How to Find Someone to Talk to (and What to Do While You’re Searching)
TLDR: Start with books or online content to get some inexpensive guidance right away and find what resonates with you. Then carefully look for a healing practitioner (doesn’t have to be a therapist) that specializes in what works for you. Use their free content, website, and initial consultation to see if they might be a good fit. Don’t rely entirely on credentials and listen to your gut. You can go for group work or individual work, depending on what your budget allows.
Pretty much all of us could use some serious work dealing with our emotional baggage, the kind of work that goes beyond talking with a close friend or family member.
Whether you’ve had a rough time recently and could use some support, or you’re finally ready to dive into events that happened a long time ago, there are many options for healing and exploration.
It can be overwhelming to start on the healing journey and each person’s path is going to be different. And when it feels like your soul’s ripping apart, the logistical details can feel insurmountable. Unless you’re already familiar with the wellness and mental health space, it can be hard to even know where to start.
So here’s a guide that outlines the general options available, strategies for different budgets, red flags to watch for, and how to find what works best for you.
I’ll go into more than just therapy or other mental health modalities. Traditional therapy is effective for a lot of people, but it’s only one of many options!
There’s a whole world of healers out there, from breathwork guides to spiritual directors to trauma specialists to coaches and countless more. Within each modality, each practitioner will have their own special sauce when it comes to healing (and their work is probably available in a variety of different formats and price points.)
It’s all about finding the perfect person, modality, and format, for you. It takes time to search and you probably need support NOW. So let’s start small.
Serious Self-Care: DIY
Let’s be real: Individual therapy, counseling, or coaching is expensive. $100–400 an hour is normal. Why? Because most practitioners (the good ones anyway) take far fewer than 40 clients a week to accommodate the incredible amount of non-client work involved in running a practice and refining their craft.
Most people need 10–30+ session hours to really shift how they relate to themselves and the world. Theoretically insurance covers talk therapy, but the best therapists tend to avoid it because it’s a nightmare to deal with. There are discounted agencies out there, but be buyer beware. This is the kind of thing where you get what you pay for, and the heart is a place where mediocre care can really do some damage.
Fortunately, one-on-one work isn’t only for the privileged. Many healing resources are cheap or even free. It takes a lot more effort to find what you need from a pile of books rather than having someone guide you through it and tailor everything to your specific needs. But you can have incredible mindset shifts and breakthroughs all on your own!
Even if you do want to work with a counselor or coach, self-study is a great way to get started on your journey. It’s a good way to try lots of different modalities and perspectives without the emotional and financial investment of working directly with a practitioner. It will hone your intuition so when you stumble upon a perfect fit you’ll know what you’ve found.
(FYI, I’m not paid to promote any of the suggestions below, I just genuinely think they’re helpful.)
Self-help books are way better than they used to be! Here are some that I constantly nag my friends/clients/taxi drivers to read as a jumping off point.
There’s Nothing Wrong With You by Cheri Huber : It’s full of pictures, only takes an afternoon to read, and can seriously shift how you treat yourself.
Why Does He Do That?: This is super helpful not just for women recovering from abuse, but anyone who has suffered any type of abuse, been part of a cult-ish organization, or really wants to understand Trump and his die-hard supporters.
The Power of Now: For a succinct, no-particular-religion approach to the healing process. (Keep in mind: if you’re trying to heal something SUPER intense the techniques may need to be modified. Go slow and stop if it gets too intense.)
The Body Keeps the Score : Turns out trauma/stress/overwhelm isn’t just stored in the mind, but is stored in the body. If you’re a person who has been in and out of talk therapy forever and it doesn’t seem to help, this is for you. (Note: This book has a lot of graphic descriptions of trauma and may be triggering. Skip parts as needed!)
Come As You Are: Sexuality, especially the sexuality of the female body, is grossly misunderstood in Western society in general. If you are a woman (or sleep with women) who struggles with sexual repression or other bedroom issues, this one’s for you.
It’s been popular for thousands of years for a reason! Download a free app or skim some Google instructions, find a quiet spot, and get started. Feel free to sit in a chair if sitting on the floor hurts your body and move if your body needs to move. You will not be cursed by the Buddha if you do, promise.
