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Session 214: Finding the Right Therapist For You

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

Recently we’ve gotten a few questions in the mailbox about how to find the best therapist for you and your needs, so this week I’m offering some things to consider in terms of whether your therapist needs to be Black, questions to ask during your consultation, and getting referrals from friends, family, or colleagues.

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Session 214: Finding the Right Therapist for You

Dr. Joy: Hey, y’all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 214 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We’ll get right into the episode after a word from our sponsors.

[SPONSORS’ MESSAGES]

Dr. Joy: We’ve gotten a few questions in our mailbox recently from community members about finding the right therapist to work with. And this is really important because research has been consistent in telling us that the number one factor that dictates growth in therapy is the relationship that we have with our therapist. If the relationship is shaky, little else will matter, so it makes sense that we want to be as thoughtful as possible when deciding on who we’re going to work with. I also think it speaks to why it’s okay if you don’t really click with the first therapist you might work with because we know that we just don’t jell with everybody.

Another question that has been asked a few times is: Do I really need a black therapist? And again, I just think that this is an excellent question and it really depends on so many different factors. Clearly, this is the Therapy for Black Girls podcast, I started our Therapist Directory because I saw so many sisters expressing a desire to see a black woman therapist, so of course I believe in having the option to see a black woman therapist if that’s what you want and if that’s what’s going to be the best fit for you.

And I also think we have to be honest about the numbers of black therapists that actually exist. About 4% of psychologists are black, about 2% of psychiatrists are black. And though I’ve not seen the stats for other clinicians like social workers, marriage & family therapists or professional counselors, my guess is that the numbers in those areas are small as well. The bottom line is that there is still lots of work to be done in creating opportunities for more black people to become therapists. So there are simply not enough black therapists to meet the needs for everybody who might actually want to see a black therapist.

Additionally, not everyone wants to see a black therapist, which is also fine. For example, I’ve had people talk with me about really wanting to see a black woman therapist but being concerned that they wouldn’t really be able to be vulnerable in that space because they didn’t want to fall apart in front of someone who seemed like they had it all together. There are really just so many different dynamics that are in play when you’re talking about the relationship with a therapist and they’re all going to be as unique as each of us is.

But, when it comes down to it, you want to find a therapist who will create a space comfortable for you to share, who will challenge and support you, someone who offers you perspectives that you might not have considered, and teaches you things (about how to manage your emotional life) that you didn’t know before. With that said, though, I do want to offer you some things to consider to help you find someone who’s going to be a great fit for you.

First, I want you to make a list of things that are must-haves for you and these can be anything for any reason. Absolutely anything that you deem important to you in working with a therapist is completely fine to search for. For some people it’s important to have a match in terms of culture; for other people it might be important to have a match in terms of age or religion. Whatever it is for you, it’s okay to have that on your list. So when you think about the people who feel most comfortable for you to talk to, what comes up for you? What kinds of characteristics do they possess? What kinds of people or settings help you to feel safest and most comfortable? All of these answers will give you a good indication of who might be a good fit for you.

In addition to these things, you also want to consider what’s a fit for you in terms of your budget. Are you going to be using health insurance benefits or paying out of pocket? If you’re planning to use your health insurance, then a good place to start would be to get a list of providers in your area from your insurance company. And usually you can find this in your benefits portal or on the insurance company’s website, and then narrow down that list based on the other things that you said are important to you. If you’re not using insurance, then when you’re searching, you’ll want to look for therapists whose rates are within your budget. Or consider therapists who offer a sliding scale, which means the amount you’ll pay may be dependent on your income or perhaps they’ll have a reduced rate they offer to a few of their clients.

Once you’ve got an idea of your must-haves and your budget, the next thing you want to do is research therapists’ specialty areas. There are general things that we all learn as therapists but many of us go on to specialize in helping certain communities or certain concerns. For example, some therapists specialize in working with couples and families, some specialize in working with activists, some specialize in working with new moms, and other therapists specialize in things like people struggling with anxiety.

