The CHAARG Guide To Finding A Therapist

Hello my CHAARG friends! I’m Lilie, a CLC on team CHAARG + MSU CHAARG alum [go green ; )] This past year I re-started the process of trying therapy + I want to share what I learned with you all. 

The Backstory 

I felt really overwhelmed during the process of applying to vet school in 2020 while I was still at MSU. The pandemic hadn’t hit yet + I just felt like my life was falling apart around me because I wasn’t getting into many schools. I went to MSU’s counseling service + my experience was, in summary, poor. I was told my options were to find someone to provide me long term care outside of school [without any guidance] or join group therapy. I was also getting the vibe that I had overreacted about my needs + that it was totally expected for me to feel this stressed. I walked out discouraged + confused ++ didn’t go back. *Disclaimer: my best friend went with me that day + had the opposite experience with the counselor she spoke to. I’ll talk more about this later but if you don’t find a good fit on your first try, keep. trying.

After that experience, I abandoned the idea of finding a therapist + didn’t revisit the idea until January 2022. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by veterinary school, being far from home, missing my friends + the honestly missing life pre-pandemic. Everything I’d avoided talking about was catching up to me. However, the same person [my best friend] I went with to find therapy at MSU had found her therapist match in October. She was so honest with me about her experience that I was inspired to start again + find a therapist for myself. 

I contacted my university services + found my perfect match right away [honestly, out of sheer luck] but I wasn’t able to stick with her long term because that wasn’t what my university had hired her to do. She “puts out fires” for all of the professional schools at my University. I was so upset but she encouraged me to find someone else for the long-term process who could continue to guide me through the feelings that veterinary school brings on. While I’m happy that I did it, it was daunting + uncomfortable. I hope what I learned in the process can help to streamline your journey! 

Finding A Therapist Is Like Dating

Preface: It will probably take longer than you think to find someone who can see you. Many people are seeking therapy right now! In my experience, I had to email offices to follow up + place a few phone calls/week to try to find someone taking new patients. 

This can be a discouraging feeling. It’s okay to take breaks in reaching out, but don’t give up – you got this! 

Your Online Search: 

  • First impressions mean something! When looking for someone, ask yourself how you feel reading their bio + seeing their photo [if they have one!] online. You will be sitting to chat with them about your life + if you don’t like the vibes from your first impression on a search engine, you may not like their vibes in real life [not always but this was a tip recommended to me by my counselor at school].
  • Learn about how they were trained. I was also encourage to look into what the letters after someone’s name means. I had no idea how important it would be to me how a person was trained BUT it manifests in how they practice. Therapy is a practice + my goals may differ from what some people offer! Learn more about the different letters after someone’s name + what they mean here.
  • Check out different types of therapy. Some people specialize in different types of therapy, too, like CBT, art therapy, coaching, etc. + if you’re interested in a certain technique, you should ask about that in your first session OR use the filters to someone who can offer that to you on Psychology Today’s search engine. Find the different types of therapy here!
  • Below are the search engines I used to find my therapist [note: this is not an exhaustive list, it’s just the resources that I used + might help you]!
    • Blue Cross Blue Shield “Find a Doctor” Search Engine. *BCBS is my insurance provider, but most insurance providers have a feature like this that will show you doctors in your area that are covered under your insurance.
    • Psychology Today. After using this search engine I googled the people that I thought would be a good fit for me to see if I could find any reviews or more info on google/yelp!
    • Pro: many people on this site take insurance + have almost immediate availability! Con: I didn’t end up using this platform because they asked me to pay a monthly fee to receive services.
    • SAMHSA. *Note: I’ve linked the search engine rather than the homepage. The homepage has a lot of information for services related to substance abuse as well.
    • Alma. Another great telehealth service similar to BetterHelp but works with your insurance!

Financial Barriers: 

It’s no secret – therapy can be expensive. This is one of the reasons I didn’t want to look into long-term therapy in 2020. However, in my most recent search I learned a few ways I could help myself to finance the experience.

  • University Resources: Despite my experience at MSU with one counselor – I am so happy I started here. First, it was free [bonus woooo!]. Second, a lot of counselors on campus are used to talking through issues that people at your college/university are going through + have an easier time ~relating~ to you [double bonus]. Every campus is different in what they offer students. If your university does not offer long-term counseling services [like mine] it can also be helpful to have a relationship with someone on campus who can talk you through the process, recommend therapists they know, + to support you in finding someone who is the right fit for you! *Note if you live near a college or university, look to see if they offer mental health services for people in your community!
  • If university resources aren’t an option: Do you have health insurance that covers mental health services?
    • Yes: If you do, you can search for therapists through their website OR you can put your insurance info into the search engine + find therapists in your area who accept your insurance.
    • No: Sites like BetterHelp offer mental health services at affordable rates [starting at $40/week + they offer financial aid!] in comparison to traditional practices.

**Check out this article for other tips on how to get treatment if you can’t afford it.  

Your First [Therapy] Date 

It can be intimidating to go to your first therapy session – so we actually wrote an entire blog post about what to expect during your first therapy session

*Note: if you go to your first therapy session + feel like it might not be your thing – that is okay. Traditional talk therapy is not for everyone. I encourage you to talk to someone about other options for you! You can also share with your therapist that you maybe didn’t totally *feel* it with them + get recommendations for other therapists or techniques to try. 

Are They *The One*? 

Take some time after the session to think about whether or not you see your relationship with them working out. Ask yourself…

  • Did I feel heard//comfortable sharing?
  • Did they offer the energy that I would like to receive in this space [there is no right or wrong but there is definitely personal preference. For example, I like someone who can offer sarcasm//quick wit + who tells it like it is] 
  • If applicable, do they offer any specific therapy services I’m looking for [ex: art therapy]
  • Do I like video call therapy//in office therapy [whichever you try!] or would I prefer something else?
  • Do they ask me to do things outside of our time that I feel will contribute to my goals? 

With all of these questions, it’s important to keep in mind that the answers should align with what you see yourself taking from this experience. This is for YOU. Note: If you feel misaligned + it isn’t obvious to you why  feel free to continue shopping for therapists or take a break. This process is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Like all relationships, don’t feel pressured to stick with it if it doesn’t meet your needs. Shopping around can be frustrating + time consuming but it is rewarding to find someone who checks all your boxes + encourages you to be your best you.

It’s Not A Marriage! 

One of the most important things I wish I knew before starting this process [in 2020] was that when I graduate therapy I don’t have to start all over if I want to come back unless I want to. I had this preconceived idea that I’d be in therapy for life once I started or would have to find a new provider every time I potentially re-started. This is not the case! ++ It also means if after a few months of seeing someone if it’s not working out, you can still find someone else! 

There are a lot of confusing things about the process + maybe you still have questions that I didn’t touch on today. I’m not an expert by any means but I am always available to chat//answer questions to the best of my ability : )  pls DM me @lilie_inchaarg or email me at [email protected]

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