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Tips for Finding a Therapist That’s Right for You

Congratulations on your decision to see a therapist! Whether it’s your first time in therapy or you’ve been before, finding a therapist can feel like a daunting task. However, with a little knowledge and an idea of what to look for, finding the right therapist doesn’t have to be difficult.

What is the most important factor to successful? Many would think the therapist’s experience, skills or techniques/theories used would be the key to success. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Research has shown that the essential aspect determining successful treatment is the therapist-client relationship (i.e. the rapport/connection you have with your therapist). Therefore, it’s important to find a therapist whom you trust and feel comfortable with enough to be open and honest.

Who Can Provide Therapy

Providers of therapy will vary from state to state. Therapists will usually have a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology or a related field. Therapists then have to go through a licensure process, which involves getting a certain number of hours of experience (e.g. 3,000 hours) and taking a licensing exam. For example, in the state of California, licensed marriage family therapists (MFT) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) usually have a master’s degree, while licensed psychologist have a doctoral degree. States will have different titles for these various providers. Psychiatrists, who are medical doctors (M.D.) specialize in treating mental disorders and may also provide therapy. Other possible therapists include “interns” who are still in school or who have graduated and are collecting hours of experience. (Interns are supervised by and work under a licensed therapist.)

Questions to Think About Before Choosing a Therapist

  • Do you have any preference for a female or male therapist?
  • Is there a particular style you prefer in a therapist – e.g. active versus a more passive approach?
  • What fee can you reasonably afford?
  • How often would you like to see a therapist and what are the best times/days for you?
  • What are the key issues or problems you are dealing with, and what are your goals for therapy?

Questions to Consider Asking a Prospective Therapist

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • What is your experience working with _____ issue or population?
  • What is your style of working? What is your theoretical orientation (techniques/theories used)?
  • What is the initial/first session like? What is a typical session like?
  • Do you have a sliding scale or reduced fees?
  • What, if any, types of insurance do you accept?
  • When do you have appointments available?

Checking Licensure Status

Each state has a specific department that regulates individuals who can provide therapy and handles consumer complaints. For example, in California, the Board of Psychology regulates psychologists. Many of these state departments have a website where you can enter a therapist’s license number and look up the status of their license and any disciplinary actions.

Confidentiality

It is important to know that your confidentiality is protected when seeing a therapist. Therapists must abide by a code of ethics as well as laws and regulations pertaining to their field which includes maintaining a client’s confidentiality. In addition to keeping the content of your conversations confidential, the very fact that you’re in therapy cannot be revealed to anyone without your permission. Depending on the state you live in, there are few exceptions to confidentiality (e.g. suspicion of child/elder abuse, intent to harm someone or yourself). Also, if there is a court order for records, or you give permission, confidentiality can be broken. Your therapist will most likely explain confidentiality during your first session. If not, you can ask your therapist about the exceptions to confidentiality.

Possible Places to Find a Therapist

Private Versus Agency/Non-Profit

You can see a therapist in private practice or one that is employed by a non-profit or private agency. Often therapists at non-profit agencies offer lower fees than private therapists. Reduced fees can be offered because many of these agencies are partially funded by government resources and/or use interns training to be therapists to deliver services.

Where to Find Possible Therapist Referrals

  • Friends, colleagues, family members
  • Your current doctor/health care provider
  • Local psychological associations (for psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage family therapists, mental health counselors)
  • Local mental health organizations
  • Your health insurance company (or others in the area)
  • Yellow pages/phone book – look under categories such as “mental health services,” “psychotherapy,” “psychologist,” “marriage family therapists,” “social workers,” “psychiatrists,” “suicide prevention,” “crisis intervention services”
  • Local schools offering graduate programs in psychology or psychiatry
  • Local social service and family organizations
  • Clergy, religious leaders in the community
  • Local hospitals often have a referral list
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Private clinics or agencies
  • Therapist referral services (Caveat: usually listings are paid by therapists. So, a listing is not a recommendation/endorsement) – check online and in your phone book

Call several therapists and ask them whatever questions you have that will help you determine whether you want to schedule a first session. Finances and time permitting, meet with several (at least two) therapists to see who you would feel most comfortable working with. A personality match is important because in order to get the most out of therapy, you need to be open and honest about whatever you want to discuss. Sometimes you will know from the first session whether you want to continue with a particular therapist. (Who knows, you may hit it off with the first therapist you see.) If you call a therapist who doesn’t have any openings or meet your needs, ask them for any referrals. It’s ok to shop around and not continue with a therapist if you don’t feel a connection. Therapists are used to and expect this.

What to Expect at Your First Session

The first session will vary from therapist to therapist. You can ask about the initial session when you first call a potential therapist. Generally, it’s a session for the therapist to get to know you and the concerns you want to address. It’s also a time to see if you’ll be a good match working together. Usually during the initial session, a therapist will ask more questions than in other sessions and gather information about your history and issues. You may also be required to fill out forms and sign a consent form.

Emergencies and Times of Crisis

If you are experiencing an emotional crisis or feeling like you want to hurt yourself, call a crisis hotline (800-273-8255 or 800-784-2433), call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room (ER). At the ER, you can get help for a very brief period of time and if needed, you will be provided with referrals for further help.

 

Also see: [ take a depression test ] [ depression help resource ]

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