Podcast: Finding a Therapist- What to Look For
Are you thinking about making a therapy appointment but have no idea where to begin? What should you look for in a therapist? What’s the difference between an LPC, LCSW, Phd and PsyD? In today’s podcast, Jeff Guenther, LPC, founder of TherapyDen.com, takes us through the entire therapist-hunting process. He breaks it down into simple parts so it no longer feels daunting or confusing. He even gets us thinking about what kind of person we’d feel comfortable sharing our problems with — for example, would you prefer a male or female? A vegan? A parent? A religious person? Is it even OK to ask a potential therapist such personal questions?
Are you ready to learn how to find the right therapist for you? Join us for an in-depth discussion.
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Guest information for ‘Jeff Guenther- Find a Therapist’ Podcast Episode
Jeff Guenther, LPC is the host of the podcast Say More About That and runs an inclusive and progressive therapist directory at TherapyDen.com. TherapyDen is a small team of people who care about making access to mental healthcare easy and affordable, our Advisory Board is made up of local thought leaders and therapists working towards a brighter future for mental health.
Jeff has a very strong background in family and couples work, and received his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of Southern California, and a bachelor’s degree in child and family development from San Diego State University. Prior to going into private practice, he worked in the public school system providing individual, group, and family therapy to high-risk students. He also taught parenting classes on a regular basis. Jeff’s therapeutic career started out at a crisis line in Portland, Oregon, where he mainly worked with people who were suffering from suicidal thoughts and severe anxiety. Jeff has lived in Portland since 2005 and the bulk of his work focuses on seeing couples and individuals in private practice.
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Jeff Guenther- Find a Therapist’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Calling in to the show today we have Jeff Guenther, LPC. Jeff is the host of the podcast Say More About That and runs an inclusive and progressive therapist directory at TherapyDen.com. Jeff is here today to discuss how therapy works, how therapy doesn’t work and everything in between. Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah. Thanks for having me here. I’m really excited to talk to you.
Gabe Howard: Well, I’m excited to talk as therapy is one of those things that everybody has heard of.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Mm hmm.
Gabe Howard: Yet there is all this misconception about it.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah, totally. And it’s really tricky to figure out. Even if you want to go to therapy, how do you start it? Where do you find a therapist?
Gabe Howard: Jeff, let’s start small. What is therapy?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah, I feel like that’s a really good question and it’s a really difficult question to answer. So I run TherapyDen.com, which is this national therapist directory. So I get to find out what people are actually searching for when they’re trying to find a therapist. Most people go on and select their issue that they want to address in therapy. And over 40 percent of the time, it’s one of three issues that they’re selecting. So I think sometimes the public thinks that therapy is going to therapy for either anxiety, depression or relationship issues. Those are the most common issues that are selected when looking for a therapist. So maybe we can kind of start there and say that therapy is when you’re feeling like you’re struggling with something that you are having a hard time maybe resolving on your own. And you need some sort of outside third party to help you process and understand what’s going on so that you can move forward or grow.
Gabe Howard: I like that much better than the Webster’s dictionary version, which is the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means, and you can see why people maybe have this general misunderstanding of what therapy is, because in pop culture it’s laying on a couch. In real life, it’s sitting in a chair and therapy looks different for everybody.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Totally.
Gabe Howard: You know, what therapy looks like for me is very different than what therapy looks like to somebody else. I think that therapy is this idea of taking an issue and discussing it with a trained professional to get a different viewpoint or perspective on that issue, to help you move forward in a meaningful way.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah, I think that’s a really good, succinct, concise definition that we can all get behind. I agree.
Gabe Howard: That’s it, we should e-mail Webster tomorrow.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Can we please? Yes.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Jeff and Gabe, changing the definition of therapy since…
Jeff Guenther, LPC: I support that.
