Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy

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What Is Psychodynamic Therapy?

Psychodynamic Therapy is a longstanding form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, performed by a mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist or counselor. Psychodynamic Therapy aims to help patients become more self-aware, confront inner conflict, and understand the foundation and formation of their psychological processes and behavioral patterns. Unlike more goal-oriented therapeutic approaches, Psychodynamic Therapy is open-ended and less structured, allowing the patient to lead the conversation and explore their emotions, relationships and past experiences in an authentic and uninhibited way. 

Psychodynamic Therapy is rooted in Freud’s 19th century theories of psychoanalysis, and although it looks much different in modern practice, Psychodynamic Therapy still uses techniques informed by Freudian thought and psychoanalysis today. Psychodynamic Therapy’s unique focus on understanding how and why psychological issues and dysfunctional patterns were developed in the first place, rather than simply on trying to cope with and change them, has been beneficial to many patients over the years, especially when it comes to seeing long-term results and overcoming trauma. 

What Does Psychodynamic Therapy Treat?

Psychodynamic Therapy has been helpful for many patients, as it addresses a variety of factors that are known to cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Through the exploration of topics such as early childhood experiences and attachments, current relationship issues, coping and defense mechanisms, and distressing  feelings, urges and thoughts, Psychodynamic Therapy allows patients to get to the root of and move past the hurdles in their lives.

Psychodynamic Therapy has been known to reduce symptoms for the following mental health issues:

Psychodynamic Theory

Although Psychodynamic Therapy has been updated and simplified over the years, the theories and core concepts that support it can be traced back to Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. While not all of Freud’s ideas are still relevant in today’s practice, a handful of his core theories are central to Psychodynamic Therapy and inform its most popular techniques.

The Unconscious

Freud believed that the human mind has multiple levels. There’s a conscious level of the mind, which contains the things that we can remember and are aware of, and there’s an unconscious level of the mind, which contains the things that we cannot remember and are unaware of. According to Freud, the unconscious mind holds things like our early memories, our gut instincts, our deepest urges, fears and desires, our patterns of thought and behavior and our psychological processes that were developed during childhood. 

Psychodynamic Therapy places a large emphasis on the unconscious mind, where we tend to push feelings and thoughts that are too painful to face, and memories and beliefs that we might be ashamed of. However, these emotions and impulses still affect us and influence our behavior even though they are outside of our awareness. For example, a person might avoid romantic relationships that bring up painful memories of their parents’ divorce without realizing they’re doing so, keeping them from reaching important milestones in their lives like starting a family or falling in love. A trained Psychodynamic Therapist knows how to recognize these patterns of behavior and help patients confront the contents of their unconscious mind that might be holding them back from reaching their full potential. 

By encouraging open discussion and reflection, the Psychodynamic Therapist is able to pinpoint important themes and topics in a patient’s life, probing them with follow up questions and opening up their minds. The goal in Psychodynamic Therapy is to make the unconscious conscious, helping patients to take back control over the harmful feelings and dysfunctional patterns that have been holding them back. For catharsis, or relief from psychological distress, to occur, the client must gain the self-awareness to confront unresolved conflicts, repressed emotions, and maladaptive behaviors. 

Inner Conflict (Id, Ego and Superego)

Resolving inner conflicts is a major goal in Psychodynamic Therapy. Oftentimes, inner conflicts exist in the unconscious mind without our knowledge, but still manifest in our everyday behavior and emotions, taking a toll on our mental health. Freud theorized that there are three components of the human mind, two of which are constantly acting in opposition to each other, and one of which is meant to mediate that opposition.

  • The Id – Freud theorized that the Id is the most primitive part of our mind. The Id resides in the unconscious mind, containing things like repressed desires, shameful memories, sexual drive and aggressive urges. The Id is motivated only by pleasure, and Freud believed that it was the only active part of the human mind during infancy and very early childhood.
  • The Superego – According to Freud, as children grow and begin to experience the world, they eventually develop the Superego. This is our moral conscience, and it enforces the psychological processes that are necessary to exist in civilized society. The Superego contains our value system, feelings of guilt, knowledge of right from wrong, and the standards to which we hold ourselves and others. 
  • The Ego – Freud held that the Id and the Superego are in constant conflict, and the Ego is the mediator between the two. The Ego allows for rational decision making and drives the ability to satisfy the impulsive needs and urges of the Id in a way that is acceptable to the Superego. For example, if we are upset at work and our impulse is to cry, but we know that crying in the office is considered unprofessional, we might decide to go to the bathroom and take a moment to cry privately, returning to work once we feel better.