Keep in mind that it’s not the cure-all it’s sometimes claimed to be. Notice how it lands for you. Do you feel better after meditating? Or worse? After practicing for a while, do you feel more internal spaciousness? Or less? Is it better when you meditate in a group? Or alone?
Meditation is incredibly powerful (it’s my go-to practice) but if it’s just not doing it for you that’s ok. You may need a live-instructor who can tailor the technique to you, or you might be better off skipping it altogether.
Facebook may not be as popular as it once was, but it’s still a great tool for finding a group of people with similar interests/problems.
You can find groups on sacred sexuality, depression, trauma, anxiety, getting in touch with your feminine, you name it! Let the search bar be your guide.
These Facebook groups are often started and moderated by healing practitioners so it’s a great place to get some free advice and support as well as connect with others going through something similar.
These types of groups are only as potent as the effort you’re willing to put in. So if you do find a group that seems helpful, post and comment regularly to get the most out of it.
Content from Big Names
This podcast by Tara Brach is my all-time favorite, but there are lots of good ones out there, be it podcast, youtube channel, or some other online content distribution method.
Eckhart Tolle, Pema Chodron, and Brene Brown are all excellent and there are MANY others.
Use Youtube’s autosuggest to discover more. Oprah’s Soul Sunday is also a great place to discover new spiritual thinkers and leaders.
Yoga doesn’t have to be $20 a session. Buy a $10 mat from the store and find essentially infinite free sequences on Youtube!
I recommend Yoga with Adriene , because she’s more about your heart than your abs. With stuff like yoga for anxiety, yoga for grief, etc. it adds a much deeper dimension to your folds and twists if you’re willing to go there.
A lot of emotional issues reside IN THE BODY, not in the mind, so thinking about it for ages isn’t gonna get you very far. If you think you’re struggling with something that goes bones-deep, give yoga, ecstatic dance, or a similarly embodied practice a shot.
Most of us don’t want more email but alas… it’s a great way for free content on healing (and helps you get a better sense of different practitioners’ styles and methods). If you find an interesting practitioner, sign-up for their free offering and/or newsletter.
They’ll send you free content consistently which might be valuable and helpful. If you don’t like it you can always unsubscribe. I’ve had some absolute life-changing moments from free exercises I found in newsletters, so it’s worth a shot!
Shameless plug: If you want to get on mine you can do so here.
I know it’s corny as hell but hey, it works! Consciously searching for things that make you smile helps train your brain to seek out the positive. Over time, these happiness-seeking neuronal pathways will help you feel better generally, especially if you’re suffering from depression, trauma, or a soul-sucking job. Open a note on your phone and write down 1–10 things that feel good to you in the present moment.
Bonus points if you do this regularly. (6–8 weeks is the amount of time for new neuronal pathways to really settle in, so give it a bit of time before judging it.)
Extra bonus points if you don’t do any repeats day after day.
Got thoughts that just gallop in circles over and over? The Work of Byron Katie is all about systematically analyzing your thoughts (with the help of free worksheets), breaking these circles and helping you feel better.
Not only does she offer her work freely, she also has volunteers that will help you go through worksheets (also no charge) if you need a bit of guidance in the process.
This website has trained volunteer “listeners” for when you just want to vent. They also can refer you to discounted therapy if you want to talk to someone with more expertise and have a lot of other great resources.
Though these are on the pricier end of DIY, they are a great way to dive deeper into a specific topic for less money than private instruction. There are courses about basically any topic under the sun, from (another shameless plug) sacred sexuality to meditation to business building. Some even have a few free sample lessons if you can’t afford the whole thing.
Let Google be your guide!
These cheap and free options can take you FAR. Not only will it help you start your journey while keeping your budget intact, it’ll help you figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Then when you do have a bit of money you’re willing to spend on personal development you can spend it on something that’ll be more effective.
For example, maybe you’ll discover that meditation makes your heart sing, but talking about your problems is triggering as hell. So when you’re ready to invest in your personal development, you’ll spend the cash on a trauma-sensitive meditation retreat rather than a CBT therapist.
Plus, DIY helps you build some solid self-reflection skills, which will make your deeper work more effective.
