Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

03 Oct 2023, 12:25 p.m.

A Few Tips on Seeking a Lawyer, Psychiatrist or Therapist

Recently I've helped a few folks as they sought professional help from lawyers, or mental health professionals such as psychiatrists or therapists. Here are a few tips; they're more relevant in the United States but might also apply elsewhere.


Check out the guidance that MetaFilter commenters have compiled in this wiki page; I also previously wrote about How to Get and Deal With a Lawyer about the initial steps of seeking and talking with a candidate.

In general, assuming you are an individual person or one-person business, you should be able to get an your initial cost-free consultation with a lawyer to interview them and get a sense of whether they could help you with your problem. In that initial call, you should be able to tell them about your situation and about what you are having trouble with, and (if you have one) your goal. In my opinion, once you've laid that out, they should be able to say something like:

OK, I understand that you want [this] outcome. You have [these 2-4 choices of ways to achieve that]. For each of those approaches: it might take [about this] long, cost [this range including their own fees and other costs] much, and have [this range] chance of success. Approach [C] has [additional risk R] in case that would be acceptable to you. I would be able to help you with [approaches A and D], but for [B] you'd be on your own, and for [C] I'd refer you to a colleague in a different specialty.

They might not be able to get all of that information to you in the initial conversation, but then something like it ought to come soon after in written form - maybe an informal email.

I, personally, particularly like it when a lawyer can also help me understand: why is this problem happening? and why are we required to do x? Whatever the topic -- real estate, employment, etc. -- sometimes I find various requirements and customs frustrating because I don't understand the fundamental reasons for them. When I ask "Why is this set up the way it is?" I really like it when a lawyer can treat me as though I am capable of comprehending complicated topics, and can explain, e.g.,

The state has a policy interest in [xyz happening] and so [this is the basic structure they have set up to make that happen]. While maintaining that, they need to balance the interests of [group G] and [group H], and so the threshold for allowing [activity/exception J] is set at [threshold T].

Some lawyers can and will do this and I can work better with the ones who do.

Mental health professionals

Again, there's a rich list of resources in this MetaFilter wiki collection. This should help whether you're looking for a more talk-style counselor or a psychiatrist. And it might also help you if you're seeking more of a coach.

Some people get stuck on the step where the therapist's office has an intake or "new patient" form for you to fill out and there's an open-ended "tell me about yourself" question, like "tell us about your situation and why you're seeking counseling". It can be really hard to articulate what you need in the moment you need it!

[Edited 6 November 2023 to add: This therapist also says you can leave it blank, and explains why. "I encourage people coming to mental health services – or to any health services – to treat the intake paperwork they are given as a kind of request, or even an opportunity to communicate what you want, not a demand of them. Some of it will be important, without which they can't treat you (the consent to treatment, e.g.), but other stuff, you can just tell them in person when you get there."]

So here's a basic template for what you could write in there.

All this is optional and if it's too hard, write like a single sentence saying "I'm struggling a lot right now and am looking for help coping with everyday activities." They can deal with that. They would rather you write that, and send it in, than never send it in because you couldn't find the right words.

But: If you want more structure and detail in there, I suggest you write a paragraph on your current situation and problems. If you have the energy to write more, add a few sentences on what you've tried and want to try. And if you feel driven to write more, add 3-4 sentences on your context.

Current situation and problems: the most important stuff to tell them. You don't need to be complete or detailed here. They just need a place to start. Like:

  • I feel fatigue even when I feel like I "shouldn't" be tired
  • I have trouble concentrating, even on things I want to focus on
  • I have impulsive anger
  • I have trouble making decisions

One way to start here is to look at some Internet quiz or diagnostic checklist and copy stuff from there that resonates with you.

In this paragraph, try to also note if there's a temporary or new situation you need to cope with, like grief from a recent death, or a really stressful work schedule.

Things you've tried, and what has helped/might help: If you can summon the energy to write a 2nd paragraph, write this one. Stuff like:

  • I got a diet plan from a nutritionist
  • When I can do it, meditation calms me down
  • I was on an SSRI but the side effects were too awful to bear, but I would like to try a different med
  • I think I would like to role-play difficult conversations with someone

It's okay to say "I want to talk to a counselor to help me understand my problems and figure out what to do about them" and not have any clear idea of the specifics.

Context: If you can get yourself to write a third paragraph, write this one too. You could include:

  • key bio details: e.g. "middle-aged white man"
  • whether you have a job, are a student, and/or are financially struggling
  • where you live - by yourself? with family?
  • whether you're in any partnership/relationships, e.g., being married
  • key physical health stuff that affects your mental health, such as "pain from an old leg injury makes it hard for me to exercise" or "have multiple sclerosis"
  • if you're up for it: key big past experiences that continue to affect you, e.g., being a survivor of domestic abuse

Again! If this feels overwhelming, you can write a single sentence. You can copy and paste this one: "I'm struggling a lot right now and want to talk to someone about it." I wish you well.


04 Oct 2023, 17:05 p.m.

[crosspost from fediverse replies] Here are my tips on finding and accessing mental healthcare, none of them are fully original to me, but maybe they will be useful.

<ul> <li>

therapists are like shoes in that you can try several kinds before you find the right one for you. don't get discouraged if the first one didn't click with you, try another one. (my personal corollary is that I didn't find talk therapy useful until many years and therapists in, basically it only worked for me once my situation happened to change enough that I was no longer in crisis too often to talk through events in my life.) (another corollary is that you generally don't have to do the things a therapist tells you to, if they tell you to do things and you don't want to then unless it's related to someone's immediate safety you can just... leave and try a new one)</li>

</li> <li>

in some areas of the us, many therapists that have a reputation of being good don't take insurance, depending on your insurance, you may be able to submit as out of network. you pay out of pocket, they give you a monthly "superbill", you send the insurance co a copy of the bill and a form within six months of the treatment, they send you a check for about half the cost about a month later... (I've had both good and bad experiences with both in and out of network)

</li> <li>

If you get an email or phone to cold call, you can start by asking "are you taking new patients?"

</li> <li>

if you contact someone and they don't have availability you can ask them who they'd recommend you try instead. if you are good at phone calls or know someone who is, call several people on your list and ask all of them who they'd recommend and choose the most frequent recommendation to try actually seeing first. (hot tip: this also works for non therapy providers of any kind of services)

</li> <li>

psychiatrist tip: check your meds at the beginning of the week, especially if you're on a controlled substance rx which can't be refilled too frequently. Many psychiatrists have a several business day turnaround for refill requests and you want them to have time to refill before the weekend.

</li> <li>

psychiatrist tip 2: confirm your psych sent the right thing to the pharmacy by asking the dosage, quantity, and medication before paying at the pharmacy. Check the pharmacy gave you the right bottles and put the right pills in them. Both sides can be fallible at times.

</li> </ul>