As I look forward to my next steps in practice, I’ve been percolating on the idea of some kind of online self-help style course for trauma survivors. There’s a lot to consider to do this and do this well. So, even though I am in the early stages of development, I am seeking feedback so I can craft something that’s truly helpful. (Feel free to share your thoughts with me via this google form here).
In this process, something that’s come up is how tough it is to find a therapist, especially when you’re in the thick of it.
Can I afford it? Can I afford it in a potentially long term fashion? What if I don’t click with the therapists near me? Where do I start? What modalities should I look for? How will I know they can help? Will they get me? Will they speak my language but lack expertise? Or will they have expertise but not speak my language? Are they inclusive?
All of these concerns are so valid.
Therapy can be hard to access for a ton of reasons. And we often think to go to therapy only when we experience a crisis or when things get “bad enough.”
This is really tough. Being in the midst of darkness can make the search for a therapist emotionally risky. It can feel like a bit of a catch-22. What makes therapy therapy is connection. And, we are often drawn to go to therapy when we feel alone with unbearable emotions. That state of aloneness is often scary and connection is the antidote. Given that our social resources aren’t serving us well enough right now, we seek therapy.
Thus, the stakes are higher as our need for connection is greater, yet our capacity for it not working out is limited. And, therapy is like dating – you aren’t going to click with everyone.
So how do we find a therapist we’d be able to trust with our most tender parts while minimizing the risk of getting hurt or let down in the process?
As a therapist, I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve because finding other therapists is frequently part of my job description.
Before we get started – if you are in crisis, I recommend reaching out to crisis services as it may not be the best time for therapy.
With that in mind, if you are ready for therapy, here is my step by step process for finding a therapist:
1. Google It
The best place to start is with a simple search. These search term formats are pretty standard practice:
Perspective/Problem + Counseling/Psychotherapy + Your Location
Therapy/Counseling for Problem + Your Location
For example, you might try:
feminist psychotherapy Austin, Texas
trauma counseling Ann Arbor, MI
psychotherapy for anxiety Vancouver, BC
Sift through the websites that come up and make a short list of those with specialties that align with your needs. Then, put a star by those you have a good gut feeling* about.
*The idea of using your gut may seem *magical* but the thing is – a lot of what has been historically seen as magical now has science to back it up. Your gut feelings are far more reliable than it might seem, but that is a whole other blog post. For now, just tune in without judgment.
2. Use a Directory
TherapyDen is a newer directory and is still growing but it’s worth checking out (and signing up if you are a therapist). I prefer TherapyDen to PsychologyToday because it has more reliable search capabilities and is backed by inclusive values. Thus, you can search for a therapist who shares your values and is accessible to your specific needs. Also, the creator, Jeff Guenther, has always been open and responsive to any input that would make the site more inclusive and effective. Highly recommend.
Finally, Open Path Collective is also a great resource for finding a therapist with sliding scale spots.
Once again, take note of those who specialize in your needs and who you feel good about.
3. Contact the Therapists
Okay, odds are good that you’ve tried some of the steps above. If that’s worked well for you – AWESOME. If not, this next step is a game changer.
The challenge with the prior steps is that you still may not have a good sense of those therapists. Without a real good gut feeling, you may get stuck in analysis paralysis. I see it all the time.
Plus, the right therapist for you may not even be on a directory or have a website that conveys who they are. As therapists, we know we are not exactly known for having great websites.
(If you are a therapist reading this and wondering how to improve your web presence, check out anything by Kat Love. They help therapists shine on the internet without all the psychobabble. Practical advice and a variety of web products and services to help you show up as your awesome therapist self.)
So, here’s the trick: contact the therapist(s) who’s expertise and vibe you most align with and ask for recommendations. This might be one person. This might be someone in a different state or country. That’s ok.
The easiest way to reach us is usually via email. Often times we are unavailable to answer the phone because we are face to face with clients. Due to this, trying to call us can turn into a big phone tag situation. The key with email, though, is to protect your confidentiality by limiting what you say. You can do this by keeping the conversation general and speaking to what made you feel a sense of connection with the therapist. However, you know your situation best, if email is not a safe option for you, feel free to use the template below as a guide for leaving a voicemail.
This template is a helpful framework you can use to craft your email:
I’m reaching out to you because I am looking for a therapist who specializes in _________________. From your website / directory listing it looks like you specialize in this.
I also appreciate that you (reference something they said, some aspect or vibe you get from them, something that you connected with).
Based on what I saw, you might be a good fit for me, but I have a few questions:
(Insert questions here. You could ask about schedule availability, whether they are taking on new clients, whether they offer a free consultation, cost, location, extra knowledge / skills needed, accessibility, etc.)
With regard to the prior questions, I am looking for a therapist that…(share what you are looking for, but keep it tangible – there is no need to share personal details).
Do you think you might be able to work with me? If so, what are the next steps? If not, do you know someone who’d be a better fit? I’d love any recommendations you have.
A letter like this serves multiple functions. First, you are assessing if they might fit the bill. Second, you are asking them for recommendations so there is less pressure if it does not work out with them. Finally, you are providing basic information that a therapist would need to find an appropriate referral for you without revealing too much personal information.
Why this method works?
As I mentioned above, therapists have some work to do when it comes to improving online presence. Yet the web is the first place people go to seek help. As therapists, we get how hard this can be as this impacts us too.
For starters, it’s our professional duty to be able to make appropriate referrals. Both for when an issue is outside our professional scope but also when our caseloads are full. It’s also not uncommon for us to search for a therapist for our own therapy, supervision or consultation.
To do this well we often network, take note of who we get along with and keep referral lists of our most like-minded colleagues. We pay attention to what they really love working with and refer accordingly. We are also keen to know who’s like us and who’s not both in temperament and specialty. And, we have in-group trust and status with each other and can send a quick text to our closest colleagues to ask if they are taking new clients.
Finally, many of us have communities in the form of listserves, specific training or consultation groups, and Facebook groups that we can reach out to find referrals. These are hyper-local groups as well as international groups based on values or modalities. Moreover, these groups have very strict rules about how to ask for referrals while protecting client confidentiality.
By asking for recommendations from a therapist you have a good feeling about you are tapping into all the hard work we’ve done to streamline the search.
So if there is a therapist you really love on the internet – don’t be shy about asking them for help. More often than not, many of us are keen to lend a hand as we get how hard it can be to find a therapist.
A caveat, though: some therapists may not respond. Don’t get stuck on this. They are likely just a busy solopreneur. Move on to someone who can respond. There’s definitely plenty who want to help and have the bandwidth to do so.
I hope this helps. If you want to give me some input on your experience looking for help and your general thoughts on an online course for survivors (TBD), go here.