In Psychodynamic Therapy, patients examine why they want what they want and how they behave to get there, taking a more objective look at their own processes for dealing with conflict and satisfying or coping with the urges of the unconscious mind.

How Does Psychodynamic Therapy Work?

Psychodynamic Therapy is based on the Freudian principle that our deepest and most formative emotions and memories are buried in our unconscious mind, meaning that without self-awareness and guided self-reflection, we usually don’t even know that they exist are or how they affect us. Psychodynamic therapists encourage open, uninhibited discussion, drawing out painful feelings, early memories and unresolved conflicts during therapy sessions that might have been otherwise forgotten or avoided. This process can take time and requires an especially strong patient-therapist relationship, as the patient won’t achieve true vulnerability until he or she feels comfortable opening up to the therapist. This is why Psychodynamic Therapy tends to last longer than other forms of counseling, usually requiring anywhere from 6 months to 2 years of weekly 1 hour sessions. In Psychodynamic Therapy, the therapist looks for patterns of thought and behavior that recur throughout the patient’s life and points them out to the patient, sharing their insights and encouraging the patient to make relevant connections. By helping patients confront the early experiences, unresolved conflicts, and repressed emotions that impact their present-day lives, Psychodynamic Therapy gives patients the self-awareness to take control of their feelings, reactions and relationships.

Transference

The relationship between the therapist and the patient is uniquely important in Psychodynamic Therapy, as it is used as a mirror through which the therapist can gain insight into how the patient navigates relationships in the real world. Freud theorized that humans learn how to interact with others from their early-life attachments and relationships with their primary caregivers, and that this is then reflected in their adult relationships. 

Transference refers to when a patient projects feelings for family members or loved ones onto the therapist during counseling sessions, and can demonstrate how a patient interacts with others in the  real world. Transference is a useful tool for therapists as they try to understand the early life experiences and psychological processes that affect their patient’s present-day lives. A good Psychodynamic Therapist is aware of transference and looks for patterns in the therapist-patient dynamic that mirror some of the patient’s other interpersonal conflicts. The therapist then shares these insights with the patient to help them become more self-aware. 

Defense Mechanisms

Oftentimes, patients are held back from reaching their full potential because they’ve developed defense mechanisms to avoid dealing with memories or emotions that cause them pain or distress. A Psychodynamic Therapist is trained to recognize unconscious defense mechanisms and help patients break them down so that the underlying issues can be addressed and made sense of.

Below are a few common defense mechanisms:

  • Denial – Refusing to believe a truth or face an emotion that is too painful to accept. 
  • Regression – Returning to an earlier state of consciousness, like childhood, to minimize or avoid distressing situations. 
  • Repression – Subconsciously pushing painful memories or thoughts out of conscious awareness and forgetting that they ever happened or existed. 
  • Sublimation – Channeling the energy from a distressing or painful situation into something else to avoid dealing with the original negative event. 
  • Rationalization- Attempting to logically justify immoral, upsetting, or socially unacceptable behavior to avoid having to deal with the causes for that behavior.

Free Association

Free association is one of the most important parts of Psychodynamic Therapy, and helps set it apart from other therapeutic approaches. Free association refers to how the Psychodynamic Therapist allows the patient to lead the discussion during therapy sessions. This practice encourages the  patient to tap into his or her emotions and thoughts in the most authentic way, and ensures that the therapist is not leading the patient in any particular direction. A patient’s unconscious desires, memories and patterns will not be revealed during therapy unless the patient is able to be fully vulnerable and true to themselves.

