How do I find a trauma therapist?
This is a question I've been getting a lot recently. And I think it's well justified. You want to find a competent therapist that can work with trauma and the somatic aspects. And in my opinion, one that is polyvagal-informed. It's a lot of pieces, and honestly, not all therapists are going to be able to fit all of these. And obviously, I can't recommend specific therapists for where everyone lives, so here are a couple of tips based on what I would personally do for myself or a loved one if we needed it.
1. See who is providing trauma therapy locally that is also using social media.
This is not going to be the norm for therapists. We have a big fear of exposure and tons of ethical and legal considerations, so most of us will shy away from this. A private sector therapist who is making a living off of insurance referrals may not feel the need to market themselves and just stay the course.
Regardless, if I were looking for a therapist today, that would probably be my first step. I'd check Psychology Today to see the local listings, then visit all of their websites if they have one, then their social media.
Why? Because it's an easy way to vet someone without having to go and pay a fee. You can tell a lot about someone based on their social media. You can get a feel for their personality, while also getting a feel for how they do therapy, while also getting a feel for their level of competence. All of these things should be taken into consideration.
A therapist without a strong online presence can of course still be a great therapist. But again, for me, this is my first step. I'd like to meet with someone that I can get a feel for ahead of time. I want to know if someone knows their stuff or not and if they seem like a good personality fit for me.
2. Find a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in your area.
A couple of things about this:
SE Professionals are not necessarily psychotherapists. That is not a mandatory requirement. "[The] program is designed to train professionals in working more effectively with client trauma," but this includes medical professionals, massage therapists, yoga instructors and more. SE Professionals in the Somatic Experiencing Directory are not necessarily "Practitioners" - professionals that have completed the entire 3 year training. It also includes SE Professionals in training. Something to be aware of when you're looking.
I think working with an SE Professional could be a great alternative to traditional therapy. Or ideally, a therapist that is also an SE Professional. Either way, SE Pros are supposed to be trained to work with many kinds of traumas. This is their field. Their expertise. And it all stems from the incredible work of Peter Levine.
If I were looking for a therapist, I would give very serious consideration to this. I've actually looked in my area out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised that I found a handful nearby.
There are other non-therapy methods of getting unstuck from trauma, but this one has me the most interested. I also think things like yoga and meditation might be helpful. But again, not things I'll do for myself most likely. Maybe meditation more than I do now.
3. Do therapy online
This might not be the best fit for all people, but it's a potential option. If you search for an online therapist, you might find someone in your state that you wouldn't typically be able to work with. This could open up a lot of new opportunities.
4. Guess and check
I like this option the least, but it's an option. The old-fashioned way of just making an appointment with someone that is close, then trying it out. If it doesn't fit, try again with the next therapist. This has a lot of potential drawbacks, but it is an option. And it might be your best one.
I'd recommend treating all of your initial sessions as a way to vet the therapist. Rather than just complying with their expectations, tell them yours upfront. Tell them you won't be talking about anything in the first session that you deem to be too much. Tell them you're there to get a sense for how they work and have some questions planned out. Make it known you're assessing them as much as they're assessing you.
You could even make these things known on the first phone call, before the first session. In my opinion, a good therapist is going to welcome that. They'll get it and welcome you in with no judgment. If someone balks at the idea, maybe move on. Someone who is truly "trauma-informed" is going to get it. Heck, someone who is looking out for the best interest of potential clients is going to get it, "trauma-informed" or not.
Ultimately, a therapist is there to provide a service to you. Just like a restaurant. Just like a plumber. Just like a lawyer. There's nothing special about us. If you're not feeling it with one, you move on to the next. Just like you would with any other profession until you get the service you expect for your money.
Like I said, lots of potential drawbacks. But I think the potential of that could be reduced by having your boundaries set before the first contact.
I hope this list helps. You deserve to get the help you need. I hope you find it! This is honestly what I would do for myself or a loved one.