I finally decided it was time for me to heal myself without the help of prescription drugs, so I began my search for a licensed mental health counselor.
I didn’t start working with someone immediately, but that hopeful, forward momentum within me kept me motivated to find the right person.
When I did find a counselor, it seemed as though she was perfectly placed in my path. I liked her philosophy on healing and relational counseling and her tone was calming, patient, warm, and hopeful. She understood where I was coming from. She knew the beauty and the pain caused by growing up in a strong faith community. She was even from Michigan, so she was familiar with the Midwest values that raised me. It made a huge difference for me starting a relationship that is meant to be based on trust and vulnerability to have a few things in common with her. Because of these connections, it made it easier for me to open up to her and trust that she got my context.
Since I started working with my counselor in the fall of 2016, I have experienced an amazing, undeniable transformation. Many weeks we end the session looking back at where I began and pause to recognize and celebrate how far I’ve come. Because of my counselor I have started to heal nearly life long emotional wounds. I’ve gained tremendous self-awareness and identity. I understand what my core issues are and why they exist. I also know my core beliefs. I am learning about how my environment in my early years set me up to experience a lot of the anxiety I have now. And I practice patience, grace, and self-renewal. Through our time together, I have built up strength, self-love, and confidence. I celebrate who I am, and I release the identities that others have placed on me. It’s been a wild, difficult, encouraging ride. And I am so thankful for it.
A few stats on my counseling experience: I came in with a desire to understand and alleviate my anxiety, and it became so much more than that. I meet with my counselor weekly. My insurance does not cover my counselor, so I pay for my sessions out of pocket. We knew we wanted to work together, so she was able to offer me a slightly discounted rate, and I did some creative reworking of my budget to afford it. She was one of three counselors I narrowed down, and the second one I called. Once I met with her in person, I knew I needed to work with her.
I’ve talked to a number of people about counseling lately. If this is something you think is important for you, I want to help you find the right person to kick start your healing journey. I can’t say this is a perfect formula, but it worked for me.
1. Know what you want out of the experience. Or perhaps what you don’t want. What are your goals for yourself? What would you like to learn about yourself? What would you like to heal within yourself?
2. Identify what type of counseling or therapy experience you’d like to have. Are there any therapies you’re curious about? Are you looking for someone with a specific background or specialty? What values should they have? How often are you hoping to meet?
3. Understand your insurance. Unfortunately mental health is a largely ignored part of a person’s overall health as dictated by many insurance companies. It is important to first know how much, if at all, your medical insurance plan will cover. Then consider if you are willing to look out of network to find someone.
4. Before diving into your search, and now that you’re armed with some great information about your goals, your desired experience, and your coverage, I recommend talking to a friend who is happily meeting with a counselor. I often will ask my counselor for recommendations for my friends.
5. Another great resource, and how I found my counselor, is Psychology Today. Using the website’s online directory of mental health counselors, you can search by insurance type, issue, gender, etc. so that you get a result of counselors who fit the criteria you’ve requested. Read their bios, check their websites. Take note of counselors you like and make a “call list”.
6. Take a few minutes to write a list of questions you may want to ask. These should relate to what you wrote down for number 2. What’s their background? Experience? Do they go to therapy? What insurance do they work with? What’s their philosophy on counseling and healing? What is their practice like? What is their goal or hope for working together?
7. Call the counselors on your list. I recommend starting with no more than 5 to keep things manageable. Spend 15 minutes or so talking to them. Ask your questions, so you can gauge whether or not you’d like to work with them. Make note of your top 2.
8. Schedule an in-person session. When you’re on the phone, ask if they would be open to meeting for a free or discounted session in person. Often times counselors are happy to do this to make sure that it is the right fit for both of you. Try it out. See if you click. If you feel wildly unsafe, don’t commit to working with them. Listen to your body when you’re with them. Recognize that you may be uncomfortable sharing personal information about yourself, at least at first, but if you feel an internal sense of alarm that you are not safe with a person, don’t work with them.
9. When you find someone you like, commit. See how it goes. I recommend working with your counselor weekly, or no less than bi-weekly at the beginning of your journey. Consider weening off as needed, but make the decision very carefully and try not to let money be the reasoning for it. Know that your health is worth investing in.
10. Don’t stress if it’s not feeling right after a month of working with them. They may not be the right person for you to work with. But before you quit and try to find a new counselor, consider your own blocks. Do you feel like you can’t share because of your emotional blocks, or is it because your counselor feels unsafe or unkind? If it’s the latter, go and try someone new. If the former, consider why you feel that way and what you can do to trust and open up. Do you really want to make a change for the better? Are you willing to do the hard work, sit with the discomfort, and explore dark places within yourself?
Remember that once you begin, you will not be able to turn back. This may sound alarming at first, but it just means that awareness leads to action. Once you are aware of whatever it is that is affecting you, you can’t un-know it. You are changed for the better, and you can choose what you will do with that knowledge.
I promise you, this is an exciting time. It’s an opportunity for you to grow and to heal. Embrace it! You are on your journey of living out your highest self.