Finding a new therapist can feel like going on a series of bad first dates, especially if the mental health care professionals you try out to start are nowhere near a good fit. During my journey, I turned to friends who had similar experiences, and I learned that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling to find a match for mental health maintenance. So don’t feel bad or give up if you haven’t found your doctor yet. As a 30-year-old woman, it took me over two years to find “The One.”
1. Are they tech savvy?
Ok, so this is still up for debate in a lot of psychiatric circles, as some professionals claim that texting with your shrink can negatively impact professional boundaries. But these days, quick-hit communication is part of life. Personally, I have terrible social anxiety and hate phone calls outside of a work setting, so having to actually call my doctor would just increase my anxiety, which isn’t exactly the point of communicating with a therapist. For me—and most other millennials—our primary means of communication is via text or email. So if you’re addicted to Snapchat and your doctor is from the Stone Age, it’s probably not going to fly.
2. Does their expertise match with my needs?
For me, finding a doctor who was “culturally competent” was a must. This meant that when a black girl walked in their office, they wouldn’t treat me like some far-out creature. Other folks I’ve talked with were adamant that the therapist they selected focused on PTSD. Not everyone in the field is equipped to deal with trauma… which can actually lead to more trauma.
3. Are they the right fit emotionally?
After two years of searching—and a number of encounters with therapists who couldn’t really identify with my issues—I finally found a therapist I was optimistic about. But once I actually found them, getting to therapy induced an entire new set of new anxieties. Would they think I was unstable and toss me away into an asylum if I was upfront and honest about all of my irrational fears? Any therapist worth their salt will make you feel comfortable and let you know it’s OK to open up.
4. Where can I find a good one?
When I moved to a new city not long ago, I didn’t have the slightest idea of where I could find a new shrink. I obviously turned to Google, but the search term “Portland psychiatrist” returns a whopping 536,000 results, which only increased my feeling of being overwhelmed. After several unsuccessful attempts of going directly through my insurance provider assistance program, I eventually turned to Psychology Today, where I was able to narrow down my search and actually filter physicians based on their areas of expertise.
5. Can I afford this… and what are my options if I can’t?
Although I am now #Blessed to have insurance, the psychiatrist I found is not in network. I chose someone out of network, because the in-network providers just weren’t compatible, and I had already exhausted all my options. Prices I encountered ranged from $500-$800 dollars a session out-of-pocket before I finally found a physician who was a fraction of that cost but also open to a sliding scale.
Many health providers and organizations will evaluate your financial situation and work with you at a rate you can afford, or at the very least provide access to resources if you think you won’t be able to cover the cost. To start with you can check out these 81 awesome mental health resources for when therapy is just too expensive.
6. What are their politics?
I am black Femme, extremely liberal, and believe in intersectionality, so many of my politics define my identity. Many of the people I spoke with preferred someone of the same gender, race, or even generation due to the fact that often our belief system is a factor in our recovery process.
As I navigate white supremacy and microaggressions on a daily basis, I needed someone who could empathize with or at least recognize what I was experiencing. Where I live now isn’t very diverse, so when I began my search, I knew I would encounter a lot of white health are professionals. It didn’t strike me as a problem at first, but as I began to meet with them, the sessions began to do more harm than good, as I had to sit through additional microaggressions or stop and educate the person who was supposed to be helping me. This soon became the most challenging part of the entire search.
That was until a friend told me she came up with a system that required meeting with the potential doctor candidate with a list of her own qualifications to measure their ability to identify with her culture and politics. If you add this phase of interviewing to the search process, you can uncover whether or not there is any chemistry to build a relationship through therapy.
These are suggestions are based on the author’s personal experience, and what works for your needs may vary.