How to find the right mental health therapist
More people these days are reaching out for mental health support because it’s talked about and more acceptable now, said Liz LeGary, a licensed clinical social worker at United Community & Family Services (UCFS), in an interview.
To find the right therapist, you must first identify your concerns and what you're looking for guidance on, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, addictions, relationships, or children's issues, she said. Most clinicians specialize in specific issues, even though they sometimes take on clients with other concerns, said LeGary, who specializes in early childhood therapy, works mainly with children under 18, and supervises other clinicians in her department.
Ways to find a therapist include asking friends or your primary doctor, calling 211, or accessing a health center website. Another option is to go online to Psychology Today or Google and type in kind of treatment you’re looking for and your town to find a therapist near you and their contact information. Many providers include their biographies.
If you're looking for someone to help you with, say, meditation, tapping techniques or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, ask those questions before booking your first appointment, because if clinicians are not trained in those types of treatments, they won't be able to provide it, LeGary said.
Once you choose a provider, she suggested conducting an in-person “interview” with him or her to discern whether you're compatible.
Watch for red flags, LeGary said. “Boundaries is a really big one.” Clinicians are taught in school that they shouldn't share their personal stories and experiences, “because it isn't about us.” Be aware if the provider is a little bit more “all about me versus all about you coming in,” she said. Also, pay attention to your gut feeling. If you’re not comfortable, explore whether it's the office location, interior space, or the clinician, and maybe make a second appointment to confirm this feeling.
Once clients form relationships with clinicians and “go beneath the presenting symptoms,” they sometimes realize that what they originally thought of as anxiety or depression, for example, is really about gambling issues or something else, said Deberey Hinchey, a social worker and vice president of behavioral health services at UCFS, which has substance abuse and gambling treatment departments.
At this point, Hinchey said clients can continue treatment with the same clinicians if they have the appropriate expertise, or be connected with someone else.
LeGary believes it’s beneficial for outpatient clinicians to assign “real world” homework, because therapists typically only see their clients once a week for 45 minutes to an hour in a controlled environment. Homework could involve practicing meditation or other coping skills, or it could be simpler, such as identifying what makes you anxious or angry, or keeping a journal. For children, homework might involve creating a chore chart and reward system.
Agreeing that clients sometimes stay with therapists because they’re afraid to hurt their feelings, she said she encourages her staff to tell clients that they want to know if their sessions aren’t working, and that they don’t internalize it as a personal attack if they aren’t. “We want to best help you and for me to do that, I need to know if you feel comfortable, if we're moving in the right direction, or if we need to be looking at somebody else.”
Regarding trauma therapy, there are different approaches: indirect and direct (reliving trauma and processing through it), LeGary said. If telling your story is part of the treatment model, “you really want to make sure there is a foundation of self-regulation skills and supports to be able to positively manage the thoughts and feelings that might come up.”
One of the early childhood models she uses with her patients younger than 6 years old — who might not be able to tell their stories — involves feelings/energy work with children and working with their caregivers.
Hinchey said one of the main pieces of therapy is to become aware of who you are, your strengths and the tools you need to work through whatever has caused you to seek out therapy and “become what you have the potential to become,” such as a member of your school, community and family and “that you feel valued for yourself.”
When it’s time to say goodbye
Length of therapy varies for every situation, but ideally it should last until the event or stressor that initially brought you to therapy has either ended or improved enough to be able to manage on your own, LeGary said.
“Knowing when they’ll be okay to do it on their own is something that should be figured out in the beginning. We do try to keep it limited in the sense that it's not forever.
“If they’re not making progress, what are the barriers? Is there another piece of treatment that we also need to be looking at?”
“That doesn't mean that you can’t come in and out of therapy,” LeGary said, adding many people do that throughout their lives. “I think being able to recognize when you need that support is just as important.”
Asked if clients become dependent on their therapists, she said, “I think that sometimes we forget that we have the tools to be able to do things on our own.” Accomplishing homework tasks help clients prove that to themselves, LeGary said.
In addition to offering behavioral health services in many area schools, UCFS offers in-person and telehealth therapy for all ages at its health centers in Norwich, Griswold, Colchester, Moosup and New London. For more information go to ucfs.org.
Mobile Crisis Intervention Services (MCIS) is also available to children, adolescents and adults who are in crisis, but not in need of 911 and medical attention. Call 211 or 988.
Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.
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