Most people don't have any qualms about going to the doctor when they are sick. Many people, however, are hesitant to seek out professional mental health support. This is especially common among religious people who believe that their faith in God should supply all that they need in that area. The truth is that good mental health sometimes requires professional intervention, and almost everyone can benefit from having a licensed counselor help them navigate issues ranging from minor stress to confirmed diagnoses. How do you find the right professional for you? Here are some tips on starting the process.
Finding a great therapist is like finding a great partner. You need someone who is a good fit for you. Just like you wouldn't open the phone book and choose a name at random to start a dating relationship, you also don't want to use the yellow pages (or an online equivalent). Begin your search by asking for recommendations. If you want a counselor who is open to taking your spiritual life into account when guiding your sessions, it makes sense to ask your pastor or other church leaders for referrals.
You can also ask friends or colleagues for recommendations. If you have a close friend with whom you share a lot in common and who loves his or her mental health professional, it's likely that the therapist will be a good fit for you as well. Coworkers can recommend not only people whom they like but also those who are covered by your group insurance plan. If your company offers an employee assistance program, you may be able to find an in-network doctor you like. Finally, friends who are therapists themselves are probably well equipped to recommend a trusted colleague with whom they think you would get along.
It's a common misconception that once you visit a mental health professional, you are obligated to continue working with him or her. This is simply not true. In most mental health sessions, you are going to need to be vulnerable and reveal personal information to the professional you choose. You have the right to ask questions before and during the first session to see if you feel comfortable opening up to this person. If at any point you are uncomfortable or feel like you can't trust the therapist, you are free to walk away.
After you gather recommendations, you may have a few different professionals you are considering. Before you schedule your first session, gather some basic information about the therapists themselves. There are several standard questions they should be able to answer to your satisfaction:
- Where did you get your license?
- What certifications do you have?
- How long have you practiced?
- What are your rates?
- How many patients have you helped through this particular issue?
These questions get some of the practical concerns out of the way and can help you narrow down your list. If, for example, you believe you are having panic attacks, it makes sense to find a therapist who has extensive experience and expertise in dealing with anxiety.
You also want to ask questions that help you know what to expect from your first session. Ask what you need to do to prepare or if there is anything the therapist will expect you to bring. A seasoned professional should be able to set your mind at ease by taking the mystery and thus some of the stigma out of seeking help.
Just as there is nothing wrong with going to the doctor when you're sick, there is no shame in getting the mental health support you need. Once you find the therapist who is right for you, you may be surprised to see what a help his or her services can be.