’re more likely to open up to someone you feel safe with.
Brown insists that therapy, to be effective, must be “a two-way line of communication built on the foundations of honesty, acceptance, and transparency.” He urges that, “if a match with a therapist doesn’t feel right,” in that case you are absolutely “not obligated to continue attending sessions,” but once you do find that right match, good things will definitely start happening.
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