Healing Together: Group Work
Once you’re more comfortable with the wellness landscape from your DIY work, you might be ready for group work. Group therapy, workshops, retreats, classes, etc. can really bring on the breakthroughs while costing significantly less than individual support.
Emotional exploration hand-in-hand with a group of people led by a conscious facilitator or teacher can really drive deeper healing. Most of us were hurt in the context of a relationship with a person or group of people, so incredible resolution can happen in this context.
However, groups can also be tricky to navigate. When everyone’s unpacking their emotional baggage at the same time it’s easy for things to spiral into a middle school drama-fest.
Really focus on finding a group with a well-trained, experienced leader that you trust and will keep everyone in check instead of getting sucked in themselves. If you’re dealing with something REALLY heavy, you may be better served skipping this step and going straight for one-on-one work.
Be cautious when searching for a group to join. Unfortunately, high-control groups and cults are more common now than ever. Many consciously target people that are in a life transition or trying to “up-level”. Watch for red flags and trust your gut.
How to Find a Good Group
Unless something falls into your lap (from say, a newsletter you signed up for or a Facebook group you joined), you may have to do some digging.
Meetup is a great place to find in-person groups going through similar stuff, though they may not be explicitly group therapy. Read the descriptions thoroughly.
Local therapists and counseling agencies are also a good place to look, but keep in mind that just because someone is licensed in something doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good fit for you.
Generally, you can find a group using the same resources as you would to find a one-on-one practitioner. (I’ll go into that in detail in a bit.)
How to Get the Most Out of Groups
- Generally, groups are intended for people who are fairly high-functioning. If you’re feeling suicidal or are grappling with other really heavy stuff, you may want to just skip to the one-on-one work.
- No matter how heavy or light the focus of the group is, be sure the facilitator/leader explicitly sets up guidelines for how group members are supposed to engage with each other and enforces them.
- COMMIT. Similar to Facebook groups, in-person groups require emotional and energetic investment from you to really be effective. Get what you’re going there for. Be on time. Don’t skip. If it doesn’t feel right, or life has changed and it feels like a heavy drain to keep going, give yourself permission to quit the group. But if you’re in it be in it.
How to Stay Safe
BEWARE OF HIGH-CONTROL GROUPS. There are lots of groups out there that are on the spectrum from less-than-helpful to full on cults that use mind control (aka brainwashing) to coerce people. As the internet proliferates these are becoming even more common. No matter how strong-minded you consider yourself, we are all vulnerable to manipulation. Here are some red flags to watch for.
1. Does everyone seem TOO happy? Real groups welcome the full spectrum of emotion from fear, sadness, and anger to joy, serenity, and delight. Look for lots of different identities and lots of different feelings and experiences.
2. Are your questions honored? Or does the leader always punt saying “I’ll answer your question in a minute” and never does?
3. Do you feel pressure to attend more workshops/meet with them more frequently? Do they take no for an answer? Good groups always emphasize consent and respect choice. They don’t use guilt as a weapon.
Follow your gut. You are always free to leave a group that feels icky. If they try to coerce you into staying after you’ve said no that’s just one more sign that it’s time to leave. It’s more important to be safe than to be nice.
The Real Deal: One-on-One
For many of us, this is where the real magic happens. Unbelievable shifts arise when you’re the sole focus of someone’s compassionate, well-trained attention for an hour or so. You can go much deeper when you have someone “holding your hand” as you explore your inner experience, in a relationship that continues session after session.
But who should that special person be? Finding them is usually a long, drawn out process, kind of like dating or buying a house. If you get lucky and find them on the first try, awesome! But generally you should spend more time than just one or two Google searches to find and vet them.
I’ve learned the hard way how important this is. I’ve had horrific, retraumatizing experiences by inept (though licensed) practitioners I signed up with cavalierly. No matter how impatient you may be to get the healing process started, save yourself even more pain and do your due diligence.
The Difference Between Therapy and Other Modalities
There are so many people out there with so many different titles! Life coach, spiritual counselor, therapist, PsyD, mental health counselor, LCSW, etc. There are areas of overlap, especially on the individual practitioner level. But here are some super broad stroke generalizations.
