Winter tends to encourage people to go into therapy. I can’t tell you why exactly. It’s probably a combination of sunlight deprivation, post-holidays blues, hibernation-inspired-inner reflection, and New Year’s resolutions to ‘let this be the year to find happiness.’ Whatever the reason, now is the time when many people start looking for a good therapist.

It’s not difficult to come up with a list of therapists- a google search will give you several on-line directories or you could ask a doctor or lawyer (they tend to have stacks of therapists’ business cards to avoid having to deal with someone emotionally dumping in their own office). But how to you find a therapist that will work for you?

This is one of those things in life that you have to do the leg work yourself. That means not just making a decision because you liked the way someone looked in the picture on the directory, or they had a cool web page. {I have to tell you, the therapist I sent ALL my friends to has no webpage — no picture anywhere on the entire internet — and only begrudgingly gives out an email address. Virtually, he’s not very appealing. In person, he’s amazing.}

how to find an awesome therapist - (cool) progeny

the rule of three

So, how do you find the amazing therapist? Personally, I like to live by the rule of three whenever I have to make a choice. If I’m looking to build a new deck or buy a new car, I always try to make contact with at least three businesses before I make my decision. I had to put this rule in place for myself because I tend to like people, so I would just go with whoever I met first, because “they seem nice.” “Nice” has cost me a lot of money over the years. Same goes for finding a therapist.

By taking the time to actually talk to three different therapists, you’re allowing yourself to get a feel for what is really going to work for you. The first one might be super nice and have an office that smells like vanilla, and that might seem great — but therapist number three might be the one who makes you really feel safe in a way that you didn’t even realize you were missing. Yes, this will take time and it might cost you money (most therapists will ask you to pay the full fee for an initial session, but many will do a 15 minute phone consultation for free). It’s time and money well spent, though, because once you find the right therapist, you’ll feel better faster.

the magic question

Once you’ve picked your three candidates, what do you ask? I have a magic question for you. Sure, ask all the “what are your fees?” and “what type of therapy do you practice?” questions.  Then, ask this: “Have you ever been in therapy as a client?” Did you grimace a little when you read that? Did you think, “Oh, I don’t think I would feel comfortable asking that”? Good. That’s why you should ask this question. You’re not going to therapy to talk about things that make you comfortable. You’re going to talk about the things that make you profoundly uncomfortable – – and you want to make sure that the therapist you pick allows you to feel safe in doing so. Asking your potential therapist if s/he has ever been in therapy is a totally okay and appropriate question. It just might feel awkward because it’s not something you would normally ask someone. Pay attention to the answer. More importantly, pay attention to how you feel during the interaction.

… By the way- the answer should be YES. What makes me a great therapist is that I had a great therapist. Never, ever, in a million, billion years go to a therapist who has not done his or her own work.

challenging is ok

Now, I think it’s probably pretty self-evident that ultimately you want to work with a therapist who makes you feel safe and comfortable. Right? So what I’m about to say might seem odd at first. When looking for a therapist, try to find someone who challenges you. Comfortable and safe still trumps everything else- but remember that you’re not interviewing for a new bff. You want to work out your issues with someone who can help bring them up — not with someone who helps you hide from them. When I was in my twenties I interviewed a therapist who told me that she believed strongly in the power of humor and liked to laugh a lot in her work with clients. Now, that sounds great–and I make no arguments with this being a good way to approach therapy – – but not with me. I fall too easily into the role of entertainer and I would have turned my therapy sessions into 50 minutes of stand-up rather than doing my work. If you want to work on the anger you feel towards you ex-husband, go and work with a man. If you still feel a lot of resentment towards your mother, find a woman about her age. Find a therapist who can push you in the direction you need to go.

the money issue

Now, I saved the topic of cost for last, even though it’s really one of the first things people think of. I did this because I think all too often people miss out on some great therapy because they don’t ask the right questions about payment. These days insurance is increasingly covering mental health, but that doesn’t mean that you should automatically only look at therapists who take your insurance.

Insurance coverage ranges widely- get to know your policy. You might find that the therapist who takes your insurance charges $150, but your plan doesn’t start paying until you meet your $5,000 deductible.   Might be cheaper to go to a therapist who doesn’t take your insurance, but who offers a sliding scale and only charges you $50. Therapists do not like to haggle over price, but most of us are dedicated to the idea that therapy should be available to everyone in an affordable way. For example, like many of my peers, I offer a sliding scale in my own practice and always maintain a certain number of spots for pro bono clients, simply because I believe that is the right thing to do. Ask about sliding scales and fee reduction for special circumstances- – and check if you can get reimbursed from your insurance for working with an “out of network provider” or if you can use your flexible spending account. The money part is important, of course, but in my experience – – both as a client and as a therapist – – the money part always works out when it’s a good fit with the therapist. Find the therapist first, then work backwards to figure out cost.

Listen, deciding to go to therapy and taking it seriously is one of the bravest things you can do. It takes a lot of courage and strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to grow and find the life you want to live. Be gentle with yourself through this process. You’ll be so amazed and proud of yourself not too long down the road.