A Columbia University-trained psychotherapist with more than a decade of clinical experience, I’ve come to believe that what it means to help people in therapy is to help them create their lives and I relish in this challenging, playful activity.
Finding a therapist in NYC is a lot like dating. You scour the internet for someone whose profile seems right and when you think you may have found a match, you schedule some phone time. If that goes well, you make a date to meet in person. As this process goes along, you will get signs, signals and clues not just about who they are and what they are about, but also if their values are a good match with yours.
In my NYC therapy practice, when I meet a patient for the first time, the goal is to truly see if we are a good fit regarding personality, values, and approach. There is no right place to start because that first bit of time together is just a way for us to get to know each other and see if we can come up with a compatible plan moving forward. All information that comes up in session is good information!
I encourage all of my patients (and friends and family!) to bring pickiness to the therapist search. This person will be someone who is close to you, who knows the most intimate details of your life and who helps to support and guide you through transitions and big decisions. The search can certainly involve some legwork but the effort will be well worth the reward when you find the therapist that is right for you.
Preparing for the First Session
When making your appointment for a first session, get your potential therapist on the phone to get an initial sense of who they are. If you feel comfortable enough to make an appointment, here are some things you can ask to get a sense of what to expect during that first session:
What sort of things will we go over?
You can learn a lot about a therapist and their style from the first session. Some therapists who are more diagnostic and structured may want to get a lot of history from you, including family history, symptom history, and other psychosocial information. Other therapists will want to focus more on getting to know you and will let the historical information come a bit more organically.
What is the cost?
It is always good to have a sense of the price range when going into a session, especially since therapists will expect that you pay for the first visit on the first visit. You may also want to be aware of payment options accepted (cash, credit card, etc).
Do you take insurance?
If a therapist does not take your insurance, they would be considered out of network. You are responsible for following up with your insurance company and seeing what your out of network reimbursement rates and coverage is. For more on this, see (insert link about out of network).
What is your theoretical framework?
You don’t have a degree in Psychology to talk to your therapist about his or her beliefs and how they influence the work. “Theoretical framework” is essentially a fancy term for “how do you think you can help me”? What do you think the goals should be and how might we go about reaching them? Although therapy is a creative, spontaneous process where sometimes there is not a clear road map, therapists will still be able to give you a good idea of the ways they think about how to begin and what that process might look like.
Embedded in this answer will also be their values, personality, and style, which will help you to assess compatibility. Do you want a therapist who is more warm and personable or do you prefer a more formal, doctor-type? Do you want a therapist who assigns homework or do you like a more free form, fluid type of structure? These are just some of the questions and preferences you will have the opportunity to assess in the first appointment.
What do you see our work together being like?
This question can help you learn a lot about how the therapist will work. For example, some therapists might focus a lot on learning concrete skills and will give you “homework” to work on in between session. Other therapists may want to focus on your family structure and the way that your earliest relationships influence the way you see things now. Or some therapists may be a bit more eclectic and might look to you to take more of a lead. Think about what you want from therapy and how that might be complemented by your potential therapist’s views.
Are you going to give me a diagnosis?
Some therapists will work on giving you a diagnosis as a tool to help them work with you and understand you better. Other therapists feel like a diagnosis is constraining and takes away from seeing who you are. Some of the latter who do not work diagnostically will have to give you a diagnosis anyway for insurance purposes, but it will not be a big focus of the treatment.
If you are looking for a therapist for more than just you, be sure to involve everyone who is going to be involved in the therapy! This means for couples that both parties should be involved in the initial search and in the vetting process. For the initial phone call, you may even want to ensure that both you and your partner are there together for that brief, initial exchange.
For family therapy or therapy that involves a child, parents and caregivers have to do a great deal of vetting to make sure that this therapist is someone they feel comfortable introducing their child to. Whether it be a longer initial phone call or a first session with out the therapist, you should feel like you have a good sense of the therapist and his or her approach before bring your child to session. You also may want to ask right off the bat what kind of contact and involvement you as the parent will have in the therapy, as this will differ based on your child’s age and the therapist’s style.
Thinking Outside of the Therapy Box
If you are looking for something creative that offers more than just talk, there are a lot options for you including working with a creative arts therapists. Creative arts therapists use writing, art, play, and movement as tools, in addition to talking, as a way to help you get the most out of your therapy. This is a great option for creative folks, for people who would like to be more creative, or for people who have been in a lot of therapy and who have felt stuck and stagnation with just verbal therapy.
Creative therapy that includes art is just one example of the progressive and non-traditional way that therapy can look in NYC. Assessing what you really need in your therapy does not need to stop there. As the customer, you have a right to be picky and advocate for what you believe will be helpful to you.