Gabe Howard: Jeff, of all the things that you could have put your time and talent behind, why helping people get to therapy?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: So I’ve been a therapist since 2005 and in the beginning stages of starting my practice, like a lot of therapists, I was really focused on marketing my practice so that other people in the community in Portland, Oregon, where I am, can find me. And I was having a hard time trying to figure out how to attract clients. I was talking to a lot of therapists. Therapists were having a really hard time trying to figure out exactly how to market themselves and attract clients that would be a good ideal match. Then I was looking to the community, people that were looking for therapists and they were just totally lost. There’s got to be a better way. And so I just became obsessed with trying to figure out how to get people into therapy in the easiest way possible with the least amount of barriers and limits. And I eventually created a local therapists directory for Portland. And there’s hundreds and hundreds of therapists have signed up, and thousands and thousands of people every month that go to that website to look for a therapist. And I’ve been able to collect all the data. What is important for people when they’re looking for therapists? And then I was able to take all that data and create the national therapists’ directory TherapyDen.com. So part of it is I turned into like a data nerd of what is it that people are looking for and what makes a good match? And also just it’s really hard when people start to look for a therapist. It feels daunting. They don’t know where to go and then they don’t get treatment and they never are able to learn or grow or heal. My heart hurts for them. So for the last 10, 15 years, I’ve just been kind of going for it.
Gabe Howard: I love it, Jeff. Thank you so very much. I am one of these people that believes that everybody should probably be in therapy. And I also believe that many people who want to be in therapy don’t know how.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Mm hmm.
Gabe Howard: And that’s what I’d kind of like to switch gears and talk about now. So you have decided that you want to find a therapist. Where should you start?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: I think a good place to start is ask yourself, do you have a health care provider in your life that you already trust? So that might be your primary care physician. And sometimes they’re connected to other therapists in the community and they know what you’re looking for. They know what other therapists out there are treating and they can be a really good first place to start. You’re sort of getting this really personalized referral. So I’d say start there and then maybe also start with your friends and your family. The tricky thing is lots of people don’t really want to talk about the fact that they’re seeing a counselor because there’s stigma attached to it. The next place that I think the majority of people probably go is to their computer. They go to the Internet and type something into Google and they try to find a therapist there. And when you’re on there, either look at therapy websites or you can go to therapist directories. Another thing in my like 15 years of being a therapist, I’m not sure any client has ever asked if I’m actually licensed to practice therapy.
Gabe Howard: So it’s fascinating that you bring that up because the next question I was going to ask you is how does one become a licensed therapist? Because I see LPC, I see MSW, I see PhD.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Right.
Gabe Howard: And for a person not in the industry. What are all the differences? What is the license that we’re looking for so that we know we’re in good hands?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: First of all, look for a license, because in some states, even in my state, the state of Oregon, you can call yourself a professional counselor, but you don’t actually have like a master’s degree in the counseling field. So you can’t call yourself a licensed professional counselor, but you can call yourself a professional counselor. So make sure that there’s the word licensed in their titles that you know, that they’re legit. They’ve gotten like a graduate degree in counseling and you can be a licensed professional counselor. You can be a licensed clinical social worker. You can be a licensed marriage family therapist. And those are sort of master’s degree level. I’m a master’s degree level. And then there’s the PhD level. And they can call themselves psychologist. So they’ve been in school for five years. They’ve written a dissertation and they can call themselves a doctor as well as a PhD. And then there’s the PsyD, which is a little bit like a PhD, but they’ve focused more on clinical work instead of research at the university. They can also call themselves doctor. And then there’s a psychiatrist who prescribes medication and they have a medical degree.
Gabe Howard: In pop culture, it’s the psychiatrist that’s always providing therapy. But I know that out in the real world, a psychologist, licensed counselors, therapist, MSW’s, LSW’s, they’re providing the therapy and the psychiatrists are medical doctors who aren’t doing talk therapy. They’re doing medication management. Is that true? Is pop culture misleading us?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: It’s mostly true. There are some psychiatrists that will sit down with you for an hour. But many of them will be just like sitting down with you for 15 minutes every month or two or three to kind of talk to you about how you’re feeling about your medication. They typically all recommend they should go talk to a talk therapist, which is a therapist, counselor, social worker, psychologist. It’s good to make that point clear.
Gabe Howard: The Internet is vast.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Oh, yeah.
