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How to find a therapist for ADHD
Adulting With ADHD Staff
Therapy is an essential part of any treatment plan for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Choosing the right therapist is crucial, yet the choices available are bewildering and can paralyze you into inaction. That’s because you don’t know what to look for, and you just need some guidance to get you going.
How to find a therapist for ADHD? Some things to look for are a qualified therapist with ADHD experience and with whom you feel comfortable. They should focus on you, not rush you, and should also be flexible around issues arising from your ADHD.
In this article, we’ll go into more detail on five things you should look for and 10 to avoid when choosing an ADHD therapist. Once you’ve read it, you’ll feel better able to make an informed choice about choosing and staying with a therapist. So, let’s get down to it.
Related: Where to get an ADHD Diagnosis
Check the Therapist’s Qualifications and License
There are many different types of therapists treating all kinds of issues, and it’s hard to know where to start.
Let’s clarify one thing first. The term mental health therapist doesn’t only cover psychiatrists and psychologists. Nurses, counselors, and social workers trained in mental health are also referred to as therapists. Counseling and therapy are often used interchangeably, so don’t worry about the terminology.
So, to start with, you need to ensure that your therapist has the relevant qualifications. They also need a license to provide mental health therapies.
Qualifications and Licensing
Here’s a summary of professions you might encounter in your search for a therapist. Alongside each are their qualification and licensing requirements.
|Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) or Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)||Master’s Degree in Counseling||State license||x|
|Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)||Master’s Degree in Social Work||License to provide social work-based mental therapy (requirements vary by state)||x|
|Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner||
(but specific authority varies by state)
(some states allow prescription of psychiatric medication if the psychologist has training in psychopharmacology)
How to Find a Qualified Therapist
Given the choices available, the best thing is to ask the person who diagnosed your ADHD. That may have been your family physician, pediatrician, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or psychologist.
It’s unlikely that your family physician or pediatrician will be able to provide therapy. But, they should be able to recommend licensed practitioners that can. In particular, they can use their expertise and experience to direct you towards the right type of therapist.
If a psychiatrist diagnosed your ADHD, they might be able to provide therapy. But usually, they focus on drug treatments. If they don’t also offer therapy, they should be able to direct you to a specialist who does.
If your psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner was involved in the diagnosis stage of your ADHD, ask them about providing therapy. They have the training to do so. If you feel comfortable with them, they would be a convenient choice, even if you decide it’s not right for you later.
You may have had your diagnosis from a psychologist. If so, they are specialists in using therapy to treat mental health issues. So, if you feel at ease with them, it might be worth using them for the therapy part of your treatment.
What to Avoid
You’ll need to be on the lookout for people who prey on the vulnerable. Make sure you check the qualifications and licenses of any therapist you’re considering using.
Don’t be tempted by cheap therapy from someone without the necessary qualifications or license. It’ll probably get you nowhere, or make things worse.
Check if the Therapist Has Experience of Treating ADHD
What to Look for
Qualifications are only half of the equation when it comes to finding a therapist for ADHD. The other half is practical experience in treating the condition.
So, once you’ve made a shortlist or found a therapist, you need to do more digging. Google may be a sensible place to start. Just see what comes up.
There are also review sites that may be worth looking at.
But many therapists may not show up on a web search, That doesn’t mean you should disregard them. You just need to consider other ways to find out about them.
Giving them a call for a preliminary chat and asking lots of questions is probably the best way.
Speaking to the therapist and asking questions is something you’ll want to do at some stage anyway. So, be sure to have a prepared list of questions to ask.
What you’re looking for is someone who has significant experience in treating ADHD. So you shouldn’t hesitate to ask as many questions about that as possible. Here are some crucial ones:
- How long have they been licensed?
- How long have they been treating ADHD patients?
- What specialist training have they had in dealing with the condition?
- How do they keep up to date with developments in the treatment of the disorder?
- Have they published any research or articles about ADHD?
- How many people with ADHD have they treated, and over what period?
- What have been the primary issues they’ve dealt with in ADHD patients?
- What therapeutic treatments do they use for ADHD?
- What is their view of the most effective treatment for it, and why?
The therapist should be prepared to respond openly to these questions. It won’t be a good thing if they come across as reluctant to answer.
What to Avoid
Reluctance to Answer Questions on Experience With ADHD
If the therapist resists answering questions about their actual experience of dealing with ADHD, take it as a warning sign.
You’re not asking for confidential information about other patients. You’re just after something substantial to show they have sound experience of treating the problems that come with ADHD.
If it turns out their experience of ADHD is a seminar they attended at college, you should walk away, fast.
So, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’re paying for expertise, and you’re entitled to ask. If you feel they’re fobbing you off or the therapist is trying to dodge the questions, that’s not a good start.
There needs to be honesty in the relationship with your therapist. If they can’t be open and honest with you about their ADHD experience, you’re not going to develop trust. So, move on.
