Have you made the decision to seek therapy? The steps to choosing a therapist are important for successful treatment. You do not want to share your personal problems with a person with a less than stellar track record or an inexperienced practitioner. Your goal should be to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and can create a relationship. Therapy is difficult – you are sharing your deepest emotions – and a personal connection is imperative.
The Comfort Factor
When it comes to choosing a therapist you are not alone. The National Institute of Health reported that 1 in 4 Americans need psychological help – help with feelings and problems.3 These problems can range from marriage issues to family dilemmas and from job loss to depression or substance abuse.
Reasons You Should Consider Therapy
- A sense of helplessness, overwhelming sadness, problems that do not go away
- Cannot focus or complete daily activities, little concentration, poor job performance
- Excessive worry, anxious
- You are at risk to harm yourself or other people, (includes drinking and drugs)
The first step in choosing a therapist is finding someone you can connect with, but not someone who will become your best friend. Your therapist should respect you and your opinions. Trust is of the upmost importance. You must feel like you can tell your therapist the truth all of the time, never holding back information that effects the outcome of your therapy.
The Experience Factor
Everyone has to start somewhere. While new therapists often offer great services and are excellent providers, experts advise people to find therapists who have been practicing for at least ten years. Studies reveal that the more experience a therapist has – the longer he or she has been seeing clients – the better the experience for the clients.
Look for a therapist who has experience in your area of need. There are therapists who specialize in one behavior issue, and there are others who focus on a wide range of mental health issues. You do not want to meet with a provider who has no experience working with clients experiencing your personal issue.
How can you know if a therapist has the experience you need? When you meet the therapist for the first time be direct. Ask pointed questions about the therapist’s experience such as:
- Have you been in practice for a long time?
- Do you work with others who experience issues similar to mine?
Does a degree really make a difference when you are selecting a therapist? The letters after a therapist’s name are usually the most confusing aspect of choosing a practitioner. Should you choose a psychologist or a psychiatrist? Should you go to a psychiatrist or a licensed clinical social worker?
One theory is to go to the most advanced mental health professional you can afford. However, in many cases this theory falls flat. It is important to know the difference between the professionals in order to choose the right one for you. Here are some tips you can use:3
- Psychiatrists have completed medical school. They are actual medical doctors and can prescribe medications. In addition to their medical school training, the majority of psychiatrists complete a three year residency in psychiatry after graduating from medical school.
- A psychologist can be compared to your family doctor. They have a doctoral degree – a Ph.D., Ed.D., or Psy.D. from a graduate program approved by the American Psychological Association. Plus, they have completed up to two years of post degree internships. Licensed clinical psychologists have passed a state licensing exam. He or she is well rounded in a wide range of mental health research and behavioral techniques. If you need psychotropic medications a psychologist can refer you to a psychiatrist.
- Professional counselors have achieved a master’s or doctoral degree from an approved university. Certified counselors have completed specialized training and passed state examinations.
- Licensed clinical social workers have a Master’s Degree and two years of post graduate work experience. They have also passed a state licensing exam.
- Master’s level counselors
You must decide how you will interact with or visit your therapist. In today’s high tech world you have more options than ever before. You can seek therapy in traditional settings such as a therapist’s office or hospital. You can obtain therapy over the phone. And, you can now talk with your therapist over the internet.
Interview Your Therapist
In addition to the initial questions dealing with experience mentioned above, there are other questions you will want to ask a prospective therapist during your initial meeting.
- Are you licensed?
- What types of treatment do you prefer? Have these treatments been successful with other patients?
- What is your fee scale? Do you take my insurance?
Make It Work
Therapy is a two-way street. You must be an active participant for it to be successful. Create goals with your therapist in the first few meetings. This will give you something to work toward and a marker to see if the therapy is working for you. Keep in mind that some goals will take a long time to reach while others may be reached in a short time.4
You will experience a wide array of emotions during treatment. You may swing between elation and optimism to sadness. This does not mean therapy is a failure. The majority of people experience the same thing. However, you should look for more positive feelings than negative feelings as therapy continues.
A study from Stanford University School of Medicine definably demonstrates that some types of psychotherapy can lessen the symptoms of depression, anxiety and related symptoms.5 For therapy to be effective it is recommended that you have several sessions. The following steps will help you choose the right therapist and put you on the road to healing.
1 National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Retrieved from wwwapps.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america.shtml
2 ABCT. (n.d.). Guidelines for choosing a therapist. Retrieved from www.abct.org/DOCS/Members/FactSheets/GuidLine.pdf
3 ABCT. (n.d.). Guidelines for choosing a therapist. Retrieved from www.abct.org/DOCS/Members/FactSheets/GuidLine.pdf
4 North Carolina Psychological Association. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from www.ncpsychology.org/general-public/frequently-asked-questions
5 American Psychological Association. (n.d.). How to choose a psychologist. Retrieved from www.apa.org/helpcenter/choose-therapist.aspx