Gabe Howard: So now you’re looking online. What are some things that clients should be looking for in order to keep them safe? Because, I mean, there’s just a lot on the Internet. And obviously we can drive people to like PsychCentral.com or TherapyDen.com. And we know that those are safe. But the Internet’s a really big place.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: The Internet is a really big place, and I think you bring up a good point, it’s important to find a safe Web site to know that you’re finding therapists that are credentialed and there are some therapists Web sites that you mentioned and also there’s GoodTherapy.org and Psychology Today that verify their therapists so you can feel safe knowing that you’re on these verified therapist directories that are already kind of vetted. You know, one thing that you can do, actually, is you can go to the local state board of licensed professional counselors and therapists. You can Google that in your state and you can find out if they’ve been suspended or reprimanded or if they’ve gotten in trouble. Usually like the Web site lists all those sorts of things. But when you’re looking for a therapist, there’s some common things that people usually start out with and two really popular things is the location of a therapist. Is it close to your work or your home? And then how are you going to pay? With insurance or out of pocket? Those are really important questions. But sometimes people just stop there. You know, they go location and payment, right? Let’s just do this. And I want them to be able to kind of expand their search and ask other questions or look for other data points that are important, like do they specialize in your issue? If you’re going in and you have a panic disorder, you should find a therapist that is obsessed with treating panic disorder. And do they get you? Can they empathize with you? Sometimes that’s hard to figure out on their website or on their therapist profile. But a lot more times these days, therapists are being better when they’re coming to kind of empathizing with their client through their marketing or website materials.
Gabe Howard: Now, what can a client look for to make sure they have a good fit? Now, I don’t mean licensed or unlicensed. I mean a good fit for you and a therapist.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Every therapist is completely different and we all have so many different styles. What kind of person do you want to talk to? Some people want to talk to the older woman who feels has a caretaker energy or some people want to talk to like the professorial type who is quick witted and very smart. And some people want to talk to a therapist that does a lot of talking. Or they like giving a lot of homework or they’re like really super engaged and they want to kind of get that sort of dynamic? Some people are really interested in trying to find a therapist that has the same gender, their same sexuality, race, age or identity. What is this person’s culture? If you find a therapist that has a similar culture, it doesn’t automatically mean that that’s gonna be like the perfect fit and perfect therapist for you. But some clients feel like that’s important because they want the sort of lived experience that a therapist has gone through. And also there’s a lot of clients who are looking for therapists that have the same values. Do they have a value match? You know, some people really, like, value a specific type of politics. Does their therapist also value that? Some clients like don’t eat meat and they want to see a vegan therapist because they feel really like understood by that vegan therapist. You know what I mean?
Gabe Howard: I do, and I think that’s very reasonable if you’re not comfortable with your therapist. It doesn’t matter if that’s reasonable or unreasonable, right? You have to be comfortable in order to share some of these things. It would be great if we lived in a world where you just didn’t know. But, you know, sometimes we do things to tip our hands. You know, for example, we put that bumper sticker of the person that we voted for in the last election on our car. And then you see the therapist get out of the car and
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Right.
Gabe Howard: Maybe you just really dislike that person for whatever reason, right or wrong, we don’t have to get into that. But you’re like, I don’t trust your judgment anymore. Luckily, there’s more than one therapist in the world.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: There’s more than one therapist and they’ve all voted for different people.
Gabe Howard: And we’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: And we are back discussing therapy with Jeff Gunther. Now, here we are. We’ve done everything. We’ve looked online. We’ve made sure we’re safe. We chose our potential therapist. What happens now?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Congratulations. I want you to actually choose three potential therapists.
Gabe Howard: Really?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah. I want people to, like, shop around a little bit and I want you to schedule a consult with three different therapists so that you can really get a good understanding of who these people are.
Gabe Howard: And when you say schedule a consult, that’s a phone call generally speaking, correct?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Generally, it’s a phone call. I actually allow people to come in for a free 30 minute consult in person, which is also does a lot for me. So I can figure out how they are in person if I feel like I’d be a good match for them. But yeah, it’s typically a phone call. And if a therapist thinks that after the consult it’s not a good match. Then we have an ethical duty to refer you out to another therapist. That would be a good match for you. So we’re like, we’re already working for you. We’ve got your back. But even more importantly, it’s for the client to figure out if it’s a good fit for them. So you should feel free to ask all the questions that you feel are important in order to make sure that you just spill your guts to this person. So what’s important to you? It’s important for you to get in touch with that. You can ask about their training, their experience with your issue, their cultural competency, stuff like that.
