By Scott Marshall, CMHC Intern
“Look, I’ve got problems, no doubt – it’s just whenever I decide to get some help I end up spending 3 hours on Psychology Today until I just fall asleep. Then sometimes I decide I need therapy but then the next week I’m no longer sure. I swear, finding a therapist is almost as hard as dealing with my problem in the first place…”
If you can relate to this, you’re not alone.
I’m no expert researcher, but my experience has shown me that finding a therapist can be pretty challenging itself – on top of whatever challenge has you looking in the first place!
The Journey Before the Journey
One forgotten, underappreciated aspect of going to therapy is the initial decision just to reach
out and try to get some help – It takes a commitment to go searching.
Often there’s a triggering event that prompts the decision; maybe it’s a super painful moment in
your relationship, a new life event that absolutely rocks your world, or a particularly bad episode
of anxiety or depression that convinces you, “I need to find a therapist”.
Once that happens, it can feel monumental enough that it feels like that should be enough! The
next steps should be easy, right? Universe? Hello? Ok, I accepted that I want some help on
this… now what?
Enter the Therapy-Verse : Welcome to the Jungle
So you get online, and here every therapist is talking about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,
EMDR, Trauma-Informed, Existential, Eclectic, etc. Even if you have a clear cut “problem”
like substance abuse, relationship struggles, sexual issues, or something else, each of these
worlds have their own vocabulary.
All the degrees become a blur, and you can’t really find reviews online because leaving therapy reviews is questionable in terms of confidentiality, and asking for reviews would definitely be unethical. No big deal – just need to make a huge decision blind, right? You could always reach out to friends and family for recommendations, but hey, “if I felt great talking to friends and family about this stuff, I probably wouldn’t need a therapist,” right?
Embrace the suck…
So you’re on your own, sorting through potentially hundreds of profiles, trying to decide who
you’re going to come spill your darkest secrets to based on an old headshot photo from 5 years
ago and a paragraph or two of cheeky “life is hard, we can help” bios. Oof.
This is the point of the article where I’m supposed to have an elegant solution that finally makes
it easy, where I can happily explain that these problems are all in the past. Unfortunately, I don’t
have that solution.
What I can say is it’s worth it.
You might have to get creative – you might have to try a few intake sessions or informal phone
calls first to find a fit. And yes, you might have to face the reality that you’ll need to advocate for
yourself and potentially try on a few not-perfect fits before you find a therapist that really fits.
You may have to show up to a few intake appointments and then not continue, or you may have
to “get weird” and ask to know more about your therapist’s background and treatment
philosophy. Or even worse – you may have to be open about what’s working and isn’t working
for you, something that might feel as scary right now as the main challenge you’re dealing with.
Good therapy is kind of like a great pair of jeans—get it right and you’ll be amazed at the new
lease on life and confidence they can give you; get it wrong, and you’re uncomfortable every
time, overly self-conscious, and noticing it a lot. While many people tend to like jeans shopping
a lot more than they like shopping for a therapist, the efforts can really pay off.
In my experience, people who’ve thought about therapy and reached out for help have two
kinds of experiences:
1. They find good help, and look back a year or two later (or a month or two) in awe at how
different their life has become (for the better), or
2. They don’t find good help, their problem is still right there in front of them, and they’re
more frustrated than ever.
If you’re in camp #2, I encourage you to stay the course. That might look like changing
directions, but if you stay committed to the idea that your mental health and your future are
worth it, there are some amazing things that can happen for you.
For Those Who Really Need a Plan
If you’re really a stickler for getting clarity before you just jump into the process, I’ve found it
useful to write out my story onto one page. Try writing out just what you feel like is going on for
you and why you think you’d like some help. Give it a try and get a rough draft done, then let it
sit a day or two and go back and edit it until it makes sense to you and feels clear. As you go
through the process of writing, you might find some additional clarity and resolve about moving
forward. Plus, it’ll give you something to go on when you walk in the door.
I wish our therapy world was better at inviting courageous clients in, and that we could make it
easier. In the meantime, if you think you could use some help, may I encourage you – don’t wait!
Adjust your expectations that things might not be an instant success, but hold out hope that if
you stay the course, you’ll be advocating for yourself and opening the door to a future you’ll be
glad you fought for.
Much like therapy itself, the process might not always be our favorite, but the rewards can be