On Our Minds: Finding a Therapist is Easy with Yuri Tomikawa and Zencare
On Our Minds is a recurring series at Mochi magazine dedicated to destigmatizing mental health in the Asian American community. By addressing the issue of mental health head on and making more information accessible, we hope to create space for us all to connect and feel less alone in our experiences.
“I was really lost in my career—I was looking at different jobs, thinking of different ideas for companies I could start, and getting to a pretty low point where I was in a decision paralysis,” says Yuri Tomikawa, founder and CEO of Zencare, a website dedicated to connecting people with quality therapists. That was when she decided to seek external guidance from a professional. But finding the right therapist turned out to be much harder than she anticipated. First, there was the drastic price range: individual therapy sessions could cost anywhere from $100 to $300 each. Then, finding out whether certain providers were even accepting new clients proved to be a challenge. After that, she still had to figure out if someone was a good fit based on profiles alone.
Weeks later, Tomikawa was still without a provider, but she was on to something—it shouldn’t be this hard to find a therapist! In seeking to simplify the search process, she founded Zencare.co, which currently operates in New York City, Boston and Rhode Island, and is expanding quickly.
With her experience, expertise and enthusiasm, Tomikawa is the perfect person from whom to seek advice on finding the right therapist. Below are her insights and answers to some commonly asked questions.
How do I know if I need a therapist?
Unlike physical ailments, it can be difficult to know when to seek support for mental health. In general, Tomikawa believes therapy can be beneficial for anyone but, in terms of when to seek help and what to seek it for, she outlines two categories:
An active problem in your life that needs resolving. Examples include a break up or work stress—recent and immediate events that you might be struggling with. For these situations, therapy can help address and overcome the issue at hand.
Recurring situations and nagging patterns of behavior. You might be feeling fine but keep having relationship problems, family arguments or persistent low periods. In this case, you might want a professional to help uncover, discover and improve aspects of your life for the long run.
The two categories form a spectrum and, oftentimes, there might be more than one reason to consider getting professional guidance. According to Tomikawa, “Wherever you are on the spectrum can be a good time [to find a therapist].”
Okay, I think I want a therapist, but how would I convince my parents of that, especially if they think therapy is for “crazy people”?
“You don’t have to tell your parents,” explains Tomikawa. After all, this is your personal investment in your well-being. But of course, if you’re financially or otherwise dependent on your parents and need their approval to seek therapy, she has a few suggestions:
Be open and realistic. Tomikawa encourages people to share with their parents why they are seeking therapy. We want our parents to be supportive of our decisions, but sometimes there can be a cultural or generational difference; being honest about what you’re going through can help them empathize with and understand your situation.
Speak their language. Highlight the benefits that you’d receive in therapy and, over time, your parents may see and understand the positive effect it could have on you. For example, if you’re struggling in college and feeling anxious but know that your parents have high expectations of your academic success, then perhaps you can share how therapy has helped many other students in their studies and how it can help you as well. If the benefits of therapy are communicated in a way that your parents understand, they may be more willing to support you.
I’ve decided to find a therapist, but it’s overwhelming! I don’t know where to start.
Here are Tomikawa’s tips on seeking a therapist and persevering in your search:
Get informed about local providers. If there is a resource like Zencare in your area, use it to explore and understand your options. Obtain as much information as you can on providers and, if possible, go out of your insurance network to broaden your search.
“Even if you have a great fit with a therapist, oftentimes the first session is not the best experience... The first session, in most cases, is where the therapist is asking you intake questions, about your background, what’s bringing you in, family history, medical questions, and it’s much more of an interview than a process,” explains Tomikawa. This isn’t typical of a therapy session, but is necessary for the therapist to understand your needs so that they can find the best treatment, approach or advice for you. You may also need a few sessions to get a better feel of the therapist’s personality and style.
“Fit is the number one important factor in therapy successes.” There have been numerous studies on what makes therapy successful, and the number one factor is the therapist-client fit. The feeling of trust, comfort and acceptance when you open up is most important. If you don’t feel that, then you should continue the search.
But how would I know if a therapist is a good fit for me?
Tomikawa says to trust your gut. There’s no formula to it—when you feel comfortable in the therapist’s presence and you feel that they are looking out for your best interests, then it is likely a good fit.
You can also check in with yourself by asking questions like:
Do I feel comfortable sharing information with the provider?
When I share information with this provider, do I feel acknowledged?
Do I feel heard by the provider?
Do I feel welcomed here?
Do I feel like the provider is actively thinking about how to help me?
For more information on figuring out if your therapist is “the one,” check out this article on Zencare.
Do I need to find a therapist with the same cultural background as me? What if I can’t find one?
Yes and no. There can be benefits to seeing a therapist with a similar background as you, Tomikawa says, the biggest being that “you don’t have to explain as much in many cases, if the challenges you’re going through are specific to your culture.” For Asian Americans, there might be pressures from your family or friends that you might feel more comfortable discussing with an Asian American therapist. This is partly why Zencare strives to diversify their practitioners and help people find therapists who share their identity.
At the same time, the lack of cultural similarities is not a deal breaker. It’s ultimately about you—your unique situation, history and circumstances. For Tomikawa, a good therapist “doesn’t assume everything about you based on your race or ethnicity.” They try to get to know you individually.
So not being able to find a therapist who shares your identity should not discourage you from seeking therapy. Race, culture and ethnicity are only part of your identity. There’s also gender, sexuality, age and much, much more. Decide what is most important for you and go from there!
Is therapy working? Should I give up?
Tomikawa says, “It’s not uncommon to feel slightly worse for a little bit before you feel better.” There are plenty of things that we might ignore or repress to carry on with our daily lives. Those things can emerge through therapy. It’s a cathartic release of negative emotions that might manifest in tears, laughter or what have you. But once you let that out, your energy will shift, and the practical tools and tips from your therapist should help you feel better with time.
The key is to stick with it, especially after it seems that the active problem has been resolved, because the benefits of therapy are gradual. “I’d encourage people to see it as a longer term investment in health improvement. For something that’s happening, commit to at least four or five sessions, and see the process through,” says Tomikawa. “Often people will experience a lightbulb moment, or reach a breakthrough in therapy a few sessions in,” but that may not mean the job is done.
In her work and in speaking with us, Tomikawa hopes to help “as many people find quality therapists as smoothly as possible.” In doing so, she also hopes to normalize conversations about mental health so that more people feel comfortable seeking therapy. And with an increased demand for therapists, we’ll hopefully see the number and diversity of therapists growing as well, therefore continuing a positive cycle and encouraging even more people to take care of their mental health.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.