~5 min read
Athletes are used to visiting the doctor or trainer when we have a physical injury, but we might feel a bit lost as to where to find support when the discomfort we feel starts in our minds. Enter: the search for a therapist. Looking for and choosing a therapist is a personal experience – each person has different preferences and goals. As you try to narrow your search and figure out a good fit, it can be helpful to consider the following aspects. Throughout this recruiting process, keep in mind that you have the option to have a free initial conversation with a therapist through Galea Health before deciding to schedule a full session, and there’s no pressure to commit to a therapist right away.
Before even speaking with a therapist, there are a few aspects of the search that might seem overwhelming, such as the different kinds of therapists that appear after a simple search result. The cluster of letters that come after a therapist’s name can seem a bit…much when you’re doing initial research. Psychologists, social workers, counselors, and psychiatrists all fall under the umbrella term of therapist. Each set of acronyms represents a different background. As long as the therapist is trained and certified to provide professional mental health services, you’re good to go. To clear up any additional confusion surrounding these creds, we’ve broken down some common abbreviations.
LICSW: Licensed Social Worker – LICSWs have completed 2 years of graduate school for social work and 3 years of supervised training experience
LMHC: Licensed Mental Health Counselor – LMHCs are therapists who have completed 2 years of graduate school for counseling and post-graduate training
PsyD: Doctor of Psychology – PsyDs have completed a graduate degree in psychology with extensive experience in clinical psychology
PhD: Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology – Earning a PhD in psychology allows for a greater range of career opportunities, such as licensed psychologist, psychology professors, or psychology researchers
MD: Psychiatrists – Psychiatrists have completed 4 years of medical school as well as 4 years of mental health training. They have the authority to prescribe medications
Recap: As long as the therapist has legitimate credentials, including LICSW, LMHC, PsyD, PhD, or MD, they are qualified mental health professionals. Only psychiatrists can prescribe medications.
Specialties & Expertise
In addition to the extensive generalized training that all certified psychologists or therapists have, mental health professionals are also trained in more specific areas. If you’re using Galea Health to search for a therapist, then you have already taken the first step to narrow down the pool to mental health professionals catered toward athletes. If you’re aware of the specific symptoms you want to address during therapy, then it is valuable to keep this in mind during the search. Therapists will generally list their areas of expertise on their profiles. The following are a list of specialties and related therapy goals that might help you think about what expertise you are looking for from your therapist:
- Addiction: prevent and reduce challenges related to substance use; reducing or abstaining from addictive behaviors, such as unhealthy shopping and gambling
- Anxiety: coping with feelings of worry, fear, and nervousness
- Body image/eating concerns: recognizing and reducing unhealthy eating patterns, beliefs, and behaviors; relieving the emotional pain underlying these thoughts and behaviors; developing a healthier relationship with the mind and body
- Concussions/TBIs: providing support for the challenges and mood-induced changes related to concussion-based injuries
- Depression: providing support for feeling down, irritable, and/or apathetic; increasing motivation, self-esteem, and ability to find pleasure and meaning in life
- Life transitions: navigating the uncertainty that comes with life changes, such as adjusting to college, loss of a season due to injury or COVID-19, or retiring from sport
- Relationship issues: identifying patterns in previous and current relationships; understanding how to build boundaries and assert needs in relationships; improving communication skills and conflict resolution
- Stress: identifying stressors and developing coping strategies to help ease feelings of overwhelm; maintaining a more stable response to both everyday and overarching pressures related to academics, athletics, and so on
Therapists also range in their approach, and common treatment approaches include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Psychoanalytic Therapy
- Mindfulness Practices
- Interpersonal Therapy
These approaches present different ways to reflect on your mental health and different ways to address behaviors, process emotions, and set goals. You don’t have to understand all of the nuances between these different approaches, but it’s worth talking to a therapist about their techniques to better understand if they will be a good fit for you.
Recap: What thoughts, challenges, and feelings are you experiencing, and which professionals have specialized training in those areas?
You might know upfront whether you feel more comfortable communicating with a therapist of a particular racial identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, gender, or other identity. If so, it’s common to be able to filter by identity characteristics when conducting a search on therapist networks. Even so, it’s important to keep in mind that simply selecting a therapist that matches your precise background might narrow your options and does not guarantee a perfect fit. Some therapists will specify whether they are trained to navigate more identity-specific experiences.It might be good to ask your therapist if they’ve had experience working with individuals who share your background, identity characteristics, or who have struggled with similar challenges to your own. Most of the time, therapists have worked with people from a range of different backgrounds and identities, and should be able to support you through your unique experiences.
Recap: Do you feel more comfortable talking about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a therapist who has a particular identity or background?
The interpersonal aspect of therapy is the most influential part, and it is through speaking with a therapist that you’ll get a feel for whether or not they might be a good fit for you. It’s your therapist’s job to work to understand and support you while respecting you. The atmosphere they create should feel warm, inviting, and trusting, and their attention should be focused on you rather than focusing on their own experiences or expertise. Each therapist is a little different, so if you don’t feel completely comfortable with one, no worries. You can always see if a different therapist with a different style helps you to feel more at ease.
Recap: Do you feel valued, respected, and comfortable while talking to the therapist? If you are someone who likes to lighten things up occasionally, are you able to use humor with your therapist?
In addition to feeling comfortable, it is also important that your therapist gives you hope about your ability to better understand and improve your mental health and well-being. While you might not feel entirely inspired after the initial conversation, you should feel optimistic about the therapist’s ability to support you and help you navigate through the challenges you are experiencing. The therapist should balance being realistic with being hopeful.
Recap: Does the therapist help you feel hopeful about your journey to improve how you feel?
In order to build a trusting relationship with your therapist, you need to feel confident that you can open up to your therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. While this might not happen right away, it should feel possible within the first few sessions. Your therapist should also be upfront with you about all aspects of therapy, including their expertise, the cost of sessions, the length of sessions, and their perspective on how to best support you.
Recap: Are you able to speak honestly with your therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences? Does your therapist clearly communicate how they plan to support you?
Building a team based on trust, communication, and hard work is essential. When you’re looking for a therapist, these core values remain true. Each therapist has something a little different to offer, so feel free to speak to multiple before deciding which might be the best fit for you and your current needs. Understanding both the therapist’s training and background as well as how you interact with them will help you choose the right one for you. Remember, if at any point you don’t feel like the therapist is best helping you achieve your goals, then you can always try to connect with a different therapist.