Teach Me

How to Choose the Right Therapist for You or Your Child

Let’s just start right here. Life is no fairytale. Why? Because, it misses one important part: life. Life can be wonderful, but it certainly isn’t without its challenges.

Whether it’s issues at home, with family or friends, at work, at school or personally, we’re constantly grappling with things that can understandably put a strain on our lives—and most notably, our mental health.

That’s where therapy can be tremendously healing and helpful. Although not every situation calls for a therapy session, getting the right kind of professional help when your child or you need it is an essential part of caring for the whole person—mentally and physically.

“Mental health is a concern at any age and is just as important as our physical health,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. “If the emotional distress you or your child are experiencing is impacting daily, normal functioning, then psychological help may be necessary and helpful.”

Dr. Fox added it’s especially important to address problems your child may be having sooner rather than later. “If mental health or behavioral health isn’t addressed in childhood, it could cause long-term problems for the entire family and the child themselves,” he said.

Finding the right therapist

From PsyD’s to LCSW’s and behavior management to cognitive behavioral therapy—and everything in between—finding the right therapist and type of therapy can be overwhelming. Dr. Fox shared seven tips to help you find the right kind of therapist for your child or yourself.

First, overcome any hesitancy or resistance about therapy.

You might be telling yourself, “I’m fine; they’re fine; everything’s fine. We don’t need therapy.” Whether it’s denying there is a problem, certain fears, stigmas or a sense of embarrassment, there are many reasons and excuses we give for not seeking help.

Most difficult times might not require therapy. We can often handle with the support of our community. However, if you or your child are struggling mentally to cope, there is no shame for leaning on a mental health professional who can help. Therapy isn’t a scarlet letter.

“Sometimes it takes talking to an expert for us to realize that we’re helping ourselves and our children to recognize and verbalize the problem or problems at hand, which can often be difficult for us to own up to on our own,” Dr. Fox said. “When we normalize the problems others are facing, we open up an avenue for people to talk about them openly and no longer in secret.”

Check with your insurance company.

If you have insurance, check with your provider to get a list of in-network therapists in your area. You can also check with your company to see if they have an Employee Assistance Program for a list of professionals. You can check with your doctor, your religious organization or your child’s school counselor. The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics also has a list of groups funded by the federal and state government that will charge less than you might pay for a private therapist.

Do some research on mental health professionals and create a short-list.

Don’t just pick the first name you find. Just like one size won’t fit most, neither do therapists. Ask yourself some questions: Would you or your child prefer a male or female? Does the therapist specialize in your area of concern? Are they experienced working with children? Would you prefer a doctor or licensed mental health professional? What is their therapeutic approach and training?

“Evaluate the professionals’ training and expertise and then utilize your understanding of your child or yourself to determine if they’ll be a good fit,” Dr. Fox said.

Conduct a preliminary phone screen and/or in-person interview with your short-list.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, email or call those on your shortlist to set up a time to chat or schedule time to meet IRL (in real life). This is your opportunity to see if any of the therapists would be a good fit for your child and/or for yourself. Therapists have different styles and ways of approaching their work with adults and children that may or may not be your cup of tea.

Here are a few questions to consider when speaking with the therapists:

  • What’s your experience working with this particular problem?
  • Can you explain the therapeutic approach you use?
  • How will therapy work? Will it just be with me, the family or just my child?
  • How do you measure progress? How long do patients typically stay in therapy with you?
  • What are your thoughts on medication?
Telehealth might be an option too.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, most health care providers, including mental health providers, have telehealth to support patients through the pandemic. Online therapy has many benefits: you can do therapy in the comfort of your home, no fighting traffic or sitting in a waiting room, and you might be able to access the therapist’s schedule more.

Check with your insurance provider to see if online/telehealth is covered, and then check to see if your therapist provides this service.

Don’t feel bad if the therapist isn’t working out.

If after a few sessions, you or your child isn’t clicking with the therapist, don’t feel bad. Although it may feel a bit awkward bringing up, therapists have these conversations often. If you are comfortable sharing with them your concerns, they might help you find someone who is better suited to your needs and refer you to that person. In the end, it’s important to make sure you work with someone you and your child feel comfortable with, so you can get the best treatment.

Remember, therapy isn’t a bad word.

The best way to approach therapy is to think of it as a tool to get you where you need to be. Therapy can’t always make the problem go away, but it can give family members new skills to get through difficult situations or trauma much easier.

For children especially, it can give them the opportunity to identify, discuss and understand problems to develop the necessary coping skills to live as a child up into adulthood,” Dr. Fox said. “It also provides parents the opportunity to address their concerns and gives them ways they can assist their child appropriately and effectively.”

While life is no fairytale, this doesn’t mean you can’t try and live your best life. Getting professional help as soon as it’s needed can help you and your family. To find a Banner Behavioral Health expert near you, visit Banner Behavioral Health or call 1-800-254-4357

Additional resources:

Parenting Behavioral Health