Choosing a Therapist

I’ve been in ther­a­py off and on since 1988. I’ve been through lots of ther­a­pists, some good, some bad, some just poor fits for me. As a result, I’ve learned a thing or two about screen­ing poten­tial therapists.

I find the lists of pro­fes­sion­als at Psy­chol­o­gy Today to be very help­ful in find­ing poten­tial ther­a­pists (or psychiatrists).

First, I check on a ther­a­pist’s cre­den­tials. There are lots of peo­ple who call them­selves “coun­selors” who aren’t licensed or trained as therapists—religious “author­i­ties,” life coach­es, etc. I recent­ly found out that the “coun­selor” a friend had been see­ing had an art his­to­ry degree and no train­ing at all in therapy!

I rule out men sim­ply because I am more com­fort­able speak­ing with women, but gen­der isn’t an impor­tant fac­tor for some peo­ple. Like­wise, I rule out very young peo­ple because I feel like they can’t have enough expe­ri­ence for me to be com­fort­able open­ing up to them.

Then, I check to be sure they par­tic­i­pate in my health insur­ance plan and whether they’re accept­ing new patients. If so, do they have appoint­ments at a time that works for me? Those are ques­tions their front office staff should be able to answer (if they have staff).

Then, because I am a sur­vivor of child­hood sex­u­al abuse, I ask about whether they do trau­ma-informed care. If you’re deal­ing with sub­stance abuse, or anx­i­ety, or an eat­ing dis­or­der, or what­ev­er, ask about the ther­a­pist’s expe­ri­ence. You want to see some­one who knows how to han­dle your spe­cif­ic issues.

If you know that you’re inter­est­ed in a par­tic­u­lar clin­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion or tech­nique, ask about it. I pre­fer ther­a­pists who are trained in dialec­ti­cal behav­ioral ther­a­py (DBT), so I look for that. If a ther­a­pist’s pro­file men­tions some­thing that isn’t sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ed, like EMDR or hyp­no­sis, it’s a huge red flag to me (you might not mind).

Next, I want to know about their views on alter­na­tive lifestyles and reli­gions. Do they say on their web­site or oth­er pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als that they wel­come mem­bers of the GLBTQ com­mu­ni­ty? If so, I feel bet­ter about see­ing them. What is their opin­ion regard­ing eth­i­cal non-monogamy? Do they use any type of spir­i­tu­al approach in their work? Do they expect their clients to 12-step or use oth­er reli­gious tech­niques? Are they going to be able to mod­i­fy their approach to respect a skep­ti­cal agnos­tic atheist?

Are they in ther­a­py, or have they been? (If not, run away, far away!)

And final­ly, if I’ve inter­viewed her, how do I feel about this per­son? How like­ly it is that we can build the type of trust that is essen­tial for effec­tive ther­a­py? Do I feel like this is a per­son who won’t just lis­ten, but who will give me valu­able feed­back and ask the right questions?

If I get pos­i­tive answers to all of the above, I can feel fair­ly con­fi­dent that there’s a poten­tial for a good patient-pro­fes­sion­al fit. That’s vital for build­ing the trust required for full dis­clo­sure, which is nec­es­sary n order to have a reward­ing ther­a­py experience.

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