Gabe Howard: So now you’re on the consult call. What are some good questions to cover?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah, so this is where I have a lot to say. So
Gabe Howard: Please, please.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: ,Just like a little disclaimer, it’s up to the therapist whether or not they feel like they want to answer questions that you’re asking them. Some therapists are really just sort of blank slate like you don’t get to know anything about them. It’s all about you. But other therapists on the other side of the spectrum are like, I’ll answer your questions if it’s important for you to feel comfortable and feel like you can kind of trust that I understand you. So some basic questions that clients should ask in a consult is where did you go to school? What did you study? What makes you qualified to treat my problem? Do you specialize in my problem? What makes you a specialist? Have you helped many people like me? What is the typical outcome of those cases? Am I a good fit? Why am I a good fit for you? What type of treatment styles will you use? Can you explain those treatment styles in detail with me? Will you talk about my family and relationship history? How important is it for you to know about my past? How will I know therapy is working? Will I feel worse before I feel better? Who talks more, you or me? Because sometimes therapists are really chatty and sometimes, they are just like you talk.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: And are you a confrontational therapist? Do you give homework? How often do I have to see you? So some other questions and maybe a little bit more personal, have you experienced my issue in your personal life? Or you can ask the therapist, are you married? Do you have kids? Have you always been a therapist? How long have you been in practice? Are you from my city? Do you see a therapist? Are you politically progressive or conservative? Are you religious? If so, how do you practice your religion? Do you believe in God? Who did you vote for? What are your views on social justice? Are you a vegan? Vegetarian? Meat eater? Are you pro-choice? What are your feelings about our current president? So obviously those questions are incredibly personal. And I’m not saying that you should ask these questions. I’m just saying like, hey, if these are important questions to you and it’s really important to find out if your therapist is pro-choice or pro-life, you can totally ask them that. So I’ll pause there for a second. Do you have any feelings about those questions?
Gabe Howard: On one hand, I feel that those questions are deeply personal and I would be uncomfortable answering them at my job. However, I asked one of those questions to one of my therapists
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Oh, yeah?
Gabe Howard: Because I had a problem with the therapist that I had fired over that issue and I wanted to make sure that it didn’t come up again. So I just straight out asked her. I said, what are your religious views? Because my previous therapist, who I did not have a console call with, tabled everything along the lines of religion. And it became uncomfortable to the point where I needed to move on. And I did not want any problems with my next therapist, I didn’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. On one hand, I hear all of those questions like one after another, after another after another. And I think, wow, that is a lot of personal questions. But I am imagining that in practice, maybe only one or two of those is a deal breaker for the average person.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah, that’s what I found. And it’s so personal, like if I’m going to see a therapist, I want to talk about my kids and parenting. Then it makes total sense. If you ask the therapist, do you have kids? Are you a parent? The therapist can say no and still be a wonderful therapist for you. But it feels like you want to kind of know that information and in your example. Yeah, if the therapist is sort of frames things in spirituality or religion, but that doesn’t come up until the 20th session. It’s like, oh god, I wish I would have known this because now I’m like, not really vibing with what you’re like throwing out there, you know what I mean? So these questions, maybe just a handful of them that you might think are important are things that you might want to bring up.
Gabe Howard: And they obviously align with things that are very important to you. If you are not political, for example, then maybe you would frame the question of are you political? If the person says no, politics have nothing to do with my therapy, then whom they voted for is really irrelevant. What you’re trying to get at is are we going to have a political debate? Everybody has a different comfort level with some of these uncomfortable things, right?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yes, exactly. And there’s also the like, if you’re a person of color, you can ask a white therapist, have you ever worked with a person of color before? What makes you qualified to work with a person of color? What have you done to learn about my specific culture? How are you continuing to learn about my culture? Why should I trust you? Do you operate from a racial justice framework? What are your thoughts on white privilege? How do you experience and handle your own white fragility? Or even if you’re somebody like in the LGBTQ community, go ahead. If you feel like you need to ask your therapist, what’s your gender identity? What’s your sexual identity? Have you ever treated a queer or trans person before? What’s your understanding of diverse sexualities and gender identities? Do you think being gay is a choice? Do you think homosexuality can be cured? How do you feel talking about gay sex? Are you trained in counseling people that want to go through gender reassignment surgery? I can continue to go on. But like what I’m trying to do is just encourage people, especially like disenfranchised communities that are talking to therapists. Therapists are just sort of predominantly white and sometimes come from like a pretty privileged background. Go ahead and be like, how are you competent to treat me, like, give me your credentials? And a therapist should kind of be excited to answer that question. And if they don’t have a good enough answer, politely move on to one of your other choices.
