Choosing The Best Therapist For Me

Updated November 1, 2023by MyTherapist Editorial Team

There are varying reasons why we may seek the help of a licensed therapist for mental health concerns. Often, these issues are rather sensitive, and as such, the discretion, empathy, and professionalism a therapist provides may pave the way to an empowered healing process. 

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Choosing a therapist is a deeply personal decision that only you can make, and it requires some thought and consideration about specific factors. Understanding a little bit about what you're going through can help you find an appropriate psychologist or therapist, but don't assume that what you think is happening is all that there is to the story. 

Counselors may be able to provide the insight you feel has evaded you for some time, and you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice other priorities in order to attend therapy. Ahead, we’ll elaborate on the key differences between psychologists and psychiatrists, summarize widely used forms of therapy that are available for various conditions, and provide recommendations for choosing the best therapist to help you achieve your goals.

Should I Meet With A Psychologist Or A Psychiatrist, And What’s The Difference?

There is a wide range of therapy options available for you; however, certain types of mental health practitioners are better qualified to treat specific disorders or conditions. 

For many people seeking help, the first step is to schedule a consultation with a psychologist who holds a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and may specialize in an area like family counseling, couples therapy, or substance use recovery. Counseling psychologists often encounter patients with prevalent issues like mild to moderate anxiety or depression while clinical psychologists tend to treat more severe mental health conditions.

People living with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, or borderline personality disorder may also seek the guidance of a psychiatrist, who has the authority to prescribe medicine. Often, medication is prescribed in combination with talk therapy, which can be carried out by the same practitioner or a different psychologist.

You may have also heard about social workers but be unclear about the type of services they provide. A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) holds a master’s degree in social work and has undergone a series of supervised work and training. While psychologists specialize in treating potentially harmful mental health issues, social workers examine a client’s overall social and socioeconomic circumstances. A social worker can assist patients with substance use, obtaining welfare or healthcare services, and counseling people in special environments like schools, prisons, or rehabilitation centers.

How Do Therapists Treat Clients?

Understanding the qualifications that therapists hold can offer you more clarity in your search for the right therapist. In addition to comprehending the differences among mental health practitioners, it is also worthwhile to have a basic understanding of the major types of therapy they may use to help you overcome your challenges. 

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy or psychoanalysis is a form of therapy that involves a number of techniques, all of which tend to delve into the patient's past. The goal of psychoanalysis is to change disconcerting or problematic behaviors, emotions, and thoughts by uncovering their unconscious meanings and motivations.

Psychotherapy can help the patient understand their experiences so they can resolve the conflicts within them. It is usually recommended for people coping with stress, loneliness, anxiety, and even sexual-related problems. During psychotherapy, patients are able to unravel life experiences that may be affecting their mental health.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

As the name suggests, CBT is founded upon pillars of cognitive and behavioral therapies. Cognitive therapy helps to shift your thinking pattern while behavioral therapy seeks to modify how you behave. Instead of delving too deep into past experiences, CBT focuses on a participant’s negative thought patterns and/or attitudes in an attempt to connect them to problematic behaviors that don’t serve them.

CBT is effective in treating people experiencing panic attacks, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and similar health problems. When depression takes over, and you're constantly in an "I don't want to do anything" slump, this mode of therapy can help.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy 

DBT is a comprehensive type of CBT which seeks to help patients by teaching them problem-solving techniques. While CBT aims to see how thoughts, emotions, and behaviors influence one another, DBT additionally focuses on regulating emotions, practicing mindfulness, and accepting pain as a fact of life.

DBT is appropriate for treating mental health issues like eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, destructive thought patterns, and more. Evidence also shows DBT as effective in reducing suicidal behavior* and improving social functioning – it may offer the best course of treatment for people who experience very intense negative emotions. 

