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 life 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 behavior therapy (DBT), so I look for that. If a therapist’s profile mentions something that isn’t scientifically validated, like 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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