Gabe Howard: And it’s important to realize that how they answer the question is sometimes more important than what the answer to the question is. If you ask one of those questions and they say, listen, I’m not comfortable sharing that with you, but and they explain why or they explain how and they don’t dodge the question. That’s very telling vs. oh, that’s an inappropriate question. Well, yeah, they’re scolding you for the questions that you ask then, yeah. You kind of already know that this is not the therapist for you. So it’s important. Understand it for maybe that perspective as well.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Yeah, I think that’s a really, really good point. If they don’t want to answer any of these questions again, that’s totally fine. But I’d really, I really hope that they give you a good, compassionate reason as to why they’re not going to answer these questions. And there’s really good reasons why some therapists won’t want to answer this question, because then like all of a sudden, it becomes about them and not about you. But they should have like a really good answer if they don’t want to answer it.
Gabe Howard: So now we’re on the consulting call. We’ve handled all of this. You’ve got your three, you’ve narrowed it down to one. You now have selected a winner. It’s like therapy, reality show, right? But now you’ve got it. You’re ready. You’ve made the appointment. You’ve picked the person. Now what?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: So it’s exciting because now you’re going to finally get into it. However, therapy can oftentimes move really slowly. So that’s something to keep in mind.
Gabe Howard: I know that a lot of people believe that therapy is quick because of the way insurance panels work. They approve you for three to five therapy sessions, which creates the idea that, oh, I just need three or five therapy sessions and I will be fixed. Can you talk about that for a moment?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: There are some issues that maybe could really be targeted in that amount of time. A lot of times if you’re coming in for a specific anxiety, I’m afraid of spiders or I have a hard time like crossing bridges or something. You can kind of like hone in on that and just focus on that and really have a solution focused short term interventions. But oftentimes we really need time to get into it. And this might sound like a really long time to be in therapy, but oftentimes I don’t see really big change until after the first year of therapy. Because then we can kind of like look back at where you were a year ago and see like how you’ve grown and how you’ve developed to, like, feel more healthy or act more healthy or think more healthy. But there’s a lot of secret subconscious defense mechanisms that are making it so that it’s really hard for you to change. So we have to kind of slowly dismantle all those defense mechanisms, with your permission, and then kind of replace them with something else that’s more positive or just get them to go away. And it takes a long time to positively influence you, even though you’re psyched to be there. There’s usually a lot of resistance.
Gabe Howard: Jeff, thank you so much. Are there any final thoughts, wrap ups, takeaways that our listeners should be aware of as they move from being wary of therapy to now understanding, embracing, and getting ready to go to therapy?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: One more thing I want to share that I feel like is super, super important. If you go through this whole process, everything we talked about today and you find your therapist and it’s kind of an exhausting process, I understand. But that therapist doesn’t work out and they’re not a good fit for you. It doesn’t mean that therapy in general is not a good fit for you. It doesn’t mean like, oh, therapy didn’t work for me. I’m never going to go back. If it doesn’t work out, go find another therapist. It doesn’t mean that therapy is not for you.
Gabe Howard: Jeff, thank you so much. How can folks find you on the Internet?
Jeff Guenther, LPC: They can find me at TherapyDen.com, they can find a therapist directory there, they can go to JeffGuntherLPC.com if they want to find my personal Web site. If you wanna shoot me an email about anything, any of these questions that you might have. Send me a message at [email protected] and you can find my podcast at Say More About That.
Gabe Howard: Wonderful, Jeff. Thank you so much for being here, we really appreciate it.
Jeff Guenther, LPC: Thanks for having me.
Gabe Howard: And thank you, everybody, for listening. Remember, wherever you downloaded the show, you can give us as many stars or hearts or bullet points as humanly possible and use your words. Tell people why you love the show. We have our own private Facebook group. You can go over to PsychCentral.com/FBShow and sign up for that. And finally, remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counselling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.
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Central Podcast, T. (2020). Podcast: Finding a Therapist- What to Look For. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-finding-a-therapist-what-to-look-for/