Types of Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy can come in many forms, including more traditional counseling methods like individual talk therapy and family therapy, and more abstract approaches like art therapy and music therapy.  Below are some common types of Psychodynamic Therapy that differ in style and execution, but are all grounded in the overarching principles of psychodynamic theory.

  • Brief Psychodynamic Therapy – Brief Psychodynamic Therapy tends to last around 25 sessions and enables the patient to examine and address unresolved conflicts, such as childhood trauma, or mental health issues and symptoms, like agoraphobia and somatic pain. 
  • Long-term Psychodynamic Therapy – Long-term Psychodynamic Therapy usually requires at least 2 years of sessions and is meant to change dysfunctional psychological processes that were developed during childhood and are ingrained in a patient’s adult personality, holding them back from reaching their full potential. 
  • Psychodynamic Family Therapy – Psychodynamic Family Therapy tends to be more long-term and addresses chronic problems within a family, emphasizing the importance of exploring relationship issues and patterns of conflict throughout a family history. 
  • Psychodynamic Art Therapy – Psychodynamic Art Therapy can be used in a variety of ways and doesn’t require any artistic talent or experience. Patients can express feelings through the creation of art, discuss the emotions evoked by certain pieces of art, find and discuss personal meaning in pieces of art, and connect pieces of art to different events from their childhood. 
  • Psychodynamic Music Therapy – Psychodynamic Music Therapy can be beneficial for patients with high levels of anxiety or fear who have trouble opening up to a therapist verbally. This approach does not require any musical background or knowledge and encourages self-expression and communication through music. The therapist pays attention to how the patient goes about creating music and the patient can use music as a form of emotional release.

How Identity Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan made up of a group of passionate, licensed therapists that are trained and experienced in Psychodynamic Therapy. Identity helps adults and adolescents cope with and manage mental health issues like anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, and relationship issues. If you live in the Ann Arbor area and are interested in, or have questions about Psychodynamic Therapy, please contact us today.


I Want To Leave My Job, But I Feel Stuck

I Want To Leave My Job, But I Feel Stuck

Have you ever been in this place? Maybe you’ve had this job for a while. Maybe it worked for you before. However, maybe there has been something growing inside telling you that you have something more to offer.

While there is a part of you that knows it would be healthy to leave your job, maybe for some reason you feel paralyzed by the thought of leaving. This situation can contribute to anxiety, depression, mood issues, and even relationship issues.

Let’s dive into some common reasons why we tend to remain complacent with our jobs and continue floating through life when we know it isn’t the best for us.

Leaving my job means changing a part of my identity

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Even if we know we’re in a job that is slowly eating away at us, it is still a part of our identity. We spend a ton of hours at work each week, and after a while it becomes a part of you.

Maybe you’ve spent the last several years developing relationships with other people at work. Finding a new job means making new relationships, establishing a new reputation, and changing a part of our identity. The process of searching for a new career or job is really about becoming more clear about our identity.

Career complacency and “comfort” trick us into staying

Let’s face it. You’ve been in this job for long enough that you can do most of it with one hand tied behind your back. You know exactly what to expect each day, and you know exactly how incredibly bored you will end up a lot of the time. Staying in a job that you despise because it feels like the most comfortable option may be the #1 thing that prevents you from growing.

Pressure from friends and family to stay

Maybe your Dad told you that this was a great job and that you shouldn’t leave or take it for granted. Maybe your friends have told you to stay because hey, it’s a job, and nobody likes their job. These words are often spoken by people who also don’t like their job and who may be trying to convince themselves of something rather than you. Friends and family are important, but recognize when they are truly helping you to grow, and when they may be contributing to the thing that’s holding you back.

I’ve failed before or I lack confidence

Maybe you’d tried it before. You had a dream to start you own business, move out west and become a photographer, or maybe you weren’t able to get yourself through college or grad school. Previous failures often hold us back from taking the steps in life that will lead to personal growth. The funny thing about failing is that it is most often the source of success. As Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life… And that is why I succeed.

I can’t tell you how many therapy clients there are that I’ve worked with who attribute their current happiness to that time when they bottomed out. Sometimes you have to know where the bottom is in order to ascend into the person you know you can be.

