Many people are seeking mental health guidance now due to COVID-related anxiety driven by job loss, financial hardship or concerns about returning to an office environment. But what credentials and experience should you look for when researching a therapist that’s right for you?
Alexandra Podowski, LPC, an intensive outpatient program therapist at Texas Health Behavioral Health Center in Uptown, says most of her patients are looking for a way to normalize all the fear and trauma they may be experiencing these days, whether driven by the loss of a job, uncertainty about the future, isolation or lack of normal social interactions. In other cases, patients are caring for children at home while still being expected to work full-time. The stress of it all may be compounded in the age of COVID-19.
While patients may have sought treatment for one or two issues in the past, it’s common today for them to seek help for what Podowski calls a “waterfall of concerns that are both valid and terrifying.”
“People today are looking for an outlet to normalize and validate their concerns that may seem dark and daunting in the moment we’re living in,” Podowski explains. “It’s important for them to know that they are not alone in the magnitude of fear and trauma they’re experiencing. For that reason, I’ve been enjoying counseling clients in a group setting via telehealth.
Podowski says others are seeking care to manage the gravity of grief many of us are experiencing – from the death of a friend, colleague or family member, to job loss, loss of autonomy and even reduced connections with peers and family. Many need outlets to discuss these real issues, and in the case of a death, the sadness that comes without the closure than a funeral can provide or limited hospital access to see a sick loved one.
With holidays looming, she adds that navigating these special times of the year, especially when living alone, is another concern that many of her patients are contending with today.
Watching for Signs
When it comes to seeking treatment, it’s important to know the signs that may indicate to you, a family member or friend may need help. According to Podowski, those signs may include:
- Excessive sleeping
- Neglecting regular hygiene
- Lack of tidiness around the home
- Increased anger/agitation
- Panic attacks
- Increased substance use
- Self-reported desire for help
If you see a family member struggling, don’t be afraid to offer help or ask if they’re doing alright.
“Most people are happy to acknowledge they may need more support or even that they are struggling when asked,” Podowski explains. “Do not be afraid to check on your loved ones with direct questions!”
When it comes to finding the right therapist for you or a loved one, there are several important steps to take. Podowski cautions that the search for the best resource for you can be daunting, but being armed with the right resources and information is key to finding a professional that can help you:
Investigate your insurance plan. A good first step is to investigate which behavioral health services are covered under the plan, which may provide a blueprint for what resources are available and whether some out-of-pocket expenses may be incurred. Some therapists do not take insurance, so consider other resources for payment like funds from HSAs or FSAs.
Be discriminating. Podowski says it’s okay to be a bit picky when looking for a therapist. She adds that professional credentials can be confusing, so her best advice is to ask yourself:
- Is it important that the therapist has many years of experience or is that of lesser importance?
- Is the therapist’s age and gender a factor? Some people relate better to someone who’s more like them.
- Am I looking for a listener or someone to provide advice and guidance with direct feedback? Or both?
Ask for referrals. Podowski says ask friends or family members you trust for a recommendation or referral to a therapist. They may be able to recommend a behavioral health professional who’s right for you.
Set up a phone consultation. Your first appointment can be conducted by phone, and that’s a good way to see if the therapist is a good fit for you, but Podowski advises that it’s best to see the therapist for three appointments before you decide if it’s a match for your needs.
Get a complimentary assessment. Texas Health Resources offers a free assessment you can schedule online or by calling (682) 626-8719. Podowski says the free assessments are offered to help individuals identify what level of care is best, and to provide referrals, as needed.