Welcome to the confusing world of finding a therapist. If you're anything like me, you probably typed "Oakland therapist" into Google and came upon 3.2 million results. Well, here are a few insider tips to help you get started in your search.
- Get a referral. Good therapists tend to refer good therapists. Do you know anyone who's currently seeing a therapist they love? A friend? A family member? A coworker? If so, ask for a referral. Yelp reviews are helpful, but they're nothing to the recommendation of a good therapist.
- Don't stop looking 'til you find the right fit. Don't settle for anything less than the best! Sometimes it can feel almost right, but you'll find yourself shying away from the Big Issue, the Real Reason You're There, the One Thing. My sense is that many clients come into therapy because of that One Thing they think makes them a "bad" or "worthless" person. The One Thing they think they can't tell anyone about. That’s why it's so important to find a therapist who makes you feel comfortable and heard – because otherwise you'll have a hard time sharing your One Thing. Try someone out for a session or two, and if you're not feeling it, it's time to move on.
- Know what you're looking for. Is something getting in the way of you living your life right now? Crippling symptoms like depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, trauma flashbacks, nightmares, and, for children, aggression and defiance, have known psychotherapy cures. Your therapist should be skilled in the evidence-based techniques that have been shown to help with these diagnoses. Or maybe right now you're looking for someone to help you talk through a difficult decision, heal from a loss, or plan the next steps in your life. For you I'd recommend a warm, relational, conversational therapist with whom you feel a strong connection.
- Start looking now. Therapy is an easy thing to postpone. For many of us, emotional pain comes and goes in waves. The first wave right after a hard breakup may send you to your computer, looking through therapists' websites. Then a week later, you're feeling okay. Then there's a hard phone call, and your pain comes back. Even if you're feeling okay, even if you're thinking your pain might not warrant the weekly cost of therapy, it's best to go for a session or two.
- Know the degrees, but don’t let that make up your mind for you. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and counseling psychologists all practice psychotherapy in the state of California. A psychiatrist (MD) is a medical doctor licensed to prescribe medication and to provide psychotherapy. Psychologists (PhD or PsyD) provide testing, diagnosis, and therapy. Social workers (LCSW) and Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) and Counseling Psychologists (LCPC) provide psychotherapy. Feel free to ask questions about a therapist’s credentials, training, and experience. But just a word of caution – I know therapists with only a year or two of experience, with degrees that take less time to earn, whom I would recommend over psychiatrists with 10 years of experience. Which brings me to my last tip:
- Don’t stop looking 'til you find the right person! The right therapist can change your life forever.
Good luck with your search!