“I am seeing a therapist.”
First, it was a pastor that I worked with and looked up to. Then, it was a ministry leader who was a blessing in my life. Both of these men were taking the steps they needed to ensure their mental health. Today, we are finally seeing the importance of taking care of our mental health.
But where do we start? How do find a great therapist to help us work through our mental health challenges? I sat down with my friend, Dr. K’dee Elsen, who is a psychologist to get some advice.
1. You hold all the cards
Dr. Elsen says, “When choosing a therapist, the number one thing to know is that you hold all the cards.” It’s like dating—especially similar to going out on a first date. It may work, it may not. You aren’t married to the first therapist you see (although do give them an honest chance!). You have the right to vet your therapist until you find someone that fits and meets your goals.
Of course, meeting your goals may be uncomfortable. You shouldn’t switch therapists because the changes you need to make are uncomfortable, or because they are actually challenging you to be a better version of yourself. Sometimes we continue “shopping,” not because we haven’t found a good therapist, but because we are avoiding settling with a therapist that is having us sit and stare into the mirror of change.
It is also important to remember that, if you do settle with a certain therapist, you still hold all the cards!
“I had a panic attack yesterday,” a close friend shared.
We both work for a company that offers free mental health treatment. I asked her if she was taking advantage of it.
“Yes, but I feel like she just listens to me. I don’t feel like we are going anywhere.”
“Speak up! Voice your concerns.” I told her as I started to share insights from my interview with Dr. Elsen.
While in therapy, it is important to always be open and honest with the therapist about your preferences, needs, and goals. If you think something isn’t working, speak up! If there is something you like and want more of, speak up! If—for example—faith is important to you and you would like to integrate it into therapy, tell your therapist! You are in control of your mental health care.
2. Choose the right therapy
There is a myriad of therapy options out there, “Where do I begin?” Dr. Elsen emphasizes the importance of seeking evidence-based therapy (EBT). Through research, EBT is a treatment validated to be effective. Cognitive and behavioral therapies are among these EBTs and are change-oriented. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one of the most highly utilized and effective, is not only an EBT but also one of the most biblical methods available. CBT addresses the negative thought patterns we have adopted and works to establish new balanced thoughts (as the Bible recommends, “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”). CBT also attempts to reduce unhealthy behaviors and increase healthy behaviors. Dr. Elsen points out that thoughts often lead to actions and the things we do also mold our character and who we are.
When looking for an EBT, Dr. Elsen points out the importance of considering what your main concern is. Are you struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, or something else? For example, if you are struggling with trauma, Cognitive Processing Therapy is an EBT proven to address and reduce trauma-related symptoms. You may not know what exact therapy you need, but remember—you hold the cards, So ask!
3. Ask for credentials
I asked Dr. Elsen how we could tell if our therapist was using the right methods of treatment.
“Ask!” she said.
Now, that we know what kind of therapy methods are effective (EBTs!) we can ask how the therapist does treatment.
“You could ask what type of treatment the therapist provides and what that type of treatment includes,” says Dr. Elsen. That way you can determine what to expect from therapy. You may not know exactly what they mean—but again—ask! “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy? What’s that?” Have them explain it to you or ask others. Also, go online and do your research!
Remember to feel comfortable and empowered to ask for credentials. Ask what school they went to, where they did their training, and what their specialty is. Have they worked with people with your issues? Are they licensed? Ask these types of questions. Remember, you hold all the cards.
It can feel overwhelming. “What if I don’t know the right questions to ask? What if I don’t feel confident to ask?” The ultimate key to finding a good therapist, Dr. Elsen says, “Is praying through it all.” She emphasizes that if we are praying for someone, God will lead us to someone—whether by word of mouth and personal referral or through your personal journey of seeking for one. The therapist may or may not be Christian or Adventist, but he or she can be used by God to help us work toward our goals.
God will also give us the wisdom to know if a therapist is or is not the right person to continue sessions with. A great way to know if a therapist is from God is if is the changes you are making are leading to a closer relationship with God.
A friend of mine named Damian*shared how God led him to his therapist. During the summer, he realized that he needed professional help to deal with the emotional and mental baggage that had been plaguing him from his past. One of his friends who was dealing with some similar issues mentioned that he was seeing a therapist and recommended him. Damian reached out to what would be a Godsend. His spirit-lead therapist helps him process his past. The progress is palpable in the weekly breakthroughs. Damian doesn’t feel misunderstood. There are no awkward silences. In the same way, God can lead you to a therapist that helps you move towards a healthier you.
Finding a therapist may not be easy, so take your time and enjoy the journey. You’ll find the right person when you need it most. I hope these pointers will help you in your search.
How are you taking care of your mental health?
P.S. How do I know if I need a therapist? Stay tuned that's coming up next.