Getting a mental health checkup might have earned a high-priority place on our list of things to tackle in 2018, but finding a therapist that “gets” where we’re coming from can daunt even the most self-care committed. Whether it’s moving on from a long-term professional relationship that’s gone stale or darkening the door of a counselor’s office for the very first time, there’s not exactly a hard and fast rule of etiquette that gives us an idea of how to do it right. But evidence suggests that committing to mental wellness through regular talk-therapy sessions could be the key to moving forward and claiming power over our lives, which means that figuring out how to navigate finding a therapist is well worth the effort. We spoke to a licensed professional counselor to get a clue on best practices for finding one that aligns well with our own values and needs.

1. Break up gently. Sometimes you’ve gone as far as you can go with a particular therapist. Shifting care preferences (e.g., wanting more holistic care that incorporates a body/soul approach, or wanting someone who can assess your condition with a fresh perspective) are a good reason to back out of your current arrangement. But Michele Moore, of the marriage counseling resource Marriage Mojo, advises outlining the issues you’re thinking about before you bail on a long-term relationship with your therapist.

Of course, there are times you just know there’s no amount of discussion that will get you and your therapist back on the same page. For those situations, Moore believes there is always a way to make a graceful exit. “Consider simply leaving a voicemail or email with a brief message about feeling the need to go in another direction. At the end of the day, you don’t owe your therapist a lengthy explanation, but getting one may help him/her provide better services to future clients.” The degree to which you explain your decision can vary according to how long you’ve been seeing this particular professional. “If you’ve only seen someone for a few weeks, no explanation is needed, but if you’ve been a long-standing client, an explanation will not only be expected but greatly appreciated,” Moore explains.

2. Figure out your dealbreakers. Before starting your search for a new therapist, figure out what kind of care you’re after. If you’re looking to manage anxiety or depression conditions that you suspect may require a prescription, remember that you’ll need to speak to someone who’s licensed to prescribe these kinds of drugs. Also, find out what kind of coverage you’re afforded under your health insurance plan, and figure out how much money you can budget per month for your sessions to make up the difference. Once you know the basics of what you’re looking for, scope out the field of local therapists using online tools (Psychology Today‘s Find a Therapist, Therapy for Black Girls, or’s Therapist Finder all offer different filters to start you on your way to a good match).

Ask about booking a phone consultation or a free in-office consultation, and then come prepared when it’s time to break the ice. Moore advises patients to be straightforward with prospective new therapists. “It’s unlikely that you would find someone who agrees with each and every point, but it’s helpful to identify the top 3-5 items on your ‘wish list’ and ask about those,” she says. Moore suggests asking if the therapist’s approach is based on a similar religion or faith tradition to your own, finding out the therapist’s personal philosophies about long-term condition management via prescriptions, and inquiring about their privacy policy. You should also ask about how available your therapist will be to you and take that into consideration. “Very few individuals in private practice will invite you to call them 24/7; however, if you are seeing a therapist who works in a larger practice, it’s possible that they will offer some type of ‘on call’ schedule whereby you are able to reach someone else when needed,” Moore explains.

3. Remember your “why.” If you’ve been seeing a therapist for a condition that requires ongoing supervision, don’t bail at the first sign of trouble in your professional relationship. And don’t risk going without care by dropping your therapist cold turkey. Services like TalkSpace can offer a critical lifeline when you just need someone to help you feel okay, but the American Psychological Association points out that there are definite limits to how effective talk therapy can be when it doesn’t take place face-to-face. Write down what you think would work in your therapy relationships, whether you’re currently in one, seeking one out for the first time in a while, or approaching the idea of counseling for the very first time. Like any relationship, there will probably need to be some element of compromise, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a situation that doesn’t contribute to your mental wellness.

Have you ever broken up with a therapist? Tell us about it @BritandCo.

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