October 9, 2023

What to look for so you can get the most out of your therapy sessions.

Mental health is crucial to our overall health. While tools like mindfulness, meditation, getting quality sleep and other forms of self-care can help improve mental health, sometimes we need the help of a therapist. With so many options out there, however, finding a clinician may feel daunting. You may be wondering how to find a therapist and how to get the most out of therapy.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I looking for therapy?’” explained Emma Finan, a psychotherapist in Vanderbilt’s Adult Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic. Knowing your reasons for seeking professional expertise will help you find a therapist who is the right fit for your unique needs. Take the time to really think about this, she added.

Why you might seek therapy

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I looking for therapy?’”

You might decide to try therapy for specific reasons. Maybe you’re having an issue that you’re trying to work on. Or perhaps you’re grappling with a trauma. Other reasons include the desire to change habits or patterns that are no longer serving you.

You may also be seeking therapy for something less specific. “More people are wanting to get to know themselves,” said Finan, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “They’re wondering, ‘What motivates me or how come I keep doing the same thing?’ Another reason people seek out therapy is for self-improvement and self-development, which helps promote confidence and a sense of self-worth.”

How to find the right therapist

Different types of therapists have different credentials, training and specialties. A clinical psychologist, for example, will have training in research and therapy. They’ll have the credentials of PhD or Psy.D. A licensed professional counselor (LPC-MHCP), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) all have master’s degrees with a wide variety of specialties.

How to find a good therapist

“You want to have somebody who has experience working with the issue or preferably has specialized training/experience in this area.”

Check to see if the person is licensed, Finan said. And review the experience and training to ensure it matches with your needs. “Whatever the presenting problem is, you want to have somebody who has experience working with the issue or preferably has specialized training/experience in this area, for example, in trauma, psychosis, etc.,” she said.

If you have a mental health diagnosis or are in a psychiatric crisis, Finan said to contact an established hospital or clinic to ensure the therapist is experienced working with the diagnosis, as you might need additional services, such as medication management.

Additional considerations

You may also want to consider logistics. Do you want to meet your therapist in a clinic? Or do you prefer virtual sessions or even a hybrid option? “There’s much more accessibility with online therapy, as some therapists work evenings and weekends,” Finan explained.

“Demeanor and vibe of the therapist are also important.”

Also investigate whether the provider will accept your health insurance or if you can get reimbursed. Often online therapy options do not take insurance, though some do. However, online therapy tends to be more affordable than in-person sessions.

“Demeanor and vibe of the therapist are also important,” Finan said. The therapist’s style might or might not work out for you. Some therapists have a more active style and do a lot of problem solving and collaboration. A different style might use reflection and silence as the main driver — all grounded in the psychotherapy models. As a patient, you may prefer one approach over another. Regardless, your therapist should be helping you work on the things you want to work on rather than what they want to focus on, Finan explained.

Once you find and try a therapist, you may be wondering how long you should see the same clinician before deciding whether they are the right fit. “There’s no definite number,” Finan said, “but I always suggest giving somebody a try three or four times.” Although it might sound intimidating, she added, tell the therapist if something does not sit well with you. “Therapy is a very personal journey, and you want to get the most out of your sessions,” she said.

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Vanderbilt Behavioral Health offers highly specialized and personalized care for children, teens and adults, with a range of outpatient and inpatient services.

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