*If you or someone you know has experienced suicidal thoughts or expressed a desire to harm themselves, you can reach out 24/7 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There are empathetic professionals available to help you work through intense, negative emotions and point you toward helpful resources. You can visit the website or text or call 988 for help.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Processing (EMDR)

EMDR is typically employed for people who have experienced trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This therapy is implemented to help people cope with the emotions and unpleasant memories associated with this trauma. EMDR is sometimes utilized with other forms of therapy to help trauma patients integrate their life experiences. It involves the use of the patient’s eye movement, and external physical stimuli to help the patient gradually let go of the painful memories that are affecting their mental health.  

How does EMDR work, exactly? In the desensitization and reprocessing stage – which comes about after gathering information about the patient through assessments and supplying them with education – the therapist activates the participant’s memory by prompting them to identify specific negative visuals, thoughts, emotions, or body sensations. In reprocessing, the counselor helps you pay attention to these more effectively. Several other steps proceed with the goal being to install positive beliefs about previous negative associations.

Marriage And Family Therapy

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This therapy combines varying techniques in treating the mental health of its patients. It can help to build a supportive emotional relationship among the individuals undergoing the therapy. Some professionals may be found referring to marriage and family therapy as family systems therapy, which perceives the family as a unit bounded with its own rules and relations. The theory centralizes on ensuring that the system improves and functions appropriately.

Marriage or couples counseling is designed to support people in intimate relationships who are struggling with various challenges, such as sexual difficulties, attachment issues, or ineffective communication styles. Regardless of the issues the couple may be facing challenges, the couple may be seeking couples therapy as a pathway for them to improve and build on their intimate relationship. You can consult a marriage and family therapist if you and your family, or partner recognize issues within your relationship that you believe can be solved with therapy.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness is used as a technique to assist patients to identify and understand their negative thoughts. MBCT is often used to treat reoccurring depression but may be used to cope with other mental health related issues. MBCT practitioners will utilize techniques like meditation, body scanning, stretching, yoga, and deep breathing. The overall goal of MBCT is to help participants become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and moods without feeling consumed by them.

Often, therapists will combine different techniques and therapy to help their patient who is struggling with mental illness. these therapies can be combined and altered to suit the needs of the patient.  

Choosing The Best Therapist

If you’re intending to start your search for the best therapist, conducting research is a great first step. If you are looking for a therapist that you can physically visit, you can research therapists who are located near you, or at least within the range you're willing to drive. If you're open to something else, however, you can improve your chances of finding the ideal therapist by consulting an online counseling platform like MyTherapist.

What are the advantages of online therapy? First of all, it is typically viewed as a more affordable alternative to in-person counseling, which is a real barrier that many people face in their pursuit to access good mental healthcare. Second, online counseling platforms like MyTherapist or BetterHelp enable you to schedule virtual therapy sessions at times that work for your schedule. You can attend from any location with a secure internet connection, which can be especially helpful for people with mobility challenges, former spouses attempting to learn co-parenting strategies, or people in long-term relationships.

Just like face-to-face practitioners, online counselors can conduct individual and family counseling – they can even administer EMDR online. Starting with an individual session – whether in-person or through the internet – can be a great way to get to know your therapist and then determine more about the type of help that you're going to need. 

One tip as you search: remember that it is a search, and searches rarely end upon discovering the first resource. Ethically bound therapists will not try to make you feel bad if you share that you want to try another person or modality. If, during or after a session, you don't feel comfortable, it's okay to end the session and seek out someone else. It may take a couple of tries to find the right person.

If you can feel comfortable with your therapist and even more with your surroundings then you're likely going to have a better chance of overcoming anything that you're experiencing. That's because you're more likely to attend each of your appointments and to open up to your therapist about things that are bothering you or what you're experiencing. By doing all of these things, you're setting yourself up for a better chance at success, which is what you're looking for after all, right? You want to make sure you're getting the therapy you need.

Takeaway

Remember, your therapist is a deeply personal choice, and the above list of major types of therapy is hardly exhaustive. Also, just because a friend recommends someone, or they are well-known with countless degrees, accolades, and publications does not mean they're going to be the right person for you. Above all, remember that taking control of your mental health and prioritizing your own health shows strength. You have the right to seek healthcare for your mental well-being, and when you’re ready, the caring, licensed counselors at MyTherapist are ready to help you take the first step.
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