Ask the expert: Tips for finding a good therapist | Health Issue | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Ask the expert: Tips for finding a good therapist

If there’s one positive thing that has come from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that Americans are realizing the importance of mental health. More and more people have started going to therapy, and there are likely many others who would like to start but don't know where to begin.

Pittsburgh City Paper chatted with Elizabeth Geandreau, a clinical psychotherapist who is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a National Board Certified Counselor, about how to find a good therapist. Because finding the right counselor is a little like dating — not every therapist is for everyone.

“It’s nerve-racking and anxiety-inducing,” says Geandreau, “but remember that getting in there is the hardest part.”

The first session: Intake

The first meeting with a therapist is called an intake, and it’s where the client and therapist simply chat and get a feel for each other.

“Typically, I always say to clients, ‘You might not know until three or four sessions in if it’s a good fit,’” says Geandreau. “And all along, I’ll be assessing too to see if I’m a good fit for my client.”

What that means on Geandreau’s side is that each therapist has their own niche. For Geandreau, she focuses on dialectical behavior therapy, a specific intervention she can use with clients, usually for people with borderline personality disorder, addiction, bipolar disorder, etc.

“Most clinicians can treat depression and anxiety because they’re the most common,” says Geandreau. “If you’re coming in with a specific problem that you don’t really know what it is, it’s up to the therapist through sessions to figure out what’s going on and how they can help. If they don’t have the background and the knowledge, then they should refer out. They should help the client find a good fit for them.”

Sometimes, even with the right background knowledge to assist the client, the relationship just doesn’t work, and that’s OK.

“The personalities just don’t match up,” explains Geandreau. “It’s important to just keep talking and have an open dialogue. If the client feels like it’s not a good fit either, say that it’s not working out. It’s kind of like breaking up with a significant other. It’s like a feeling you’ll get; if you feel like you can open up to this person, then it’s a good fit.”

Researching a therapist

There are a few ways to find a therapist. The first and easiest way is to ask around for recommendations — from friends, family, a health professional you already know.

If that is not an option, go online. A simple “therapy near me” search will result in a list of agencies and private practices in your area. This is where the research part comes in, where you should pay attention to details like insurance versus private pay and the therapists’ background and degrees. Like online shopping, you can browse different therapists until you find one that fits your needs.

So what exactly should you look for in a client-therapist relationship?

One, the client should feel like they can connect with the therapist and have an open and honest conversation without fear of judgment. Two, the therapist should have the tools and background knowledge to assist with the client’s problem.

And if a therapist isn’t working out?

You can say, “After having a few sessions, I recognize that maybe I feel more comfortable talking to someone else.” “And it’s not hard feelings,” says Geandreau. “You’re not going to click with 100% of people.”

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