One of the most difficult parts of dealing with the post-service medical world is finding a doctor. You have just returned home or just discovered that you have a service-related illness, and you need some help. However, you need a doctor who understands your situation and who is willing to bill the Department of Labor or the Peace Corps. When I returned after being medically separated in 2004, I needed to find a psychologist. I called every one in the phone book, and one returned my call. She has been my psychologist since then. However, now she is retiring, and I need a new psychologist. Since I just went through the process of finding one, I thought I'd share exactly how I went about it. This will work for finding a therapist too.
First off, let me say that even though the process turned out to be simple, I had a lot of anxiety about it. I don't live in the US. What if no one would be willing to work via Skype? I don't have any insurance besides FECA. What if no one would be willing to work with the Department of Labor? I have strange neurological problems related to my service. What if no one understood? What if they said I was just faking? I avoided dealing with finding a doctor for quite a long time, and that just made things worse, because it meant that I had less and less of a cushion of time before my psychologist retired. In the end, though, I finally buckled down and started looking.
What I found was that there are tools that make the process easy. On top of that, every single psychologist who I spoke to was nice. It shouldn't have been a surprise to me that they would be kind, empathetic people who want to help. Nonetheless, I was surprised. I had doctors volunteer to help me find someone if I couldn't. I didn't need to be afraid. There are plenty of experts out there who understand brain trauma, so I didn't need to worry that no one would be qualified to see me. There are psychologists who are willing to work with me about billing. There are doctors who will talk to you online, and there are states that don't restrict their psychologists to only seeing clients in state. I spent a year and half worrying, when I didn't need to.
As a little aside, I need to say that I used the Psychology Today website to find a psychologist. I don't work for them, I'm not endorsing them, and I won't get any money from telling you about them. I found their search engine to be helpful. You can use another method, if you like. I'm writing about this one, because it is the one I used and because I thought they did a good job making the process easy.
Go to psychologytoday.com and click on "Find a Therapist". It is at the very top. Assuming you want a doctor in the US, choose "United States" from the next screen. Now, you need to decide where you are willing to go for treatment. I chose states where my family lives, so that if I needed to visit the psychologist in person, I would have a place to stay. You can type a location into the search box, or you can scroll down and select a state. It is possible to filter by county later. If you are living outside the country and don't have any state that is better than another, choose "Florida". Why? Because Florida apparently doesn't restrict where clients live. This appears to also be true, from online research, of Vermont, Montana, and Wisconsin.
You have clicked on a state or typed something into the search box, which gives you a webpage full of people. On the left-hand side, there are criteria you can use to filter the list. You have to click the "More+" button to see the whole list. I chose to filter by "Traumatic Brain Injury" under "Issues", "Show only women" under "Gender", and "Video Counseling" under "Online Therapy". I felt a little guilty for only wanting to see a woman, but you know, it is okay to go with what you feel will make you the most comfortable. Go into a quiet room and close the door. No one has to know what search criteria you use.
You still have a big long list of people, but now the list is a little shorter and a little more tailored to your needs. At the top of my list, there is a section that lets you choose a city or county. That will help narrow it down more. In this step, you should go through and take a look at the list. Start weeding people out. I knew that my psychologist wanted me to see a psychologist with a PhD, so I went through the list and picked out every single PhD. Use whatever criteria works best for you. If you aren't sure, ask yourself what you want this person to do. I need them to be able to stand up for me when the Department of Labor asks how I am doing (the answer is always "not well"). Since my brain damage is complicated, I want a psychologist who knows her stuff. I want someone who can answer technical questions about the ways that my brain doesn't work. You may not need that. You may need someone who understands your religion or native culture or something else entirely. Set aside the time to go through the list. Hopefully, you will recover quickly, but in case you end up spending the next fifteen years talking to this person, you want to make sure that they are the best possible fit for you. I really lucked out with my current psychologist, but you don't have to rely on luck. You can choose. That is infinitely better.
You have chosen some psychologists or therapists. You've read through their profiles, and they seem like they are what you are looking for. What next? Now, you have to contact them. I was good up until this point. Okay, I can look at the output of a search engine. Okay, I can look at their faces and profiles. However, I hate talking on the phone. I'll do it if I have to, but I hate it. Conveniently, nearly every single one of these doctors has a nice "Email Me" button on their page in addition to a phone number. Now, maybe you are totally comfortable calling people on the phone and telling them your story. Maybe you prefer the phone to email, because you want to hear the doctor's voice. If you are a little sensitive about using the phone but still want to call or if you decide to use email, I suggest writing a little script first.
If you use the email version, you are limited to 200 words, which actually is plenty. I had read it as 200 characters, and I was stressed. Nope, 200 words. Honestly, if you get voicemail, you'll need to keep it pretty short too. So, what do you say? You'll need a subject for each of these. I chose "Looking for a psychologist". I wrote it down so that I could just copy and paste it into each form. I then introduced myself and briefly explained my condition. Then I asked if the doctor is taking new patients. After that, I explained the complications, talked about my insurance, and said that I would call when it was convenient for them.
Here is a (fictional) example of what this could look like:
Subject: Looking for a psychologist
Text: My name is Rachel Martin, and I'm suffering from anxiety after having been attacked by bandits during my Peace Corps service in Uganda. I'm looking for a psychologist to help me deal with my anxiety. Are you taking new patients?
I live in Eugene, Oregon. I receive workers' compensation from the US Department of Labor, which will pay for my therapy.
If you would prefer that we speak over the phone about this, please let me know when is good for you, and I will call. Mornings are better for me.
Thanks for your time. - Rachel
For a phone call, Rachel might say, "My name is Rachel Martin. My phone number is 541-555-5555. I'm suffering from anxiety after having been attacked by bandits during my Peace Corps service in Uganda. I'm looking for a psychologist to help me deal with my anxiety. Are you taking new patients? I live in Eugene, Oregon and receive workers' compensation from the US Department of Labor, which will pay for my therapy. My phone number again is 541-555-5555. Thanks for your time."
Before you actually pick up the phone or click the "Email Me" button, you should come up will a way of knowing who you have contacted. I made a little spreadsheet with the doctor's name, certification (like "psychologist with PhD" or "licensed therapist"), location, webpage on Psychology Today (still not an endorsement), and if they answered me. If you don't want to do all that, you could just open up a note program and write down their names. Psychology Today will send you a copy of the email you sent to the doctor, so even if you do nothing, you'll still have some record. However, I found it helpful to have it all written out.
Contact them. You don't have to worry about responses. Just go through the list and email or call all the ones you chose. It is kind of stressful, but it has to be done.
After some (probably short) period of time, you'll start getting responses. A lot of the doctors who answered me said something like, "Oh, I can see you on Tuesday." It is fine if you want to choose the first one who gets back to you, but once I got a list of doctors who could see me, I went through it and decided who my first choice was. It might be that your first choice has some kind of complication. Maybe they aren't sure about your insurance, or they need to talk to someone first. It is totally okay to get back to those other doctors and say, "I'm waiting on some other responses at the moment. I'll get back to you in a week or less with a decision." I personally feel that you shouldn't leave them hanging with no response, since they were nice enough to answer. On the other hand, you don't have to feel rushed. Take your time and choose. If you aren't sure based on their profiles and emails, it is totally acceptable to ask for a short consultation phone call or visit. They are usually free and will help you get a feel for the doctor.
And that's it! You have found therapists or psychologists. While it is up to you to choose, you now have some options. Hopefully, you found the process not terribly complex or stressful.