Let’s face it, folks, it’s 2018 and we have all heard the words “mental health therapy” before. Even if you think it’s pointless, you are aware of the proverbial couch where you lay out all your problems. And deep down, we all know we have some couch-worthy issue that we need to address. Even if we try to disassociate ourselves from it, the stats say otherwise. In 2012, an estimated 1 in 5 adults experienced mental illness and only 41% of adults with a mental health condition actually received the services they needed. In short, mental illness exists, but we aren’t getting the help we need.
In fact, African Americans and Hispanic Americans each use mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans. Between 2008-2012 only 10.3% of adult African American women used mental health services and only 6.6% of men.
We have all had that long look in the mirror and thought to ourselves, “I need help… I absolutely cannot continue like this”. We’ve made statements like “I feel overwhelmed… I need an unbiased third party to hear my situation… I just feel stuck… I lay in bed and worry about everything… I cry to myself and no one knows it…”
The key to changing your situation? Finding a mental health therapist. Period. Not brunch with your girls, not a guy’s trip to the DR… but a standing session with a licensed clinician.
But where should you start? I’m glad you asked. Here are five steps to finding a mental health therapist:
1. Identify your needs.
Why do you want to go to therapy? What makes you say, “You know what? I really need to sit down and talk to someone about this”. What makes you take that long look in the mirror and say “I can’t live like… something has to change”. It’s not that you need to have a definitive answer, but if you can narrow it down to a few keys reasons it will help guide you on what type of therapist you want.
Many therapists have specialties and will tell you up front if you would be better served by one of their colleagues. For example, in my practice, I do not treat children, but I have several colleagues that I frequently refer to.
After you’ve identified your needs, write down one sentence that best explains it. When you start to get a therapist on the phone, you may need to give a quick description of yourself… and this could get repetitive. Having a canned phrase will help with the process.
Try one of these:
“I experienced ____ and since then, I have been feeling _____”
“I don’t feel like myself. People have described me as ____ and I see it too”
“I feel _____ and I’m looking for help with ____”.
2. Identify what kind of therapist you would like to work with.
Once you identify why you want to go to therapy you can start to nail down what is important to you in a therapist. You may want to consider factors like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, years of experience, and clinical orientation. For example, if you are having issues with a boss at work, you wouldn’t need someone that specializes in grief or chronic pain. Conversely, if your work issues are related to racism or discrimination, it may be important for you to select a clinician that is culturally competent.
Write down 3-5 traits you would like in your therapist.
3. Start your search.
There are different ways to access clinicians. One option is to use your health insurance benefits. Please note that if this is your desire, it is best to start by calling the providers that you know, for sure, accept it. People are always tempted to start with calling providers in hopes that they take their insurance… this is backward. Imagine how discouraging it would be to cold call multiple people and repeatedly hear “No, I don’t take your insurance”. Just don’t do it to yourself. *Long pause…Bryson Tiller voice* Don’t.
Contact your insurance company and let them know you are looking for information on “mental health services”, or they may call it “behavioral health services”. Next, ask for a list of providers that accept your insurance.
Now, to be honest, having a long list with random names can be daunting. But to simplify, try cross-referencing it with database sites like www.TherapyForBlackGirls.com or www.PsychologyToday.com. These are well-established websites where you can see profiles of clinicians, visit their website, and read a little bit about who they are.
If you are okay with not using your insurance, then let your first step be the database sites. I recommend this if working with a specific clinician is more important than saving a few coins. And of course, use personal referrals! Do not be ashamed to ask friends and family if they know anyone or have ever met with a clinician that they feel could help you out.
Once you narrow down your list, feel free to visit their website and any public social media profiles to get a feel for who they are. During your search, please respect their privacy. Clinicians are allowed to have personal lives and are not obligated to share their personal business, family members, or weekend plans.
Write down 3-5 people you would like to call.
4. Make contact and follow through.
Call them. Email them. Make contact. Do not get a printout and let it sit on your kitchen table for a month. If you reach out and they don’t answer, *crazy idea here guys* leave a message! There is no point in calling and not giving them a way to call you back. Keep a list of who you called and track their responses. Ask about their office hours, cancellation policy, type of license, and their area of specialty. Gauge their responses: Do they feel non-judgmental? Do they listen to you when you talk? Do they have firm boundaries? All of which, by the way, is important in therapy.
Any clinician you contact, using the above channels should be properly credentialed. Want to find out? If you are in the state of CA, search the BBS website (https://search.dca.ca.gov/) and make sure! Anyone offering “therapy” or calling themselves a “therapist” should be registered with the proper accrediting agency and not just out her on Instagram living their best LIE.
After you make contact, schedule an appointment and GO. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is calling a therapist, giving an overview of their problems, and not following up because they feel a slight sense of relief from that brief conversation. Or they schedule an appointment, overthink the whole process, and end up canceling (or worse) no-showing for the appointment. Make contact and show up… it’s the only way.
5. Give it at least three sessions.
Unless something egregious happens right out the gate, give it at least three sessions before you decide to leave.
The first session is going to be an intake appointment. They’re going to gather information about your current situation and your background. I tell all my clients: everything is relevant. The more information you give, the better they can help you. They may ask questions about your psychological history, medical history, family history, any drug and alcohol use, etc. Any clinician that does not do an intake on the first session is a problem. Professional clinicians do not just start talking to someone without the proper paperwork.
In this session, you will also sign what is called “Informed Consent”. This document should outline what happens and does not happen in therapy. Make sure you understand the entire document before you sign it.
All subsequent sessions will, most likely, be standard therapy sessions and this is where you will have the opportunity to see what it really feels like to engage with this person. During the initial session, primarily, they will ask you questions without giving much feedback: this is normal. We have to learn about you and establish a baseline in order to determine the direction of your treatment. During your standard therapy sessions, we will ask questions, offer feedback, give you homework, etc.
It is a myth that you will always find the right person on the first try. This is ideal, because, who wants to go through this process repeatedly? But the reality is, therapists are people and sometimes people aren’t the right fit. Do not be afraid to verbalize this to your therapist or to terminate your services and find a new one.
Therapy is a very intimate and emotional process. Finding the right therapist can be daunting at times, but please persevere! The end result will be a version of you that is level-headed, clear-minded, and better able to manage your life.
As a specialist in mental health and overall wellness, Dr. Glenna offers a myriad of both individual and group services. Through her private practice, she teaches her mantra, “Therapy is a Lifestyle”, to help adults learn to manage their mental health before it becomes mental illness. Dr. Glenna currently offers small group workshops teaching “the strong ones” how to incorporate therapeutic & restorative techniques into their hectic lives.