You've decided it's time to seek therapy or counseling. Maybe you have a mental or emotional concern that's begun to affect your daily life. Or, you need a space to work through life's challenges—and someone skilled and impartial to talk with who isn't a friend, family member, or partner.
While acknowledging you need help is the first step to getting the support you need, it's also only the beginning of the journey—one that could feel overwhelming to start, but has the potential to bring you the peace needed, if you take proper action from the onset.
We've collected input from some favorite West Michigan women, who are also licensed therapists: Erin Fisk is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who has experience related to depression and anxiety to grief and loss to LGBTQ+ experiences and more. Katie Bozek, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), specializes in couples, parenting, and family counseling, as well as adoption and stress management. Sharon Depcinski, LMSW and Certified Sex Therapist (CST), has expertise in aging and sexuality, relationships and sexual health.
If you feel like it's time to address your psychological well-being, follow these best practices.
Know your objectives.
Probably the most crucial aspect of finding a therapist is understanding from the get-go what you hope to achieve—and how you want to go about it.
"Therapy is a bidirectional relationship," said Fisk. "The person entering therapy may consider spending time identifying the thoughts and behaviors they're wanting to change, as well as what they're looking for in a therapist. Having an idea of what you hope to achieve sets both the client and therapist up for the best outcomes."
You may not have a full understanding of your goals, but it's ideal to have a framework for what you're seeking and be able to ask for guidance if you aren't quite sure.
"Therapy is often a lesson in self-discovery and often change and growth can come in areas that we don't even expect," Depcinski said.
Focus on fit and specialty.
Like most things in life, therapy is by no means one size fits all. In some cases, a general therapist may be able to assist you; in others, such as trauma, grief, abuse, race and identity, chronic illness, and sexual difficulties, engaging with a specialist is likely the better route.
"We can't all be experts in everything," Depcinski said. "When searching for a therapist, check that they have received special training in the area in which you need support and have worked with others who have dealt with similar issues."
Bozek adds, "It can be beneficial to have a therapist who has certain elements in common with you. It is not always a guarantee that you will get along or connect in a therapeutic way, but working with someone who understands the nuances and intersections of your life can make a big difference."
Psychologytoday.com is a great resource to start your search. The "Find a Therapist" feature allows you to filter by issues, therapy types, insurance, and more—all within your zip code. Or, try the "Therapist Locator" on aamft.org, which also comes highly recommended.
Don't be afraid to shop around—and don't give up.
In the same way you wouldn't keep going to a stylist who continuously botches your hair, you shouldn't stick with a therapist who doesn't feel right or doesn't seem to be helping you.
"You have a responsibility to attend to yourself first," Fisk said. "Your primary focus is your needs—not the relationship with the clinician. Making changes in who you're partnering with in therapy is a common practice and it's important that you feel like you've found the right fit."
On a similar note, simply because one person or situation didn't work out doesn't mean therapy isn't for you. If you try a recipe and don't like the result, you don't quit cooking. Resist categorizing all experiences as the same, or making the mistake of abandoning therapy without giving it adequate effort.
"Therapy is not intended to tell you what to do, or to tell you that you are right or wrong," Bozek explained, in closing. "What is important in a therapeutic relationship is that you are being heard."
Special thanks to:
Erin Fisk, LMSW at betterhelp.com and fisk.solutions
Katie Bozek, Ph.D., LMFT at transitionsgr.com
Sharon Depcinski, LMSW, CST at grspecialtytherapy.com
Allison Kay Bannister, a West Michigan resident since 1987, professional writer since 2002 and GVSU alumna, recently launched her own freelance writing business. Allison enjoys travel, art, dance, food and exploring world cultures—and, of course, writing about all these and more.
This article originally appeared in the Apr/May 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.