How to Choose a Therapist

I am frequently surprised that new clients do not ask more questions before setting an appointment. Going to a therapist is a big deal, whether it is your first time or you’ve spent many an hour on “the couch”. You will be spending your money, your time and most importantly, your hope on a therapist. A bad fit will likely leave you feeling that you have wasted all three of these precious commodities. Therapy is a very personal thing yet most people ask few questions.

Here are a few suggestions on how to choose a therapist:
Be clear about what you hope to get out of the therapeutic process.
Look for someone that specializes in the kind of therapy you seek. Note: If you are looking for counselor for depression or anxiety, be aware that virtually all mental health therapists are able to address these issues.
If a provider search has indicated that a therapist is an expert or specialist in a certain area, you might ask them “What makes you an expert in this area?”
Some issues that require special or additional training are: eating disorders, traumatic brain injuries and children.
Imagine exactly what you would want in a therapist. Do you want someone to be a sounding board, or are you looking for someone to tell you what they think you should do?
Would you like your therapist to be kind and quiet or direct and confrontive?
Male or female?
Older or younger?
Little, moderate or extensive experience? (There are pros and cons to all of them).
Do you want a Master’s level clinician or a psychologist (see Doctors vs. Therapists)
Of course, location does matter. Usually your insurance carrier will have a provider search, complete with a map on their website.

How to locate potential therapists:
If you have insurance, start with a provider search through them. Once you have identified a potential therapist ALWAYS call your insurance company and verify that your particular plan will pay for that particular therapist. (I will spare you the nightmare stories, but trust me on this one).
If you are employed, you may be entitled to free therapy through your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Call your Human Resources Department to find out.
If you do have both an EAP and insurance, be sure to find a therapist that is both on the EAP and the insurance.
If you do not have insurance, there are some provider searches available through the internet:
Psychology Today

Word of mouth. Nothing beats a positive review from someone you trust. If you are given the name of a good therapist and they are not on your insurance, be sure to check your out-of-network benefits with your insurance company. You may be able to still see them but the insurance will not cover quite as much.
Finally, check them out. The Department of Professional Licensing (DOPL) enables you to search the name of your potential counselor for any disciplinary action that has been taken against them (click here). If there has, you may search the records on DOPL to find out the exact nature of the disciplinary action.

Once you have your potential therapist on the phone, ASK QUESTIONS. Have your questions ready before you call.

Feel free to ask them:
How long have you been a counselor?
How long have you been in private practice (it will probably be a different answer).
What are your religious beliefs?
What therapy do you specialize in or what is your favorite?
How much training have you had in treating my particular issue?
If you are physically disabled, verify on the phone that there is handicap access.

My personal belief is that one should find a therapist sooner than later (see Why You Should Get a Therapist Now). Even if you employed all of my suggestions, you may not “click” with your therapist. I encourage you to give it at least a few sessions but if it is not working for you, move on. This is definitely different than giving up. If it was important enough for you to pick up the phone and seek help, then please do not catagorically dismiss therapy by one bad experience. Finding a good therapist is a worthwhile endeavor and can help you live a happier and more productive life.

Frank G. Clayton
Licensed Professional Counselor

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