Lack of Accommodation for Problems Caused by ADHD
You’ll also want to know how they approach a situation where your symptoms cause you to be late for or miss an appointment. If they don’t tolerate this, but timekeeping is one of your issues, you’ll probably need to look elsewhere.
If they have strategies in places to help, like text reminders of appointments, at least that shows some understanding of ADHD issues.
Or, if you find you’ve not left enough time to get to the session, but they are happy to conduct it by video call, that’s a big plus.
After all, if the therapist has experience with ADHD, they should be prepared for this type of issue to arise. The reason you want a therapist is to get help so you can address it.
Consider All Available Options to Meet the Cost of Therapy
Mental Health America has issued a stark report, The State of Mental Health in America 2020. It states that more than 10 million adults in the US need mental health care, but this need is going unmet.
This may be due to lack of or insufficient insurance, or a shortage of therapists. Either way, you don’t want to become part of that statistic.
If You Have Health Insurance
Health insurance, whether it’s private insurance or through your employer, should cover treatment for mental health issues. But you need to check your policy.
You’ll also need to check with the therapists you shortlist whether they accept your insurance. If not, unless you decide to pay the costs yourself, you’ll need to choose another therapist.
Also, be aware that not all policies cover the full cost of medication and therapy for mental health issues.
There may also be deductibles and copays on top of your insurance premium. These can add up over time.
They can also limit your treatment options and the regularity with which you can obtain treatment.
You’ll also need to check if there are any restrictions on the accreditations your insurer accepts. That may limit your choice of a therapist to one covered by the insurance.
Also, confirm if your cover limits the number of treatment sessions. If so, and you need more, you’ll need to discuss with your therapist how to deal with it.
If You Have No or Insufficient Health Insurance
Medicaid is a state and federal scheme that helps people on low incomes who fall into specific categories to access health care.
Medicare is a federal insurance program providing cover based on age or disability rather than income. Like private health insurance, there will be deductibles and copays to consider.
Alternatively, you can ask the therapists you’ve shortlisted if they have a cash rate. Most do, and it’s usually less than the price charged to insurance companies.
Some will have a sliding scale, so they’ll figure out a payment scheme by reference to what you earn.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the therapist to try and reach a deal that suits you both.
Another option is to check if there’s a college or university with a psychiatry or psychology department or medical school close to where you live. They’ll have clinics where their students work to gain experience. A fully qualified and licensed mentor will be supervising them, but the rates they charge may be more affordable.
Similarly, as part of the licensing requirements, counselors need to work a set number of hours under the supervision of a licensed therapist. While under supervision, they may charge lower rates than a fully qualified counselor.
Otherwise, your local community mental health center should provide therapeutic care at low or no cost. You won’t have your choice of therapist, but it’s worth trying it out.
If you don’t feel in-person therapy is crucial, you can look at online services. Qualified and licensed therapists provide the treatment, but at a lower cost than an office-based session.
Apart from cost, the advantage is that you’re not tied down by location. So, in theory, at least, you have a more extensive choice of therapist.
What to Avoid
Don’t give up. If you don’t currently have health insurance, check with your employer if you can join the company’s program.
If you can’t get insurance or you’re under-insured, work your way through the other options above. Perseverance should pay off.
Once you have a shortlist of therapists, the next thing to look for is chemistry. This applies even if you’re restricted in your choice of therapist due to funding issues.
You Must Feel Comfortable With the Therapist
It’s crucial that you feel at ease with your therapist. After all, you will need to be open and honest with them if you’re going to get the most benefit from therapy. To be able to do that, you’ll need to feel a connection with them.
What to Look for
That’s not to say that you want to be the best of pals. That wouldn’t be a good idea. The relationship must remain at a professional distance, as your therapist needs to be objective.
But, you should feel they are someone you can trust with the deeply personal emotions and information you will have to disclose.
You may get a good feel for whether you have a rapport by speaking to the therapist by phone. But you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a meeting with them to explore the potential of a relationship face-to-face. So, if they offer a free introductory consultation, take it.
You might even need a few paid sessions with them to establish whether it feels right. Don’t shy away from doing this. It’s the best way to find out if you connect, and their approach to therapy suits you.
And if it turns out they’re not a good fit, you shouldn’t be afraid to change therapists even if you’ve already been through a few. The crucial thing is that you find the right therapist for you even if you have to discard a few in the process.
If it sounds a bit like dating, that’s because it is. But remember, it’s not speed dating, so take your time and don’t be rushed into making a decision.
What to Avoid
Inevitably, you’ll be building a relationship with your therapist. But it needs to be kept at a professional level at all times.
The Relationship Becomes Too Comfortable
If you feel like your therapist is becoming more like a friend, the relationship is probably moving in the wrong direction.
A therapist needs to have an element of detachment to be effective. So, while you need to feel comfortable with your therapist, things can get too comfortable. That’s when it’ll be time to find another one.
Also, a therapist needs to have a degree of empathy, but they shouldn’t be overly sympathetic or pity you. Over-sympathizing and pity won’t help you deal with your problems.
