Congratulations! You’ve decided to find a therapist, or help a friend find a therapist. Here in Boulder, Colorado, we’ve got a lot of therapists to choose from. On one hand, this makes it easy because you have access to so tons of people with different speciality areas, personalities, etc. On the other hand, having so many choices can quickly become overwhelming. I’m going to break it down for you in 10 detailed steps, so you’ll wind up with a therapist who is just who you are looking for.
VISUALIZE YOUR YOUR FANTASY THERAPIST: Close your eyes. Imagine the person you fantasize helping you through your most personal and important struggles. Imagine meeting your goals with this person, transforming your life, having important insights, and breaking through your toughest obstacles to change. Picture both the physical and emotional environment that would help you most comfortable, most safe, and most empowered to tackle whatever it is that you’d like to work on in therapy. While you are visualizing this situation, write down what you see:
What are some traits of the person you imagine - are they warm and nurturing? Is their style more direct and no nonsense? Are they active in session or more of a quiet sounding board? Are they funny or serious? Do you have a gender preference or an age preference?
What is the physical office like? What you will feel like when you walk in the office?
What is the emotional climate like? How does working with this person make you feel?
LOGISTICS: Think about what is important to in terms of logistics. Therapy is a major commitment of time, energy and money. You want to make sure you show up for appointments and you minimize the amount of extra stress therapy is going to create for you.
Location--what part of town your therapist is located in can make the difference between constantly feeling rushed and running late, and feeling relaxed when you walk into your appointment.
Parking--Do you need parking? Will have to allow extra time to find parking?
Scheduling--What time of day will work best for you and what days of the week. You’ll need to make sure you find a therapist who has a schedule that meshes with yours.
Budget--think about a monthly budget for therapy rather than how much you’d like to pay per session. That way, when you find your ideal therapist the question will be, how often can you see her/him, rather than ruling him or her out based his or her session fee.
CONSIDER THE STYLE OR TECHNIQUE OF THERAPY THAT WILL WORK BEST FOR YOU: In Boulder you’ll be able to find therapists who not only treat every specialty, but use varying modalities of therapy. Here are some examples:
Talk therapy (insight oriented)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (more behavior oriented and manualized)
Play therapy (not only for kids!)
Dance or movement therapy
Specific trauma therapies such as EMDR and Brainspotting.
Pet assisted or equine assisted therapy
Religious or spiritually based therapies.
CONSIDER THE SPECIALITY THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR: Along with technique, you’ll want to make sure that you find a therapist that has some expertise in the ISSUE that you are seeking help with. Examples of issues include:
START SEARCHING AND CREATE A LIST OF 3-5 NAMES: Now that you’ve got a good idea of who you are looking for, it is time to start your actual search. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Using some keywords such as the specialty area and/or style of therapist you want to work with, do a google search. Example: “Attachment based play therapist in Boulder, Colorado” or “Play therapist, Boulder, Colorado.” “EMDR trauma therapist, Boulder, Colorado” or “Couple’s Therapist, Boulder, Colorado”
Search on paid listing site such as Psychology Today or the Boulder Psychotherapist Guild.
As your doctor, teacher, friend, coworker, or family member for a recommendation.
Once you have spent some time visiting websites and looking at profiles online, create a list of 3-5 names and phone numbers/email address of therapists that seem to match up (more or less) with your fantasy profile.
MAKE APPOINTMENTS TO MEET WITH OR TALK BY PHONE WITH THOSE 3-5 THERAPISTS ON YOUR SHORTLIST: Now it’s time to actually contact some people. For lots of us, this is the hardest step. Most therapists will try to make it easy to contact them by having a form you can fill out on their website. If you make a phone call, be prepared to leave a message. Most therapists aren’t able to answer their phones very often because they are in session with other clients. When leaving a voicemail or email, just say your name, your phone number, that you are interested in talking with them about therapy or setting up a consultation, and when a good time for them to call you back would be. You don’t need to get into specifics of your problem unless you want to. Ultimately, your goal will be to set up consultations with a few different therapists (at least three). Most of the time this will happen over the phone, sometimes in person. When you talk to the therapist, just notice how you feel with them. Of course you might be nervous and uncomfortable, but do you like the sound of their voice. Do they seem to listen and GET your issue. Do you feel comfortable moving forward with them. Are the logistics a good fit for you.
CHOOSE ONE THERAPIST AND MAKE AN APPOINTMENT!!!: Once you’ve interviewed a few therapists, pick the one you like best and schedule an initial appointment. Trust your gut on this (and you can always change your mind). And if none of them feel good, go back to step five and call some more people. When making an appointment, be sure you get information like where their office is and how parking works, how much the session will cost and payment options, and if there is any paperwork to bring with you to the first session. And then sit back and congratulate yourself. You’ve completed a huge and difficult task!
GO TO YOUR APPOINTMENT, BREATHE, BE HONEST: It is really common to be super nervous about going in for a first appointment with a therapist. It’s also normal to be excited. Afterall, you are probably eager to start working on the issue that is bringing you into therapy in the first place. If you are nervous, just let the therapist know. Tell her what your concerns are. It's less important that you start working immediately on the problem, than it is that you start building a relationship with your therapist. Sharing the feelings you have walking in the door is a great opportunity to see how it is to be honest about your feelings. Doing that is a great first step for therapy and will give you and your therapist a chance to talk about what is real and going on in the room right at that moment.
CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF ABOUT HOW THERAPY IS GOING: After you have done a few sessions with your new therapist, check in with yourself and evaluate how it is going. If you like the therapist but feel you need to give him or her some feedback about what the focus of sessions are or any other issue, go for it! If you have the feeling that it is really not a good fit after all, trust your gut and bring it up with your therapist. Thats, right, instead of just canceling, I strongly recommend, that you bring it up with your therapist. Sometimes just by talking about what’s not working, things can shift, but even if they don’t it is a great opportunity to practice expressing what feels true for you. In most other relationships you’d have to worry about hurting someone’s feelings or suffering some ramifications of being honest, but in therapy, it is your job just to be honest and curious about your feelings. And it’s your therapist’s job to honor your feelings. After you’ve had that uncomfortable and honest discussion, tell your therapist that you are going to look for a new therapist, and go back to step one, with this new experience under your belt, and start your search again.
And REMEMBER: You don’t need to worry about hurting the therapist’s feelings. It is a powerful experience to being able to advocate for yourself and express your feelings--one that is so difficult for us to do in other relationships in our lives. Don’t lose out on that opportunity.
GET THE MOST OF THERAPY: Now you’ve found a therapist who is a great fit, your job is to get the most out of your work with him or her. How do you do that?
Attend appointments consistently: the more you make therapy a part of your routine the more the work you are doing will infiltrate your life.
Think about therapy outside of the session. As you notice patterns emerging in your day-to-day life, bring them up with your therapist. Also, pay attention to times you think about therapy (or your therapist) outside of your sessions, and bring that up in therapy.
Notice obstacles to change. As you start the process of change, you might notice conscious or unconscious resistance to change. This is so normal, but SO important to notice and talk about.
Talk to your therapist if anything about your interactions in therapy upset you or make you react. So often our interactions in therapy mirror patterns we have in our other relationships. What so cool about therapy is that week can talk about it.
What do you do to get the most out therapy? What other tips would you recommend to someone looking for a therapist for the first time? I love to help people connect with the perfect therapist, so don’t hesitate to call me if you are stuck and need some suggestions.