I’m not sure exactly what job I want next

Whenever I have counseling clients who have no idea what to do next in life, I ask them to respond to the following 4 questions:

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  1. What are you GOOD at?
  2. What do you absolutely LOVE to do?
  3. What are the VALUES that you want to live your life according to?
  4. How can you use what you love to HELP others or society at large?

I work with people to help breakdown the expectations that may have been placed in them from other sources (parents, teachers, religious leaders, friends), and focus in on what they truly value. What are the values that you truly want to live by? We will work together to identify how a career might fit into your values system and growth process.


Are you interested in Career Counseling?

Do you want to make a significant change in your life?

Talking with a licensed counselor, psychologist, or therapist at our counseling practice in Ann Arbor can be a great way to kick start the kind of change that you’re looking for. We’d love to work with you on a plan that will allow you to grow.

Contact us to schedule an intake!


10 Ways Therapy Can Be Helpful

10 Ways Therapy Can Be Helpful

What is the role of a therapist?

The primary role of the therapist is to help set the table for change to happen within the client. In this way, the therapist isn’t the person making change happen, but rather a strategic empathic ally who is helping clients change themselves from the inside out. For genuine change to occur, it must come from within the clients themselves. Developing a relationship with a therapist is somewhat similar to developing a relationship with anyone, but with some extra boundaries and a specific focus. In therapy, the goal of both the therapist and the client is to promote and cultivate the growth of the client. A good therapist will help the client dive deep into the psyche in order to facilitate the growth of the client in many ways. You may have to descend far down before you are capable of a healthier life.

Here are 10 common ways that a therapist can be helpful to you on your journey toward self-actualization:


1. Therapy can hold you accountable

Behavioral, emotional, and relational accountability

While this is one of the less important roles of the therapist, it is true that the therapist does help the client maintain accountability in many ways. For one, making a weekly commitment to coming to therapy for several months can be the start of a healthy routine and can put you on a path toward growth and wellness. Therapists help clients become more accountable in a behavioral sense, cognitive sense, emotional sense, and relational sense.

2. Therapy allows you to be honest with yourself

Therapists facilitate an environment of openness, confidentiality, and non-judgment

Spending time intentionally exploring your thoughts with an impartial 3rd party can allow you to become more honest with yourself. Maybe you’ve lived years in denial of some deep part of yourself and you’re feeling like now is the time to explore it with someone who won’t judge you. Therapy happens in an isolated, confidential space, so there is little reason to be dishonest during your session (even though lying in therapy happens very commonly, but this is for a future blog post).

3. Therapy can help reveal things that you know deep down, yet aren’t aware of

Some information in the brain is not readily available

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Humans have multiple levels of consciousness. Think about the following example: When you begin a new job, you probably follow a GPS or Google Maps while driving to your first day of work. You may do this for the first few days, but eventually you will just know when to make the turns, when you’re approaching the stop lights, and when you will cross the train tracks. Once this happens, you have moved the “drive to work” from your conscious to your unconscious level of awareness. You’re still driving to work, but after some time you don’t even have to think about it.

In a similar way, there are certain things that we know about ourselves that for some reason get stuffed down into our unconscious. This usually happens when we feel like revealing the information will be threatening to us. We may know about it on a certain level but for some real reason we are not ready to cope with it. Therapy helps to bring this unconscious information into the conscious in order to help clients face fears, cope with suffering, and heal from trauma.

4. Therapy can serve as a model for a healthy relationship

The relationship between therapist and client is a real relationship

The therapist/client relationship is a professional relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. Building a healthy working relationship with a therapist can help clients learn how they may be going about relationships in not-so-helpful ways. I usually tell my clients that what is happening in their relationships in the world will eventually start to happen in the therapy session. Similarly, the healthy relationship building within the therapy session will end up helping clients build healthier relationships outside of therapy.

