It's a new year, you've set new goals, and you've decided it's time to prioritise your Mental Health and reach out to a professional. Now what? Entering "find a therapist/ counsellor/ psychiatrist/ Mental Health service" into your Google search window is not going to help. There are a lot of professionals out there, but finding the right one for you can be really daunting. Choosing a Mental Health professional is a big decision because working with the right one can be an important part of reclaiming your life, looking after your Mental Health and maintaining wellbeing. When you understand what factors influence the success of support services and know what to look for, choosing a professional can be a positive and productive first step on your way to better Mental Health.
Looking through an online directory may yield hundreds (if not thousands) of results. How do you pick someone to work with based on a short bio and picture? Finding a Mental Health professional can be difficult at the start but once you find the right person, it can be a beginning of a journey of empowerment, healing and transformation. Things like costs, scheduling constraints (it’s hard to find someone with open hours if you work a traditional 9-to-5), location constraints, general time constraints, and trying to grasp out whether or not the person you’re going to unpack your experiences to is the right one to help you unpack and repack it. It’s a lot to navigate, especially when you’re new to this. To help make that a little easier, we have tried to put out a few criteria you can think about when making that decision.
Ask someone you trust
A referral from a friend, colleague, or doctor you trust is one way to find a Mental Health professional who might be a good fit for you. While a referral is a good place to start, it’s important to recognize that you may have different needs and goals than the person giving you the recommendation. So do keep in mind that a good match for one of you might not be as beneficial to the other.
Consider who you might work best with
It is important to find someone that you think you’ll work well with. Some factors you might consider are gender, age, religion, orientation, cultural background to name a few. This doesn’t mean you’re being discriminatory, we all have our preferences and having someone who might better understand our Frame of Reference can help at times. On the other hand, if you don’t have an idea of who you want to speak to, that’s ok too. Finding someone who is a good fit for you can help you build a better rapport with them which can go a long way in the journey of recovery.
Think about the kind of Professional you need
There are a few different kinds of people licensed and qualified to provide support for Mental Health. Licensed clinical psychologists are trained in both psychotherapy and assessment testing. Licensed counselling psychologists are also trained in psychotherapy and perform functionally similar mental health services to Clinical psychologists, but typically don’t have doctorates or provide diagnoses. Psychiatrists primarily focus on chemical imbalances and have medical doctorates and prescribe medication. When unsure of where to begin, it can help to speak to your GP or seek an appointment with a Clinical Psychologist who can assess the situation, provide referrals if needed and help you formulate a treatment plan.
Matters of Cost
The reality is that there is a financial cost for counselling or therapy which can be a concern to many. There are many professionals who do participate with a wide variety of insurance plans or have the option of sliding scales available to help cover the associated costs. It can be beneficial to ask and work these out at the outset.
Convenience and scheduling is key
Convenience is key when it comes to getting the care you need and fortunately there are several options available. Be sure to look for someone with a location and hours that fit your lifestyle. Many providers now also offer both online and in-person sessions, allowing you to choose the option that’s best for you. Practical considerations like a convenient office location and scheduling flexibility are also important.
Experience matters when you’re coping with life’s challenges, and it can help if a Mental Health professional has a background and experience of working with similar issues as it can help improve your progress. You may opt to look at whether they have completed training in areas that relate to your situation, how many cases have they seen with the specific condition or the outcomes of their work.
Licensing is crucial
Credentials aren’t everything, but if you’re paying for a licensed professional, make sure they hold a valid and current license and are in good standing with the regulatory board. You may also opt to look for complaints against the professional and look out to make sure they have no history of malpractice of disciplinary claims. It is important to look at licensure as it reveals whether or not the individual has the necessary training, skills, authority and experience to provide Mental Health services.
It is important to think of what you want to accomplish from your sessions with the Mental Health professional, be it in counselling or therapy. When both parties work together toward the same goals, the outlook and outcomes will be better. If you want to be part of a supportive network of people who understand your experiences, you may want to consider looking for a professional who’s involved with support groups or group therapy sessions. Your goals may change as you work with a professional and it’s okay to talk to them about changing the direction of your treatment plan as your needs evolve.
This one is really tricky. There are many theoretical orientations and approaches to support, especially therapy and having a brief understanding of them can help narrow down the search and find a Mental Health professional who is in sync with the approach. For an individual who believes that there is an unconscious motivation for their behaviour, a professional trained in the psychodynamic approach would be better suited. For those wanting to change their thoughts and can benefit from the cognitive approach for instance. When in doubt over the theoretical orientation of a Mental Health professional, it is ok to ask them to explain their approach and how it would pan out in their work.
Reading what other people have to say about a Mental Health profession can provide insight into how they work, how their practice is operated and how they might be temperamentally. Reviews by patients typically also reflect their experience with scheduling appointments, wait times, office environment, and office staff friendliness. You can rely on the web and portals for reviews, or also ask your friends and family if you are comfortable in seeking help through a referral, or you may also choose to ask the professional concerned if they can provide any patient testimonials.
Trust your Gut more than their Resumes
The web is a great resource for locating and learning more about local area Mental Health professionals but listen to your gut. You may hear good things about a person or in the age of social media see that they have trendy content and lots of followers, but that doesn’t mean they are a good fit for you. You may want to see their content a little deeper, do their thoughts and ideologies resonate with you? If you find yourself immediately turned off by someone's tone or comments, listen to your gut and keep searching. It can be a very nuanced and time-consuming process, but it is worthwhile. Someone may look great on paper or online, but that doesn’t mean they will work well for you, and that’s ok. Don't be overly focused on finding someone with long list of accomplishments because just on the basis that a professional has written several books, or has a big social media following or has a busy public speaking schedule, it doesn't mean that they are the right fit for you. The most effective professionals in fact are those who build strong therapeutic relationships with their clients and have highly developed interpersonal skills including warmth, acceptance, empathy and the ability to accurately identify how a client is feeling - things which you won’t find on their resume.
Choosing the right Mental Health professional is a personal decision as that individual will help you overcome your unique obstacles and work toward your own meaningful goals. It may take a bit of research and even some consultations, but the right fit for you does and it is well worth the effort.
Written by: Yash Mehrotra
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