Therapist/Mental Health Counselor/LCSW/etc.: These are mental health professionals. They got their education from universities, passed tests, are licensed by a board, and use methods that have been studied scientifically in academia. Many take some form of insurance. They can help with mental health issues as heavy as suicidal thoughts and deep depression, as well as lighter things like helping you be more motivated at work. They typically look at your experience as symptoms and make a diagnosis based on a professional diagnostic manual created and maintained by a professional board. They may or may not have received therapy themselves in the course of their training, depending on the program.
Life Coach/Spiritual Counselor/Shaman/etc.: These are not officially mental health professionals. They got their education from other healers in their modality, often in some sort of apprenticeship/mentor capacity or certification course. They are not licensed by any board, which allows them the freedom to use any techniques they find effective, whether Western science has caught up to them or not. But it also means they are not regulated. They do not take insurance. Their work may touch issues such as trauma or postpartum depression, but overall the focus is on helping you achieve your goals, live authentically, and get in touch with your inner world. Almost all have received the healing of their modality many times in the course of their training.
An analogy I use is healing a broken foot vs training to climb a mountain. A licensed medical professional will set the bones of your foot, set you in a cast, etc. Someone who has climbed the mountain many times before will help you train to climb a mountain. Both involve your feet, but each person is appropriate at different points in the journey. Depending on how far you want to go, you may need both.
How to Find Potential Healers
There are so many ways! Remember, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Many amazing practitioners are terrible at web design, SEO, and other marketing stuff because they are more talented at healing people rather than building a business. Don’t let a 90’s style website turn you off.
There are some practitioners with gorgeous websites and social media, but they tend to be very well established with whole teams to support them. If they still see clients one-on-one, they usually charge a premium.
Here are some ways to search that have served me well.
You may have to search beyond the first page. Even if someone does crop up on page 1, they’re probably more well known (and may be booked up) than others you find deeper in search.
If you want to work with someone in-person, be sure to include your location in the search.
If you want to work with a mental health professional, there are many directories that list various therapists and licensed practitioners. The most popular is Psychology Today.
If your practitioner absolutely MUST take insurance DON’T USE GOOGLE. Only search using the “find a doctor” tool on your health insurance website. Make sure you ask about your specific insurance when in an initial consultation with your potential practitioner, and consider calling your health insurance beforehand to make sure your sessions will be covered.
Local Hippie Shops
These crystal-encrusted stores are a gold-mine for finding healing arts professionals. If you’re looking for any kind of alternative to therapy, this is a fabulous place to start. They usually have bulletin boards full of meditation teachers, past-life regressionists, chakra balancers, and other practitioners that take a different approach to healing.
Your neighborhood shop is also a fabulous resource if you’re looking for in-person work. If the practitioner was close enough to put a business card up, they’re probably close enough for you to go to regularly.
Referrals from Friends and Facebook Groups
Most of us hang out with people cut from a similar cloth, so a good fit your friend has a decent chance of being a good fit for you. Ask around! Asking for a therapist/practitioner referral used to have stigma but that has been quickly fading in the younger generations.
If you hopped into a few Facebook groups at some point in your healing journey, this is a great time to tap this resource. There’s a good chance the practitioners they refer aren’t in your geographic area, but if you’re open to virtual sessions this is an awesome way to go.
Plus, if you’re in a group around a particular emotional hurt like trauma, recovering from crap parents, etc. there’s a good chance the practitioners they refer will specialize in what the group’s about.
Social media hashtags
Many practitioners use social media (particularly Instagram) for their marketing. Search for hashtags like #emotionalhealing, #traumarecovery, etc. and see what crops up! (Plus you might score some awesome free healing content while you’re looking.)
How to Determine if Someone’s a Good Fit
There are a lot of amazing practitioners out there. In general, people don’t get rich in the healing arts. Most are in it because they love what they do and genuinely care about their clients.
But, there are plenty that aren’t necessarily good at what they do. (Even the ones with licenses and PhDs.) And, tragically, there are even some grifters out to con people or terribly unskilled healers that leave their clients hurting worse than before.
No board is going to tell you who is the best at what they do, and even holding a PhD doesn’t mean they’re compassionate or even skilled. Some of the worst treatment I’ve ever received was from someone with diplomas filling a wall! Some of the best was with an inexpensive practitioner with a credential I’d never heard of before I met her.
