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While many Americans are familiar with the process of finding a medical doctor that suits their needs, not everyone is comfortable and confident in doing the same when it comes to their mental health practitioner.
“Selecting a mental health practitioner doesn’t have to be a headache,” says Camille McDaniel, adjunct professor of undergraduate and graduate studies at Argosy University, Atlanta and founder/therapist at Healing Psychotherapy Practices of Georgia, LLC. “If you feel comfortable asking, family members and friends can be a great place to start looking for a practitioner. The Internet provides a wealth of resources when it comes to mental health and can be a great place to look into finding a provider to meet your needs. If you’re more comfortable speaking with a third party, your doctor and your insurance company can provide you with referrals in this area.”
Much as you would for selecting your family physician, look for a mental health provider with the appropriate skill set and bedside manner. “In addition to finding someone with the appropriate training, experience and competence to treat your particular issues, look for someone with the ability to establish rapport, develop trust, good listening skills and a genuine interest in your well being,” says Dr. Amos Martinez, adjunct professor at Argosy University, Denver and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. “The personal characteristics of a therapist are good predictors of a positive therapeutic outcome.”
Both Martinez and McDaniel recommend interviewing your prospective provider before seeking treatment. “It is important to understand the methods or approaches used by the therapist, their fees, and whether you can relate to them in a face-to-face session,” says Martinez. “Several mental health providers do not charge for initial consultations and are required, in some states, to provide you with a disclosure statement containing information about their academic background, licenses or certifications, methods of treatment, exceptions to confidential communications, and a statement about your rights as a client.”
When interviewing a potential provider, describe the challenges you are facing and ask about how they, as a practitioner, approach those kinds of issues. Find out basics such as the length of a session, fees and fee policies and discuss your insurance. “Just as with your medical doctor, as a consumer, you have the right to know approximately how long therapy may last and whether the method or methods used by the therapist are generally accepted or experimental methods,” says Martinez.
What can you expect on your first visit? Expect on your first visit to fill out forms and answer quite a few questions. A detailed history will be taken, which will help the practitioner determine how to best support you. The history will include your current concerns/challenges, medical history, mental health history, risks for harm, alcohol and/or drug use, abuse history (verbal, physical, sexual, emotional), legal issues, work issues, school issues, family history and support systems in place.
“Mental health therapy requires work on both sides of the treatment session,” says Martinez. “When you feel comfortable discussing any issue with your therapist and the therapist regularly reports any progress in therapy to you, those are indicators of a good fit.”