There are literally endless ways to structure our practices so it’s important for you to do your research to find a therapist who’s going to be a good match for you in terms of expertise. You can typically get a sense of this from their profiles in a therapist directory but to dig even deeper, make sure to check out their websites, where they typically go more in depth about who they are, their training, and what kinds of clients they specialize in working with. Some will even have a video you can watch to get a better sense of their personality. I’d also encourage you to check and see if they’re active on social media. You can typically get a good sense of what clients they work with by what they share on social media.

All of this research is important because you may love a therapist’s personality on social media and think that they’re really cool but if they don’t specialize in the concerns that are bringing you to therapy, it might not actually be helpful for you. After you’ve done your research and narrowed down your list, the next step would likely be a 10 to 15-minute consultation with a therapist, and usually these are free. This is an opportunity for you to ask any lingering questions that haven’t been answered during your research.

Here are a few questions you might want to add to your list:

How often do you work with clients presenting with my concern?
Have you had specialized training in this area?
Do you have the capacity to take on weekly clients right now? (And this might be important because if you’re somebody who knows that you want to have a weekly cadence to your therapy sessions, you want to know this on frontend because if they only have the space for bi-weekly clients, then that may not be a good therapist fit for you.)
Do you have a large caseload of culturally diverse clients?
How comfortable are you with talking about issues of race, ethnicity, oppression or privilege?
What kind of work have you done to ensure this is a safe space for black people?

The consultation is also an opportunity for your therapist to hear a little about you and to make a determination about whether they think they’d be a good match as your therapist. If the therapist feels like their area of expertise doesn’t match what you might need, it’s important to let you know that on the frontend and offer recommendations to colleagues who might be a better fit for you. More tips on finding a great therapist after the break.

[BREAK]

Dr. Joy: Something else that may assist you in finding a great therapist for you is asking for referrals from friends, family or colleagues. Just like we trust hair stylists and nail technicians when our girls recommend them, I think this can be important in therapy as well. My current therapist is a black woman therapist who I found through a referral from a friend, and my previous two therapists were a white woman and a Latino woman who I also started working with because a friend or a colleague referred me to them. So if you feel comfortable asking others (who share about therapy) who they’ve seen and they feel comfortable sharing that information, this might be a great way for you to find a therapist who might be a good fit for you as well.

And once you’ve found the therapist you think is going to be a good fit, give yourself some time to ease into the relationship. There is of course no formula for how many sessions you need to decide whether a therapist is going to be a good fit, but I think that within the first three to four sessions, you can tell if this is a person you can grow to feel comfortable sharing more with. Whether you feel listened to, whether it feels like they get you... Again, you might not be ready to share everything and that’s totally appropriate, but I think four sessions is enough time to know whether this is someone that’s going to be a good fit for you or not.

And sometimes, you’ll know even before then. With this relationship, like any relationship, it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. If something feels off, talk with the therapist about it to see if it can be addressed and resolved, but if after that conversation it still doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to search for someone else. And I know that that process can be frustrating, it can be hard to start all over, but it really does make all the difference when you start working with a therapist who you feel like really gets you.

And because I know the process of keeping track of which therapist you called and which ones you liked when you’re starting the search can be taxing, we’ve created a handy guide to getting started with therapy for you, to track the therapists you’ve contacted and to provide a space for you to reflect on how you’re feeling and what you need as you start the process. You can grab it at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/GTGS.

Now it’s time for you to weigh in. How did you know your therapist was going to be a good fit for you? Or did you initially set out to find a certain kind of therapist and have been pleasantly surprised with who you ended up working with? Share with us if you feel comfortable. Use the hashtag #TBGinSession to share your thoughts or to respond to others.

And don’t forget to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode as well. If you’re looking for a therapist and you’re brand new in your search, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It’s our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.