Finding the right fit is something you have to do for yourself. Only YOU are able to determine who’s qualified and deserves to work with you.
“Follow your intuition” is generally good advice, but you may need to take it with a grain of salt. Intuition is a culmination of all your conditioning and experience.
Had a lot of good life experiences? Your intuition’s probably pretty clear. Been through a lot? It may not be quite as reliable as you’d like. Adding a hearty dose of critical thinking to a heart-based decision is always a good idea.
The reverse is also true. If you’re a very logical, left-brain kind of person, be sure to add someone’s “vibes” and your “gut feeling” to your pros and cons list while making a decision. Your unconscious mind can pick up on all sorts of subtle cues that may not register to your prefrontal cortex.
Though training, skills, and tools are important the thing that will make the biggest difference in your healing is their relationship with you. Do you feel like you can trust them? Do they say sorry when they mess up? In general, do you leave sessions feeling better (even if a bit raw and tender) then when you went in?
Before Scheduling a Consultation
Do everything you can to get a read on them before you meet.
Check out their website and blog. Read their newsletter. Try a few of their free meditations or practices. Go to a workshop or webinar if one’s coming up. If all of that scans and you feel good about them, go ahead and schedule a consultation or initial session (almost everyone gives a free consultation.)
Know that it may take a few tries before you find someone you really click with. Sometimes you’ll be a few sessions in before you really figure out whether or not you want to work with them. Be sure to ask about their cancellation and refund policies so you know how to pull the plug if needed.
Think of it like dating. You’re probably not gonna meet your soulmate healer with the first person you find. That’s ok, it’s all part of the process and will teach you a lot. (And part of why DIY is such a great place to start. Then you’ll get continued support as you search.)
The most important thing to watch for during the consultation is to see if they have COMPASSION. Real empathy is absolutely essential for true emotional healing. Unfortunately, our society’s obsession with “objectivity” means not all practitioners use it with their clients.
You can test the compassion of a potential practitioner.
Tell them about something painful you experienced or are experiencing and watch how they respond. Do they say “I can see how that was hard for you,” in a neutral tone as they look away from you to scribble some notes? Or do they make eye contact and say “That’s horrific! I’m so sorry that happened. That’s so messed up…”?
Other questions you might ask during the consultation are:
1. Though credentials aren’t everything, what training has this practitioner had? How long has s/he been working with clients? Has s/he worked with clients in a similar situation to yourself?
2. Will you need to give up anything other than time and money to work with this practitioner?
3. When do you graduate from this relationship? Is there a set number of sessions? Are you able to end this relationship at any time?
4. Do they continue to unpack their own emotional issues? Do they have their own professional support and self-care practice?
5. Do they encourage questions? Or do they seem annoyed by or avoid your questions?
Generally, do you feel better (if a bit tender) after the consultation than you did going in? Did you feel heard? Does your heart feel heavier or lighter?
While Working With Them
Congrats! You found your practitioner and are all signed-up to meet regularly. For the first session or two, keep up your good discernment skills. Sometimes stuff comes up that you just could never have foreseen from your earlier research.
- Do they use a lot of “tough love”? Or is there softness in their approach as well as firmness? Do you generally feel comfortable with their approach?
- Do they show their flaws? Are they human and authentic around you? Or do they pretend to be an enlightened “better” than you?
Deep emotional wounding, from childhood abuse to a shitty job, can really pour into other areas of your life. Sometimes, it might feel like you’re incapable of feeling joy ever again. But, as Peter Levine says, “Trauma is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.”
Unwinding the hurts of the past can take serious time and dedication but it is TOTALLY possible. Our society tells us that once we experience something awful we are broken and will be for the rest of our lives. And that’s just not true.
Humans are incredibly resilient and our capacity to heal is truly miraculous. It sometimes takes the guidance and support of others, be it in the form of a book, a group, or one-on-one work.
But the freedom on the other side is worth every moment. For some, what they receive from the healing journey is so beautiful they wouldn’t go back and change a thing.
You deserve to heal. No matter who you are or what you went through, you deserve to live life from a place of peace, wholeness, and joy. Now go get it. The door is open.
Originally published at https://michellegarfinkel.com on January 21, 2021.