Whether seeking help with parenting challenging children, resolving relationship problems or coping with depression, many people at some point will benefit from working with a therapist. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that in any given year one in four Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.

The good news is that therapy can help — and usually quickly. In a survey of 4,000 people, Consumer Reports found that nine out of ten respondents who had sought therapy said their condition improved significantly following psychotherapy, and people who received solely psychotherapy felt they had improved as much as those patients who used medication such as Prozac or Xanax along with therapy.

If those results appeal to you, the first step is finding the right therapist. Begin your search by visiting your primary care physician first to rule out any underlying medical problems that may be contributing to your problem. Symptoms of low thyroid, for example, can mimic those of depression and are best treated medically. And some behavioral problems in children are neurologically based — so you’ll want to have therapists and physicians working together.

Once you’ve addressed any medical issues, your physician can help you find a therapist. Many people also search the Yellow Pages or the Internet or inquire at agencies they know in their community. All are valid places to start so long as in the end you find a therapist who is a licensed clinical social worker or licensed professional counselor.

Individual therapists employ different therapeutic approaches. Some practice cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on modifying both thoughts and behaviors or dialectical behavioral training to regulate opposing emotions. Some practice gestalt principles, examining how individual thoughts and emotions combine into a meaningful whole. Others are simply solution focused. It’s important to find the style and philosophy that works for you.

People will often conduct telephone interviews with potential therapists to learn more about their experience, training and style. These interviews provide an opportunity to gauge whether you’re comfortable with the therapist. You need someone trustworthy, who will not judge you and will help you feel safe.

Telephone interviews are also a good time to ask about fees and appointment availability. If your health insurance provides coverage for mental health therapy, you should also inquire about insurance policies.

If you believe you’ve found the right therapist, make an appointment.

Generally at the first appointment, people will explain their issues to the therapist who will then discuss options for addressing them. The therapist can tell you how much therapy he or she recommends and whether care may be coordinated with other health care practitioners.

Many people are surprised to learn that they can achieve their goals in just a few sessions. While some people have more chronic issues, most face short-term challenges that can be resolved quickly. In fact, the average outpatient counseling client at Family & Children’s Center visits just three to seven times.

That’s why it’s important to seek a different counselor quickly if you feel the therapy is not helping after one or two visits. Therapists exist to help you find solutions. If yours isn’t helping you develop the skills and belief systems to handle your problems, you need to find someone who will.

As published in the May 2008 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.