Updated 28 October 2019

Mental health awareness: 5 tips on how to find the best therapist for your situation

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. A mental disorder, just like a physical disorder, requires professional help. But what if you have no idea how and where to find a suitable therapist?

October is Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa. And even though people are speaking out more about conditions such as depression and anxiety, our society is full of stigma and misconception.

The truth is that a mental disorder requires professional diagnosis and help as much as a physical condition. But if resources are tight and you are not keen to speak up and ask for recommendations, you might feel stuck.

You could also be worried that you might not "click" with the first best therapist. Here are five tips to find the "right" therapist and make the most of the resources available to you:

1. Ask a trusted friend

This might be a difficult conversation to have. Many of us don’t want to start off a conversation with “Hey, do you know a good shrink?” But a close, trusted friend might have a great recommendation and have more empathy for your condition than you might think. A friend who is currently seeing a therapist might be able to introduce you to someone who can help.

2. Be realistic about your budget, medical aid and resources

You might not be on a comprehensive medical aid plan that covers appointments with a therapist. In an ideal world, we would all have access to the best therapists, but in many cases money is a restraint. If you do have medical aid, find out what's included in your plan. This will whittle down your options to therapists that are covered by your medical aid. If you rely on government health, there are free options available.

In South Africa, there are different associations such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), and Cape Mental Health who offer free help and support groups. There is also LifeLine, which offers free telephone counselling. Visit SADAG’s website for more free resources and helplines. Alternatively, you can also find out of your workplace offers in-house therapy sessions or access to an occupational therapist.

3. Find someone who specialises in your specific topic or issue

If you already know your diagnosis or condition, or if you know what issues you need to talk about (whether it’s trauma, PTSD, grief, addiction, an eating disorder etc.), find someone who specialises in a certain area as this will make things easier for you. You can search therapists per category on Therapist Directory, a large, independent South African online directory or Therapy Route, a clinician run platform.

4. Don’t wait until you have a diagnosis

You might not have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but you might be going through a tough time that requires objective advice. For this, a therapist may be invaluable. (You'll also have someone on speed dial you could recommend to a friend in need.)

5. Take the first session with a grain of salt

You may prefer a certain personality type in a therapist – you might prefer someone who is warm, forthcoming and nurturing, or rather someone who is more to the point. But don’t judge them too harshly on the first session, as you might first need to warm up to your therapist. Also, prepare yourself for your first session by deciding how you want to start the conversation, or what you want to get from the session. This can also give your therapist a clearer goal to work towards.

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