6 Tips for Choosing the Right Therapist in Recovery

March 19, 2020

Therapy is a critical part of addiction treatment and recovery. At least half of people with substance use disorders also have a co-occurring mental health issue, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder. These issues often drive addictive behavior and treating them is essential for a long recovery from addiction. 

Typically, treatment for co-occurring disorders is an integral part of addiction treatment. While this is an excellent start, 30 or 90 days of psychotherapy is usually not enough to keep a serious mental health issue under control. Many people recovering from addiction will require more prolonged therapy. Having a good therapist can also ease the transition from inpatient treatment back to regular life, a time when many people stumble. New issues that crop up should also be addressed in therapy as soon as possible to keep your recovery on track. In other words, many, if not most, people recovering from addiction will need to find a therapist at some point. Here are some suggestions for finding the right one.

Consider Practical Matters

For most people, there are two primary concerns that will limit the pool of potential therapists: cost and location. While it would be great if we could all jump on a private jet to see our perfect therapist, in reality, you are probably constrained to therapists within driving distance. For most people, an hour drive is the upper limit of how far they’ll go for a weekly therapy session but, of course, the farther you’re willing to go, the more options you will have. 

Next comes cost. If you’re paying out of pocket, it probably means one of two things: cost doesn’t matter or you need a therapist who will see you on a sliding scale. Many therapists are willing to accommodate clients who are paying out of pocket and don’t have much money. If this is a concern for you, this should probably be one of your first questions for a new therapist.

Most people will rely on insurance to pay for some or all of their therapy. If that’s the case for you, your options will be limited to the therapists who take your insurance. Sometimes that pool is pretty big and sometimes it’s not. Even if you have insurance, it might be worthwhile to consider paying out of pocket for the right therapist. Some excellent therapists don’t take insurance at all.

Ask People You Trust for Referrals

When looking for a therapist, often the best place to start is by asking for referrals from people you trust. You can ask your family doctor, for example. Also ask friends and family who are in therapy whether they like their therapist and why or why not. If they do like their therapist, consider making an appointment or at least calling or emailing them. You may decide to work with them or you may just want to ask for recommendations. Therapists typically don’t treat members of the same family unless they’re specifically getting family therapy, so if, say, your spouse really likes their therapist, see if their therapist can recommend someone to you. Since your spouse’s therapist probably already has some idea of the issues you’re dealing with, they can usually make a pretty good recommendation. 

Check Online Listings

If you can’t seem to make any headway asking for recommendations, try online listings. You can search therapists in your area, for example. Psychology Today has a fairly comprehensive listing that you can search by distance from your home, what insurance they accept, and other relevant factors. Look at the therapist’s page either on the listing or their own webpage. The information there will help you narrow down your options. You can typically learn about their specializations, their approach to treatment, their education, licensing, and experience, modes of payment, and get a general sense of what they are about. 

Make Sure They Can Do What You Need

Whether you get a referral or look at online listings or both, the most important thing is to try to match up what you need to what a therapist is good at. Everyone is naturally better at some things than others and therapists are no different. Some therapists are best at working with kids, others are best at treating depression, others specialize in substance use issues. Be skeptical of therapists who claim to do everything. Nearly every therapist will have depression and anxiety on the list of issues they treat–since those are the most common reasons people seek therapy—but otherwise it should be fairly clear where their interests lie. 

Look for therapists with training and experience with issues that are most relevant to you. That probably means someone with experience treating substance use issues and possibly co-occurring conditions. Sometimes a therapist’s credentials will be relevant to that end. For example, LADC, CAC, CCDP are certifications often held by addiction counselors. If you need medication to manage a co-occurring mental health issue, look for a therapist who can prescribe medication or who works with someone who can prescribe medication. 

Talk to a Few Prospective Therapists

You can learn some of the above information by looking at a therapist’s listing or website, but at some point you’ll actually have to contact a few therapists via phone or email to get a clearer picture. Start by asking if they are taking new patients and ask any questions you have that aren’t answered by the website or listing. Briefly describe the issues you’re dealing with and ask about the therapist’s training and experience in treating those issues. Also ask about their treatment methodology. 

It’s generally a good idea to have a consultation over the phone before making an appointment. This gives you a better sense of whether this is someone you can talk to, someone who listens and answers your questions, and if the therapeutic relationship will be a good fit. If you can, talk to three people for comparison. In a perfect world, you would actually have a session with at least three different therapists before making a decision but that’s fairly time-consuming and most people won’t do that. Talking on the phone for a few minutes in addition to your prior research typically gives you a good idea of whether a therapist is someone you can work with.

Trust Your Gut

Keep in mind that your therapist has to be someone you feel comfortable talking to. That doesn’t mean they have to be your best friend—indeed, they shouldn’t be—but neither should you feel judged, put off, or otherwise uncomfortable. Trust and openness are important in therapy so if something feels off, don’t ignore that instinct. Often it’s just a signal of incompatibility rather than anything sinister but compatibility matters in therapy. For example, a therapist with an assertive style might not be the best choice if you’re dealing with issues related to a domineering parent. It’s not that the therapist is bad but you should probably find someone else. 

Therapy is a crucial part of recovery, both for managing co-occurring mental health issues and for making a smooth transition back to regular life. Choosing the right therapist is mainly a matter of doing your research, knowing your needs, and examining viable options. At Steps Recovery Centers, we know that recovery goes on long after you graduate from our program and we want to do whatever we can to help you succeed. To learn more about our alumni services, call us today at 385-236-0931.

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