5. Therapy can help you face difficult realities that have been repressed

Humans deny and repress items that feel threatening

When bad things happen in life, our bodies respond with an immune-system-like response to try to ensure that we never feel that way again. Sometimes this response works in our favor, but oftentimes this can cause us to be closed, withdrawn, lonely, cynical people. By partnering with a therapist, clients can begin to identify what they may have been repressing for years. By revealing difficult realities out in the open with another person, the difficulty can begin to lose some of the power that it has held for so long.

6. Therapy can help build skills for facing life challenges

Practical skill building

Therapy can help equip clients with tools to face difficult situations in a different and more helpful way. Therapy can help with social skill building, relationship tendency recognition, management strategies to help with Anxiety or ADHD, coping skills, and more.

7. Therapy can help you understand your thought processes better

Humans develop predictable thought loops

When something happens, our body responds to the event in one of two ways. One possibility is that we may have an automatic bodily response. This sometimes happens when our bodies hear something familiar that draws out previous fears or anxieties (maybe we start sweating, our heart starts beating faster, or our blood pressure rises). Another way our body responds is by thinking about the event. We start to think about it in a basic sense and gradually begin to escalate our level of concern. Whichever happens first (the bodily response or the thought processes), they begin to play into each other and the result can be catastrophic anxiety or depression.

Therapy can help to recognize how our body responds to stimuli and why we respond that way. By identifying various cognitive distortions that we may employ, the therapist and client can work together to construct healthier ways of thinking.

8. Therapy can help you build healthy habits

Therapy itself is often the first step in healthy habit building

In addition to addressing meaning, relationships, identity, and thinking, therapy can help to recognize harmful habits and can help clients to build new healthier ones. Establishing a healthy routine is one of the most beneficial things we can do to change our lives. However, many often aren’t able to take the first step. They may find themselves in such a dark place that they don’t know where to turn. Therapy begins by turning within and returning to breath. From here we can work together on a plan to live more intentionally and take steps towards a healthier life.

9. Therapy can help you explore meaning and passion in the context of your life

Many of my clients find themselves stuck

Imagine this scene: You have a job that pays the bills (sometimes barely), but it is not a job that you’re passionate about. By the time you get home from work and take care of things around your place, it is already late and time to wind down. You watch some Netflix for a couple hours, pass out, only to wake up and do it all over again. Many of us find ourselves in this place where we are too comfortable to make a change, yet are slowing deteriorating inside. Depression only piles onto this pattern. If you find yourself in this place, therapy can be a great place to discover or rediscover meaning and passion in life. The therapist can help the client to break the cycle of dissatisfaction and numbness.

10. Therapy can help you learn to love yourself

We cannot fully love others if we don’t love ourselves

Practicing self-love may not be in your mind on a day to day basis. However, if we want to genuinely love another, we must first love and accept ourselves so that the love we send comes from a place where love already resides. There may be countless reasons to not love ourselves, but therapy can help us view ourselves through a healthier lens. Self-love is a prerequisite to providing genuine love to another.


Are you interested in engaging in the process of therapy?

Contact us today to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation!


3 Steps to Finding Greater Meaning in Life

3 Steps to Finding Greater Meaning in Life

What is meaning?

What am I truly passionate about?

What continues to get me up every morning, when I could just continue sleeping?

According to Irvin D. Yalom, “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” The struggle to discover meaning in the context of life is a human struggle.

I often have people come to therapy and say some version of the following; “When I was younger, I was told that things like art were important. I was told to express myself; that it was important and valued. I had things I was working toward. But as I age, I feel like the rug is slowly being pulled out from under me.”

Step 1: Orientation – Examine where you came from

When we grow up, we are told a lot of different things. We are given a set of boundaries. Begin by exploring the following questions:

  • What were you told to believe?
  • What were you told mattered the most?
  • What were you told was completely off limits?

We have an original Orientation. We are told to never, ever, touch the stove. The stove is hot and dangerous. If we touch the stove, our hand will get burnt. We are taught which things should be meaningful, which topics are important to care about, and especially which things we must avoid at all costs. Never touch the stove.

Step 2: Disorientation – Challenge what you have been told

As we continue to grow, the things that we have been told may slowly start to break down. Our perceptions of these boundaries start to change as we engage with a harsh world. We begin to realize that the stove is not always hot. Sometimes the stove is cool, even cool enough to touch. When we come to this realization, we often begin to engage in a season of Disorientation.

