Going through a rough patch? Thinking about finding a mental health professional for an emotional tune-up? Well, think of yourself as a consumer of services. The time, emotional energy and money you will spend will be a major investment for you. You want to be confident about your choice of the person with whom you will work.
Be an active participant in this process. The best results will come from insights you gain, behavior you change, and the emotional equilibrium you attain. The therapist is there to facilitate your learning about yourself. He or she is not there to impose his or her views on you.
Here are some time-tested suggestions to help with your search:
Define Your Goal and Ask for Referrals
One of the best ways to start is to visit your employee assistance (EAP) counselor and ask for his or her help in defining your primary concerns. With the counselor's help, decide what it is that you would like to gain from time spent with a therapist or counselor. A few sessions with your EAP counselor may be all you need to resolve current concerns. However, you may want to spend time beyond the EAP to learn more about your personal issue. If that is the case, and you are ready to invest the time and effort in therapy, ask your EAP for a referral. Referrals may also come from friends, family members or your doctor. Just remember, what was right for someone else may not be right for you.
Consider How You Will Pay for the Service
One of the first things the EAP counselor may ask is, "What kind of health insurance do you have?" That's because the EAP counselor's referral is not always available to you through your health plan. Many insurance companies limit referrals to a pre-selected group of mental health professionals, something the EAP counselor must consider when recommending someone. These "preferred providers," as they are called, can be licensed psychologists, counselors or clinical social workers. They are trained, at minimum, to the Master's degree level and most have extensive post-degree training. They may refer to themselves as a therapist or counselor--the terms are interchangeable. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are medical doctors who specialize in mental health and can prescribe medication as well.
You might decide you don't want to use your insurance or you want to work with a mental-health professional who does not accept insurance payments (many of them do no). If you go this route, know that the counselor can provide you with a receipt for your "private pay" sessions, which you can submit to your health insurer for out-of-network reimbursement, if permitted under the plan. Your HR department should be able to provide information specific to your plan.
Put Potential Therapists Through Their Paces
This is the time for you, as a consumer of mental-health services, to do some comparison shopping. The credentials of the person you select may come from training in social work (an MSW), counseling (an LPC), psychology (a Ph.D. or Psy.D), or psychiatry (an MD). The credential--and the training it represents--is important, but it's less important than the rapport you establish with the therapist and the therapist with you.
• Telephone three or four names on your list. You may ask what you wish, but suggested questions can be: When are you available? Where are you located? What do you charge? What are your areas of specialization? Do you offer a sliding-fee scale based on need or lack of insurance? Do you charge for an initial appointment? What is your policy regarding missed appointments (important if your job requires travel)?
• Discuss your insurance and financial situation openly at the first interview. You want to be comfortable with the payment arrangements or this may become an issue which blocks good rapport and results down the road. Some professionals offer a "sliding scale payment arrangement" to accommodate your financial circumstances. That can be an important consideration if you choose not to use your insurance.
• Take stock of what you see, hear and feel. At the end of the phone conversation, you will have a sense of the personality of the individual, his or her pace or tempo, and of his or her ability to hear your questions and concerns and respond to them in a satisfactory way.
• If you liked your initial contact, ask the therapist for one appointment so that you can visit their office and meet them in person. At that time, you can briefly summarize your reasons for seeking assistance and ask how they would help you. Ask about their training, years of training and any specializations.
• Do not commit to one person before you have interviewed several potential therapists--either by phone or in person. Some individuals find this an anxiety-raising process just when they are already experiencing elevated stress levels. It is, however, the best way to learn the differences in people and therapeutic approaches. It is important that you make an informed choice.
• Agree to meet for a specified length of time with certain goals in mind. If, as time passes, you do not feel you are nearing your goals, do not hesitate to tell your therapist. Pay attention to your "gut-level" feelings about the therapist. Expect a clear and helpful response. If you are not satisfied, consider ending therapy with that person. There are many other talented people from which to choose.
Always keep these questions in mind:
• Does this therapist seem to respect me and give me a sense of personal worth?
• Can this therapist cut to the tough issues and still leave me feeling supported?
• Can this person get me through emotional times in a way that leaves me feeling more confident of myself?
• Does this person really listen to me? Does he/she help me realize new ways of understanding myself?
• Do I believe I am getting something valuable out of this experience?
Therapy can be a very positive experience. It is not always painless, nor are your alternatives always easy ones. If you have confidence in your therapist, stay long enough to accomplish your immediate goals. If it has been a good experience, you can always return.
For more information send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Helene W. King, Ph.D. Edited by Greg Kelly
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