by: Emmalee Bierly, LMFT and Jennifer Chaiken, LMFT, Owners of The West Chester Therapy Group and the hosts of The ShrinkChicks Podcast

Let’s be honest, 2020 has been exhausting. Between the ever-changing landscape of childcare and work dynamics to the feelings of isolation and desire to return to some degree of normalcy, you may have found yourself thinking:  “I should probably talk to someone.” 

Yes! It is so crucial to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health – and talking with a therapist is a great place to start. We may be biased because we are the owners of The West Chester Therapy Group, The Philadelphia Therapy Group, and, coming soon, The Main Line Therapy Group (yay!) so you could say we love therapy. Here’s the twist, both of us went into the field because we had such negative experiences going to therapy ourselves! Yes, we’re sure those therapists were a great fit for other people, but they weren’t for us. We know first hand that it can feel exhausting finding the right fit and also how important it is to find a therapist who you connect with. In fact, the relationship you have with your therapist is the most important predictor of therapeutic success. So we were THRILLED when the amazing women of Belively & Co asked us to give you all some pointers on how to find the right therapist for you! Check out these five tips to help you find the therapeutic support you are looking for without wasting your time, money or vulnerability. 

  1. The Nitty Gritty.The first thing you want to start thinking about is howyou will be paying for therapy.If you’re using your insurance, you can request a list of in-network clinicians  in your area from yourprovider directly. Paying with an HSA/FSA? Most clinicians who take credit cards can take an HSA or FSA, so just ask! Want to pay out of pocket but be mindful of budget? Look for therapists who offer a sliding scale! There’s a large range of what therapist’s charge- typically somewhere between $75-$200a session.
  • Slim Down Your Options. When you start looking for a therapist, you will most likelystart with Google, which will bring up therapist search engines such as PsychologyToday.Com, BetterHelp.Org, etc.Many therapistswill come up in your surrounding areawith lots of choices to sift throughand the same general statements, “I am privileged to work with my clients, thank you for checking out my profile.” We can mock thesestatements because ours say the same thing (it isactually our privilege to work with you, you’re freakin’ awesome). 

With so many people to choose from, you will need to slim down your options. You can do this by asking yourself a few important questions. What matters to me about my therapist: gender? age? education? Alicensed clinician will have at least a Master’s degree. Some will have a PhD or PsyD. The most common letters/words you will see at the end of their name are: LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LCSW (Licensed ClinicalSocial Worker), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), and Psychologist. With the multitude of clinician types and profiles to sift through, this can get overwhelming. Pro tip: a quick way to narrow it down is to ensure they have experience in or focus on your personal, presenting concern. Struggling with postpartum? Look for someone who specializes in parents and postpartum. Want to begincouples counseling?LMFTs are trained specifically to work with couples and families. Feel free to email potential therapists to ask them about their fees AND ifthey have experience and expertise in your area of concern! If a therapist specializesin sports psychology,they probably are not the ideal therapist to discuss your sexual pain with (but if you test this theory please tell us the results we’d love to know what happens). You can also ask therapists if they provide free phone consultations. It is easier to get a feel for your clinician over the phone and get a sense of your ability to connect with them. As much as we love Google, our favorite therapist finding hack is Word of Mouth! Ask around! Ask people you know if they’ve had positive experience with a therapist or if they have heard of any they would recommend! Extra COVID-19 hack: Right now most of our world is virtual, and actually a ton of our clients have loved it. Especially many moms who can fit in a session during nap time! Be sure to ask your new clinician their virtual policy, and cancellation policy. Do you want to stay virtual after we go back to “normal?” Make sure they know that, and confirm they will still be offering it.

  • Shopping time. Time to shop! We recommend checking out multiple therapists. We suggest giving them 2-3 sessions to assess if they are the right fit for you – unless you left the first session feeling unheard or misunderstood. Here’sthe secret:youare the expert on you. We may have fancy degrees and have read a bunch of books but you know yourself, listen and trust yourself to know what feels like a good fit. It is okay if this takes a few tries. Like we said, the best predictor of therapeutic success is the relationship you have with your therapist.
  • Red Flags. Here are some things to look out for in an intake session:
    • Therapist self-disclosure: It is normal for a therapist to say, “Wow I love your bag, it’s from Madewell, right? One of my favorite stores!” It is not normal for your therapist to say, “I also feel like my mother-in-law is always criticizing me.” 
    • Therapist is talking more than you: Your therapist should not be interrupting you or talking over you.
    • Your therapist has bad boundaries: If your therapist is consistently late to your sessions, picks up personal calls or texts during your sessions, contacts you about anything other than scheduling or therapy, your therapist has poor boundaries. It is essential that your therapist is able to hold a space for you that is safe, consistent and comfortable. If at any point the boundaries make you feel uncomfortable, this may be the wrong therapist for you.
    • Gaslighting or Minimizing: If you have a therapist who says, “that’s not a big deal, you have so much to be grateful for,” run to the nearest Wawa get yourself a treat and go get a pedicure because you have been mistreated and need some self-care.
  • Green Flags. The right therapist makes you feel heard, safe, and challenges you! Therapy is more than just a degree and saying, “how does that make you feel?” Therapy is an art of connection. The right therapist for you will use their art and their knowledge to support you and work with you while you’re working through challenges and your journey of healing and growth. 

Maybe you clicked on this link because you were hoping for the magic recipe to make life easier and we wish we could give it to you. Just like most things in life, finding a great therapist for you is a combination of some research and some trust in self. You got this!

Emmalee Bierly, LMFT and Jennifer Chaiken, LMFT are the Owners of The West Chester Therapy Group and the hosts of The ShrinkChicks Podcast. For more tips and encouragement follow us on Instagram @wctherapygroup and @ShrinkChicks or reach out to us directly at Contact@wctherapygroup.com