The season of disorientation forces us to ask several hard questions:

  • Who am I, really?
  • What are my true values?
  • Has what happened to me shaped my identity?
  • What are my genuine passions?
  • Do my experiences make me who I am?

In the season of Disorientation, we learn more about ourselves. We think about the things that we have been told to think, do, and believe, and identify ways in which our original orientation may not sit well with us anymore. The stove isn’t always hot, and sometimes it needs to be cleaned.

Step 3: Reorientation – Identify what truly matters to you & give it to others

Many people feel that the experiences themselves are what shape us. However, as we transcend the difficult season of Disorientation, we engage in a third stage, a season of Reorientation. In this season, we learn that our responses to our experiences shape the person that we become.

  • How can I help others with what I believe?
  • What do I want my work in the world to be?
  • Why do I continue to wake up in the morning?

As the universe expands, so does the human psyche. The process of evolving into newer and more expansive beliefs, missions, and states of consciousness can be uncomfortable, especially when those closest to you aren’t going through the same transformation.

In therapy, I work with people through the rhythmic life cycle of Orientation, Disorientation and Reorientation. When we realize that the stove is not always hot, we are bound to get hurt at some point. I work with people to help them discover their inner self. Our inner self is our true self, our source of strength, and unfortunately the part of our self that we are often least in tune with.

As a counselor, my role is to set the table for you to journey through the difficult struggle of inner-self-discovery. It is through difficult introspective inner-self-discovery that we come to understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be me.

If you are interested in engaging the therapeutic process of finding more meaning in life or if you have any questions, contact Tim.


IdentityAnnArbor.com

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Ikigai

What do you want to do with your one precious life?

I came across this word while working at Toyota. The Japanese language comes from a rich tradition and has words that have a depth of meaning that we sometimes can’t capture with the English language. The word is Ikigai.

The direct translation of this word is:

A reason for being.

Ikigai. A combination of that which you are good at, that which you can be paid for, that which you love, and that which the world needs. Everyone, according to Japanese tradition, has an Ikigai.

As adults we often find ourselves in a position in life that we never expected to be in. When we’re younger we have huge plans. I recently had a 13-year-old counseling client tell me that he is going to make 60 million dollars by the time he reaches 20 years old!

Now it would have been easy for me to laugh and write him off. But I took a second to think back to when I was his age. When I was his age I was absolutely determined to be an NBA basketball player. I would get in before school every day and shoot 100 free throws before my first class. I would carry my basketball with me throughout the day, hoping to get a quick minute in between 3rd and 4th hour to shoot some hoops. You couldn’t convince me that I wasn’t going to make the NBA. I was determined.

Now if you ask some of my friends when I was that age, they may tell you that I was obsessed. And they’d be correct. But for me, making the NBA was about more than just the dollars and fame. It was also about having a platform to make a large impact on the world.

So when my client told me that he wanted to make 60 million dollars by the time he reached 20 years old, instead of laughing, I explored with him what was behind the money.

Because it’s never really about the money.

My client went on to tell me that he wants to reach the world through his music. He wants to help other kids who have struggled because he knows what it feels like to struggle, and music helped him get through it. My client wanted to have an impact on the world, doing something he loved, that he was gifted in, while also generating income.

So if you find yourself in a place in life where you’re unhappy, where you know you don’t want to be, where you are slowly dying, I have some good news for you.

Today you have an opportunity. You have the capacity to step back into your childhood self and ask a few questions;

globe

What is it that I truly desire? What do I love, and how can I do more of it? How can I make an impact on the world while doing what I love?

When we’re doing what we love and others benefit at the same time, we all win. The best kinds of products and services are always mutually beneficial. They are beneficial to the consumer because they are getting a product or service that truly adds value to their life, and they are beneficial to the producer because they are tapping into their Ikigai.

So I want to challenge you today. What is it you love? What is it that you’re good at? Is this something that the world needs? I bet so! So why aren’t you making an income doing it?

