The Search For the Right Therapist

Working with a therapist means starting a relationship based on vulnerability. It means getting to know someone who, starting out as a stranger, may quickly know some of the most intimate details of your life. This is not a decision that many people are willing to take lightly. I am frequently in the position to help people find a new therapist which inevitably becomes a daunting task for everyone involved. Here I’ve compiled a list of the three most common questions and concerns that arise from this process:

Q: I’ve done a search online and there are so many listings. How do I start to narrow it down?
A: First, consider how you plan to cover the cost of therapy. This has, in my experience, been the single most effective way to narrow down the search. If you are using insurance, ask your insurance company to give you a list of providers who accept your insurance. Many insurance company websites can help you narrow it down further by gender (if that’s important to you), location, and specialty. Regardless of your method of payment, you may want to check with a website such as www.psychologytoday.com which offers a therapist directory.

Q: What should I look for in a therapist?
A: If you’re looking for someone with a practice speciality (such as someone who treats trauma, grief, works with children, etc.) you’re already well on your way to answering this question. You may still want to proceed with caution. All licensed therapists are required to attend continuing education courses regularly. The topics can vary dramatically. Just because a person says they treat OCD, for example, that may not mean they have specialized training in the treatment of OCD. It could also mean they took a one or two day workshop several years ago. You have a right to know the training and experience of any healthcare provider who provides care for you. It’s appropriate to ask a prospective new therapist to describe their level of training and experience. It’s also appropriate to ask them what methods they use to treat any specific problem you are seeking therapy to address. There are many different ways to treat each problem and if someone uses a term you’re unfamiliar with, ask for an explanation. As a therapist, I welcome it when a prospective client asks me, “I’ve heard the term CBT but I don’t know what it means. Can you explain it to me?”

Q: How do I get started with a new therapist?
A: Most therapists have either a phone call or an email address listed. You can leave as much or as little detail on the voicemail or email as you’d like when you take the first step to reach out. That person should contact you within a few days. If not, you may want to try again. If the therapist does not take the initiative to offer it, you can request a phone conversation to speak with the therapist. Take that opportunity to ask questions and get a sense of the therapist’s personality. Once you decide to make an appointment with a new therapist, the first session is usually considered an “evaluation.” This session helps the therapist better understand your needs so he or she can know what techniques will be most likely to work for you. Perhaps more importantly, this is also your chance to interview the therapist in person. Each day I keep in mind that every therapy session is also my job interview. It is your choice as the client if you want to hire this person to work with you or not. If you feel uncomfortable or it becomes apparent that the therapist does not have the skills you need, you are not obligated to return to that person and can continue your search for the right therapist.

Finding the right therapist can seem like a challenge. It is important to find someone with the right skills, but also the right personality. Ultimately the choice is yours. These are only three of numerous possible questions, so if you have any other questions about this process, please leave a comment and I would be happy to try to address them.