The decision to seek professional support isn’t always an easy one.
Whether you are a therapy first-timer or re-starting with someone new, not knowing what to expect can trigger fear and anxiety. This discomfort and fear of the unknown can lead to procrastination and make it easier to avoid reaching out for needed support.
As a Registered Psychotherapist, I know that despite the discomfort it brings, the worry of seeking support makes sense. You are vulnerable and it is hard to share your personal story and struggles with a stranger – professional or not. This Two-Part Guide offers an inside look at the therapeutic process and what you can expect from beginning to end.
Part One – Finding a Therapist
What You Need to Know Before You Go!
A referral is simply the manner by which you are connected to a service or professional. Similar to other health services, there are multiple ways to end up in a therapist’s office. These include:
- Walk-In – Some clinicians offer a walk-in service where you are assigned a counsellor and given an appointment whenever you visit.
- Self-Referral – As it sounds, the self-referral happens when you make a call to a therapist office to arrange service for yourself.
- Professional Referral – This is the process by which a therapist receives a referral from another registered professional such as a medical doctor or other health specialist.
- Third-Party Referral – A third-party referral is a service request that comes from someone with whom you are associated, such as an employer, parent, spouse, or a service professional acting on your behalf (social service worker). This referral requires your consent (typically written) to be completed and acted upon.
Choosing a Therapist
Whatever therapy related word you submit, you will find no limit to the pages google will turn up. To avoid information overload or analysis paralysis, it is helpful to figure out a few things first, beginning with why you are seeking support and the kind of support you require.
Identifying Your Need
First of all – It is OK to be unsure of why you are visiting a therapist. For example, some clients who come in struggle to describe or understand what they feel or why they are struggling. Licensed therapists (also called clinicians) are trained to help you identify and understand your struggles better. This process is called assessment (more on this in Part 2). It is not uncommon for emotional or psychological difficulties to cloud our perspective and cause confusion, so don’t let being unsure of how you feel stop you from reaching out for help.
If you have identified a specific struggle or are seeking a specific kind of therapy, then you will want to seek out a therapist who is trained or specializes in your area of concern. For example, if you are having difficulty in your marriage or intimate relationship, you may seek a therapist who is skilled with or specializes in couples counselling. If you are seeking a specific therapy type, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, then look for a clinician who is trained in the modality you are seeking.
Recommendations/Word of Mouth
Personal recommendations can play an important part in your search as they offer some insight into a clinician’s skill, practice, and impact. A positive experience in therapy can often result in the client wanting to share their experience with others. If you decide to reach out to a specific therapist on the advice of someone you trust, keep an open mind. The relationship between therapist and client is an individual as any other. A fit for one person does not guarantee the therapist recommended will be a good fit for another.
Some great questions to ask (the person making the recommendation) include:
- What specifically did you like about working with Clinician X?
- Why do you feel they would be a good fit for me?
- What area do they specialize in?
- Where can I get more information about their practice or qualifications?
Factors to Consider
Aside from finding a “good fit”, there are other factors that can impact your choice of therapist. These include:
Cost of Service – The provision of mental health services can vary based on the individual or organization providing them. Some government funded programs and organizations offer free or reduced cost services (approx 0-$100/session). Therapists in private practice typically charge higher rates ($100+), with some offering “sliding scales” where the fee per session is determined by income.
Coverage – As an adjunct to cost, you may also consider any access or eligibility for benefit programs that will cover the cost of therapy. These could include group programs such as Veterans Assistance or Non-Insured Health Benefits programs offered by the Canadian government, Employee Assistance Programs offered through unions or by employers, mental health and para-medicine coverage through private insurance, or other funding resources aimed at supporting mental health.
Location / Mode of Delivery – As a direct result of COVID-19, more mental health professionals are offering virtual services than ever before. This provides you with the option of meeting with a professional in the privacy of your own home by telephone or through online video service. In some instances, therapist will also offer support via email or secure chat.
That said, if you prefer in-office support or if you are unsure of the modality that suits you best, ask about the modalities offered and the option to try different modes to see which is the better choice.
Therapist Qualifications – Seek out the services of a registered mental health professional. When a therapist is registered, it means they belong to and are required to adhere to the educational and practice standards of a college or regulatory body. Regulatory colleges vary from province to province but all exist to protect the interest of the public by regulating the practices they oversee. For example, a registered mental health professional in Ontario is a professional who has met the educational requirements and committed to upholding the practice standards of either the College of Registered Psychotherapists or the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). All colleges provide a roster of individuals who have been registered and approved to practice and also provide additional information on what the public can expect from its members.
Once you have considered the factors above, along with any other personal preferences and decided on a therapist, it’s time to set up an appointment.
Check Out – Thinking About Therapy Part 2 to learn what therapy looks like from your first call to your last appointment.