Ikigai. Your reason for being.

I would love you help you on your journey toward discovering the reality of your Ikigai. Feel free to contact me!


IdentityAnnArbor.com

5 Ways to Find a Therapist

5 Ways to Find a Therapist

How do I find a therapist? That, is the question. Think about the following situation:

It’s late at night, and once again you can’t sleep.

Your thoughts are starting to get away from you again. Maybe it’s that thing that happened at work today, maybe it’s that person in your life who you just can’t seem to free yourself from, or maybe you’re thinking about something that’s looming and it seems to be holding your thoughts captive.

In this space, where many feel they don’t know where else to go, some people decide that they want to seek out a therapist. The decision to begin therapy is a hard decision, and often comes from a place of deep darkness and hopelessness. So once people make this incredibly hard decision, they often have no idea where to start looking for a great therapist. You’re already in a tough place, but now you have to sift through the countless number of therapists in your area, trying to decide who could truly help you.

How do I find a great counselor? How do I find a therapist that can actually help me?

As a therapist, my belief is that the most important component in finding a therapist is finding someone who you can truly connect with. Without this critical component, it may be very difficult to make real progress.

1. Start by asking friends and family about counselors

The first place I recommend to start is with asking friends or family. Most of us have only a few people in our lives who truly know us. I’m talking about the people who know us to our core. Maybe these are the only people in your life that you feel comfortable talking to about deeply personal things. These people are who I call your “inner circle.” So I would begin by asking the few people in your inner circle, “Hey, I am considering starting therapy. Do you know of any great therapists?”

But maybe you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone about this. Maybe this issue is something that you hold closely. Not even your inner circle can know about this. If this is the case, I would recommend doing a quick Google search using the issue you’re dealing with and your area.

2. Search “your issue” + “counseling” + “your location” in Google.

For example, if someone were looking for a counselor like me, they may type, “Counselor in Ann Arbor MI anxiety,” or, “motivation issues therapist Ann Arbor Michigan.” This will give you a good general idea of some of the most common resources in your area. Therapists who rank higher in Google are often the most established or currently active therapists in your community. Therapists’ websites will hopefully give you important information like which issues they typically work with, what their theoretical framework is, and what types of outcomes their clients can expect. Usually the first page to pop up on Google is Psychology Today. This is the number 1 referral source for counselors, therapists, and psychologists.

3. Check online networks for counselors – Psychology Today or GoodTherapy

Here is a link to my Psychology Today profile. Psychology Today is a great resource because it allows you to get a quick snapshot of several people all on one website. Each therapist has a brief description which highlights how they work and their focus areas. For example, here is something my profile says:

My passion is to help you manage your anxiety, discover or rediscover your true identity, and find your inner motivation again so you can live a more meaningful, fulfilling, and inspired life.

Psychology Today profiles just give you a taste of what each therapist may be like. From there, I recommend going to their practice’s website (if they have one). Usually you can find more information about the therapist there. There are similar resources to Psychology Today, such as GoodTherapy.

4. Ask your county’s Community Mental Health (CMH) agency for counselor referrals

Most states have a Community Mental Health agency in each county. These agencies should have a referral list for therapists. Try giving them a call and asking if they have any recommendations for therapists who specialize in anxiety, or relationship issues, or motivation issues, etc.

5. Ask your primary care physician about therapists

This option is listed last for a reason. For some reason, the physical health field seems to distance itself from the mental health field, so physicians won’t always readily recommend therapy. This isn’t always the case- I know some doctors who totally recommend evidence based approaches to psychotherapy. Regardless, each medical clinic should have referral recommendations for counselors, therapists, and psychologists. In addition to this, your primary care physician is (hopefully) a medical professional that you have built a trusting relationship with. Since they know your physical body and your personality well, they may be able to at least recommend a therapy style that they think would work best for you (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Existential Therapy, Person Centered Therapy, etc.).


There you have it! Also if you find yourself in the Ann Arbor area, and are looking for a therapist, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help you find someone who you’ll be a great fit with, even if it’s not me!

IdentityAnnArbor.com