Although you want to feel your therapist understands your challenges, you want them to help you address the issues. You don’t want them to help you wallow in them.
Over-sympathizing and pity are what friends are for. But it isn’t therapy, so walk away.
Your Therapist Makes You Feel Uncomfortable
At the other extreme, if your therapist starts to make you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to stop seeing them.
This can happen in several ways. It may be things they say or something they do.
For example, you may feel their words or actions are flirtatious. That type of behavior is inappropriate in a therapist-client relationship.
If your therapist starts to judge you or encourages you to blame others for your issues, things are going off-track.
Judging you and making you feel ashamed of your condition won’t help you deal with it. And, frankly, that’s not the role of a therapist.
Equally, encouraging you to blame other people for your issues is the opposite of empowering you to deal with them. Blaming others isn’t a tool that a good therapist provides as a way to address a client’s problems.
Getting too touchy-feely is also something you should be wary of. It’s OK to shake hands, or even for your therapist to give you an occasional pat on the back. But some touching, like hugging, is likely to be crossing into unacceptable territory.
Your relationship with your therapist should be open and honest, but not intimate.
Even if your therapist doesn’t touch you, maybe they get too close, invading your personal space. That can feel intrusive and sometimes threatening, and you shouldn’t put up with it.
There may be occasions when you give negative feedback to your therapist. If they don’t respond well to it, you need to move on.
Communication in the therapist-client relationship should be two-way. If you have concerns about your treatment, your therapist should listen and take on board what you say. They shouldn’t get defensive about it.
If any of these or other things happen that make you uncomfortable, you should put a stop to the session and find another therapist.
You Feel Worse After Each Session
Generally, you should leave therapy sessions feeling optimistic and empowered. Like you’ve been inspired, with a lot of positive thoughts and ideas on the things you can implement to address your issues.
If instead, you feel a sense of hopelessness, downtrodden, or depressed, something isn’t right. So don’t ignore it thinking it’s all part of the process.
It’s possible that on occasion, you will feel worse after a session than when you went in. But it shouldn’t be the norm.
You can try discussing it with your therapist. But if things don’t improve, you need to find another therapist to help you.
Therapy Sessions Should Be Focused and Not Rushed
Since you’ll be committing a lot of time to the therapy sessions, you’ll want to ensure that your therapist is doing the same. After all, you’re the one paying them for their time.
What to Look for
You shouldn’t feel like you’re being rushed through a session. You’re not a product on a conveyor belt.
Of course, therapy sessions are time-limited. But a skilled therapist will manage it so that it doesn’t feel that way.
Your therapist should also be able to direct the conversation to the issues that need to be dealt with. General chit chat is a normal part of most social interactions. But, for a therapy session, it shouldn’t be the central part.
Your therapist should give focus to the meetings, not allow them to drift. You’re not paying for the company; you’re paying for the expertise.
Because sessions have a set length, look for your therapist to provide structure. This may be by outlining at the start what the discussion will focus on for that session. But it shouldn’t be rigid.
Things happen between sessions, and what your therapist plans to discuss may not be what you want to talk about. So, look for your therapist to be flexible enough to allow you to move the conversation in a different direction.
What to Avoid
Remember, you’re going to therapy to try to find solutions to problems you’re having. So, the focus should be on you.
Lack of Preparation and Focus
You should expect your therapist to be prepared for your scheduled sessions. That means they should recall your history, your ADHD symptoms, and what you’ve discussed before. If they can’t remember, you’ll end up going over old ground. That’ll be a waste of your limited time with them.
If they start mixing you up with someone else, your alarm bells really should be sounding.
Also, if you find your therapist spends more time talking about themselves than about your issues, you should probably be charging them. Role reversal isn’t part of the deal.
If your therapist is always late for your sessions, that’s not a good sign. It shows a lack of organization that isn’t going to inspire you with confidence, especially if one of your issues is timekeeping.
Confidence in your therapist is critical. So you should take anything that undermines seriously, and you need to look elsewhere.
Whether your therapist is late for sessions or not, if they keep checking the time during your meeting, that’s going to be off-putting, and you’re going to feel rushed.
It’s also a sign that they’re not focused on you and what you’re saying. So, if this is a constant occurrence, you need to find another therapist.
Similarly, if your therapist is distracted during your session, they won’t be listening to what you’re saying. Their distraction can be annoying and can cause you to become distracted. Again, not great if an inability to focus is one of the problems your ADHD is causing.
Examples of a distracted therapist might be that they check their phone or their email during your session. Or they may be tapping their pen or drumming their fingers on the desk as if they’re bored. Or they may spend their time gazing out the window instead of engaging with you in eye-to-eye contact.
Whatever it is, if they end up not hearing what you’ve just said, that can be frustrating. But it’s also a waste of the time that you’re paying for.
And, seriously, these signs indicate that your therapist has issues that need to be resolved before they can begin to help you.
To summarize, here are five things to look for when you’re searching for or dealing with an ADHD therapist, and ten things to avoid:
|Five Things to Look For||Ten Things to Avoid|