When Should You Find A Counselor, And How Can You Find The Right One For You?
Updated March 04, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
While therapy once carried with it a significant stigma, more and more people are turning to psychology and psychiatry to understand themselves better, any mental health symptoms they might be experiencing, and any overwhelming feelings or experiences they might have. Therapy is no longer for the crazy or the rich but is instead trickling into virtually every socioeconomic background and every state of health. With ever-increasing therapy modalities and providers, should you find a counselor for your own needs-and how?
Who Is Therapy For?
Therapy is often thought of as a treatment reserved for people who have "real" problems, versus being designed for anyone and everyone. This stereotype, thankfully, is inaccurate; virtually anyone can benefit from meeting with a therapist at some point or another, whether meetings are designed to soothe a trauma, ease an emerging disorder's symptoms, or simply act as a form of mental health maintenance, much like exercise is often used as a form of physical maintenance.
Therapy can be for anyone who feels overwhelmed in their life. Feeling overwhelmed can come on the heels of a large promotion, a life change, such as marriage or welcoming a new baby, or after the death of a loved one. It can also arise as a symptom of a disorder, as is often the case in depressive and anxiety disorders. Experiencing powerful swells of emotion and feeling as though your life has become far too overwhelming are excellent reasons to seek out a therapist.
Just as excellent, though, it is seeking out a therapist to learn more about yourself. Working with a therapist without a formal diagnosis of a disorder or condition can also be helpful; therapists are trained to help you learn more about yourself, including your motivations, your fears, and your triggers, so seeing a therapist can mean not treating an illness, but simply diving deeper into your own psyche and learning as much about yourself as possible in order to carve out a life for yourself that you truly love.
What Can Therapy Treat?
Therapy can treat a host of issues. Although therapy often focuses on mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders (think depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder), these are not the only concerns therapists can help with. Therapists can help you work through a contentious relationship, dysfunctional family dynamics, and workplace skirmishes, as well.
Therapists are also excellent resources for simple understanding; you might struggle to understand why you feel so sad in response to seemingly happy stimuli, such as a national holiday. You might struggle to get along with your friends, despite having been in touch for over a decade, and need some insight into what has shifted in your relationship. You might even just want to understand why you sometimes blurt out painfully awkward comments each time you are in a group of people. All of these situations (and more) can be covered by a therapist and may be elucidated with a professional by your side.
Therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment method for numerous mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, Bipolar Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder, all of which can have debilitating symptoms if left untreated. Therapists are powerful in their practice and scope.
Are There Any Restrictions In Therapy?
The most common restriction related to therapy is insurance; most insurance companies will not cover therapy unless the patient in question has received an actual diagnosis. Going to therapy sessions without an eventual diagnosis could result in having to pay out of pocket. Some therapists or practices might offer sliding-scale services, some might find just enough symptoms to construct a diagnosis, and some might simply require up-front payment for services. If you are un-or-under-insured, this may be your greatest roadblock.
There are also privacy concerns to discuss with your therapist. Although most of what you say in a therapy session is protected to preserve doctor-patient confidentiality, there are a few instances in which this is not the case. These instances include: abuse, either at your hands or at the hands of others, presenting a danger to yourself or others, or acknowledging a significant crime. In all of these cases, additional mental health professionals might be involved, or the police. All other discussions between patients and providers, however, should be protected by privacy laws.
Some therapists might not have experience working with a particular condition, set of symptoms, or malady, and maybe more comfortable referring you to another provider with experience. This could be the case where addiction is concerned or other mental health concerns that can lead to dire consequences, as these conditions must be treated and monitored carefully. This does not mean that your condition is not treatable; instead, it means that your chosen therapist may recognize their limitations, and want to find you a better match.
How To Find A Counselor
Finding a counselor can be one of the most daunting aspects of seeking professional help, as many people are not sure where to look. There are a few simple practices you can employ to make sure you find a counselor for your needs.
Check with Your Insurance. Your insurance may play a significant role in which providers you are and are not able to see. Some insurance companies have large networks of providers, while others have only a handful of doctors they work with. Before you enlist the help of anyone else, check with your insurance (if applicable), to determine whether your sessions will be covered.
Ask Around. Ask family, friends, or even trusted coworkers where they go for their therapy sessions. This is an excellent way to find therapists, as your loved one can give you a quick rundown of the therapist in question, and you can at least partially determine whether or not the therapist is a good fit for you.
Check Credentials. Although few insurance companies or trusted friends will direct you toward someone who does not have the proper credentials to treat disorders or practice any form of mental health service, you should always double-check your provider's credentials, to make sure you are working with a trained professional.
Research Your Symptoms. Researching your symptoms can give you an idea of what type of therapist you might need to look for. A therapist who has a background in trauma, for instance, if you have PTSD, will better suit you than a therapist whose primary a form of treatment focuses on Bipolar Disorder. Researching your symptoms will give you more clarity, and could help you find your ideal mental health provider.
Check Online Registries. Some websites offer databases with lists of therapists, organized according to region, specialty, or certification. These websites are often easy to navigate and can be found on sites such as Psychology Today.
Finding the Counselor Who Fits You Best
Not every therapist you come across will work well with you, or your symptoms. You might enlist the help of a particular therapist, only to discover that they do not quite fit with your personality, or your schedules might not work out. The first therapist you see is not guaranteed to be the best fit; it may require a bit more research.
Before enlisting the help of a therapist or therapy practice, interviewing prospective therapists may be a good idea. A quick phone call, to speak with a prospective practitioner, could be good enough or meeting with therapists in person to determine if the two of you are a good fit could be in order. Remember: you do not owe your practitioner anything once you have begun therapy with them. If you do not feel safe, comfortable, or supported in your therapy journey, you can always stop sessions with your current therapist and seek help elsewhere.
Moving Forward With Therapy
Therapy can be a wonderful, practical tool for people with and without serious mental health conditions, but it can also be a wonderful tool for people who are mentally healthy and want to learn more about themselves or others. Although therapy has long been regarded as a form of treatment alone, therapy can also function as a preventative, keeping people emotionally healthy amid trauma, emotional overwhelm, or even just day-to-day life that could otherwise develop into mental health conditions.
Regardless of the exact treatment method utilized-talk therapy, for instance, versus Structural Family Therapy-there is likely to be a therapist who is not only available to take new clients but who has some experience working with an issue you are facing. Even therapists who are newly-graduated are required to complete a certain number of clinic hours to receive their degree, so you can rest assured that any therapist you select will have some amount of practice.
Deciding whether to use a therapist can seem like a difficult one, that should be decided on the quality of mental health alone, but even healthy people can benefit from therapy. Finding a therapist is easier than ever before, with plenty of local resources (think crisis and community centers), online registries, and even online therapy services, such as ReGain.us. What was once a privileged ability is now available to most people with insurance and a mental health need, and can provide healing even in difficult circumstances.