Beginning the search for a therapist can be intimidating. It’s easy to think that a therapist is a therapist — they all provide the same service, right? Really, therapists are as unique as you are. So if they are all different from each other, how does one know where to look?
When taking the first steps in finding a therapist, it’s important to remember that you’re looking for a person who can help guide you. But when faced with many options, how do we know which to choose? How do we even know how to make that choice?
If you are thinking about therapy, actively searching for a therapist, or even currently in therapy, let this post be a small source of information. As always, remember that SEWA has a 24/7 crisis line (952-912-9100) and offers free 30 minute one-on-one counseling sessions.
Do I Need a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist?
Before searching for a therapist, it’s important to understand what the options are. We often see these terms used interchangeably, and while there is some overlap, there are differences to be aware of. For the purposes of this post, we are simply using “Therapist” as a general, catch-all term.
Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists
Psychologists and psychiatrists are often confused with each other. The primary difference is that psychiatrists are medical doctors and psychologists are not. In Minnesota, psychologists are required to hold a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD).
There are also differences in approaches to be aware of. Psychiatry focuses on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders. As medical doctors, psychiatrists look at medical history and the body’s interaction with the mind.
Psychology focuses on thought, behavior, emotion, and other factors to help us learn about ourselves. Approaches often seek to identify patterns of behavior or negative habits that can be addressed, and make recommendations for the best course of action.
So which is best for me?
Everyone’s situation is unique and what is best for you is ultimately your decision. However, we can offer some insights on situations that may call for a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
- If the issue you are addressing is relationship-focused, a psychologist may be better.
- If mental health symptoms are interfering with your daily life, a psychiatrist might be the better option.
- If you want to discuss an issue you are having and work through it in one-on-one sessions, a psychologist would be a good start.
- If you are interested in medication for relief from symptoms of a mental health disorder, a psychiatrist is a good first step.
Remember that, after meeting with a psychologist, it may be their professional opinion that a psychiatrist would be a better option for you. Likewise, a psychiatrist may determine that a psychologist would be better suited.
What Should I Look For In a Therapist?
When meeting with a therapist for the first time, there are some “green flags” to look for that indicate you’ve found the right fit. It is important to remember that you are never obligated to stick with a therapist if it doesn’t feel right. However, it’s often the case that the actual therapy doesn’t begin in the first meeting.
A general rule of thumb is to give it three sessions. After all, the first session is often about housekeeping details, getting to know each other, and feeling comfortable. If it doesn’t feel right in the first session, don’t move on just yet — but still hang onto that first impression.
So, what should I be looking for?
A Safe Space
The space you and your therapist share should be judgement-free. You should be able to freely express your feelings and share what’s on your mind. Honesty, openness, and safety are paramount. If you don’t feel like your therapist is maintaining an open atmosphere, it will likely not be the best fit.
Therapists are not one-size-fits-all. Many have their own specialties and it is important to do your homework to know if a therapist will even possess the correct skillset and experience. If you are fighting depression, there are therapists who specialize in treating depression, and so on.
It shouldn’t be difficult to talk with your therapist. We have a lot of cultural misunderstandings about what therapy entails, including what your relationship with your therapist is supposed to look like. This is a person with whom you will potentially be meeting over several months. It should be easy to talk and get on with them. If not, then you won’t get the most benefit out of your sessions.
Validation, Not Judgment
A therapist’s job isn’t to express approval, disapproval, or any other judgement. Whether or not they agree with or approve of your decisions or actions is irrelevant. A good therapist avoids passing such judgments. Your therapist should validate your thoughts, emotions, actions, and experiences. They acknowledge what you tell them as the truth of your experiences.
Therapy is about personal growth, which can be difficult. Your therapist is there to be your ally, and sometimes that means challenging or questioning thought or behavior patterns. However, if they make you feel stupid, guilty, or broken in doing so, that’s a bad sign.
To Wrap Up…
Remember that therapy is not one-size-fits-all. Some therapists have experience relevant to what you are facing. You might click with some therapists better than others. It is perfectly fine, and actually better, to “shop around” before deciding on a therapist.
The most important thing is your mental health. Your therapist is supposed to be your trusted ally, so don’t settle for less. It may take some time to find one who is the right fit for you, but it is a worthwhile time investment when you do. Please do not be afraid to reach out to us for assistance if you need it — you don’t have to be alone.