by LeShelle Woodard, PhD. Originally published at Psych Central, May 2018.
Many people start looking for a therapist when experiencing significant levels of distress, sadness, troubling symptoms or other difficulties. In this state, we simply want someone who can help us to feel better. However, just as you would interview several professionals for home repairs or try out several models prior to buying a car, it is a good idea to gather information and check out a few psychotherapists to ensure that you are selecting someone who is well matched to you. Follow the step below to improve your chances of selecting the right therapist for you.
Consider Your Specific Needs
Many people overlook the need to carefully consider what they are hoping to address in therapy prior to selecting a provider. This is not such a bad thing if are looking for support with challenges that therapists commonly treat such as conflict in a particular relationship or help adjusting to specific changes such as a divorce or relocation to a new geographical region. However, if you have special needs or experienced severe or long-term stressful situations such as abuse or neglect as a child or exposure to traumatic stress, it is important to look for a therapist who has relevant training and professional experience. Similarly, if you have repeatedly sought support without success, you may need someone who specializes with a type of therapy that is well matched to your needs.
The saying “like attracts like” applies when it comes to finding a therapist. If you have close friends or coworkers who rave about a particular therapist, a reasonable first step is to ask if they might share the therapist’s contact information. This may be especially useful if the other party successfully sought support for a difficulty that is similar to yours. If you worry that you the other party may feel uncomfortable, voice your concerns and ask for feedback. Keep in mind, there is no need to worry about the therapist sharing information about you with the other party since legally, therapists cannot share information your information. The only exception to this law is if there is risk of serious harm to a client or another party. If you and your friend are comfortable seeing the same provider, consider the therapist a potential provider for you. It is still good idea to complete additional research keeping in mind your goal of select between perhaps two or three clinicians.
Give Online Directories a Try
There is a growing number of psychotherapist directories available via the internet. These directories can make your search much easier as you can quickly identify local providers, the types of therapy each practices, insurances accepted and their fee schedules. This also makes it easier to learn if a given therapist has specialized skills and experience that might be particularly helpful to you.
Regulations regarding who can refer to themselves as mental health providers vary across states so that it is possible to meet with someone who engages in mental health counseling without proper training. You can easily check credentials or properly trained providers by visiting the web site of the relevant boards professional licensure. Common boards include those for psychologists, social works, marriage and family therapists and licensed mental health counselors or professional counselors. These boards lists the names and contact information for credentialed providers in each state. Make sure the license is active and that there are no unresolved sanctions against the provider with an emphasis on sanctions that involve professional misconduct with clients.
Once you have attained two of three names of potential therapists and checked credentials, you will want to contact each. Typically a phone conversation or, if you are more comfortable, email exchanges are acceptable. Be prepared to take notes. It is a good idea to handle logistics prior to any discussion of your specific needs.
- Confirm or reconfirm that the clinician accepts your insurance
- Verify that the clinician is accepting clients and has availability at times that work with your schedule. This is especially important if for example, you are only able to meet during evenings after you finish work
- If the clinician is unlicensed, inquire about regular (preferably weekly) supervision from a licensed clinician
If everything checks out logistically, it is now appropriate to focus on your particular needs. Be prepared to provide enough information about yourself so that the therapist can make an initial estimation regarding the extent to which he or she may be of assistance. Discussing your personal issues may be a challenge if you are a particularly private person. Keep in mind, the therapist only needs “headlines” and relevant “subheadings”. For example, “I want to work on anxiety that I think is related stress and conflict in my relationship with my partner. I am having a hard time sleeping and concentrating during the past month.” This approach allows a private person to share without having to say something like, “I am feeling anxious and obsessing each night because my boyfriend and I are fighting a lot since his ex-girlfriend started texting him a month ago.” Additionally, if you have a history of exposure to psychological trauma or if you are dealing with overwhelming stress, this headline approach promotes self-care by containing emotions that may be triggered by divulging details. For example, “For six months, I have been experiencing panic attacks. They started after I witnessed a couple having a loud argument while shopping. I think this is related to growing up in home in which this type of conflict occurred on a regular basis.” This is much less triggering than providing details about witnessing the couple in the mall and abusive childhood experiences. If the therapist asks for details that would be overwhelming to discuss in an initial interview, it is acceptable to let the therapist know that you are concerned about being overwhelmed and would prefer to refrain from discussing details at this time. Any good therapist will respect this limit and feel may also feel gratitude regarding your limit setting since our goal to help you.
Next, it is your turn to interview the therapist. It is useful to complete a written list of items in advance so that you are presenting the same questions to each potential therapist and you to make sure that you don’t forget any questions. It is acceptable to ask
- for descriptions of the therapist’s favored techniques, the manner in which they work
- if the therapist has completed training or continuing education work in your area of concern. (Completion of formal training and supervision with an experienced licensed common forms of continuing education.)
- the extent to which the therapist has worked with people who have difficulties that are similar to your own
- if the therapist is able to try alternative techniques if the initial intervention fails (important if you have a history of failed attempts at psychotherapy)
Once you have spoken or corresponded with all of your potential therapists, compare notes. If you are unsure, schedule meetings and then compare notes. Prior to selecting therapist there is one last very important consideration. How well are you matched interpersonally? At the end of the day, psychotherapy is an interpersonal process and regardless of the clinician’s skills, research shows that an interpersonal connection contributes greatly to successful psychotherapy. So, if you are person who generally connects well with others but you find that the connection is lacking with a potential therapist, you may want to select someone else. If you have a hard time connecting with others, consider if you think you can get comfortable enough with a particular therapist to share details about your life. Did the therapist seems interested you. Did they pay attention to details regarding what you share and were any questions insightful or aimed at gather detailed information about you as a person (not just your difficulties)? Did feel a sense of acceptance, curiosity and attunement? If so, these are good signs that should be considered in addition to the clinician’s skills and abilities.
Once you have selected a clinician who seems best equipped in terms of skills and interpersonally, settle in and prepare for a process of growth that has the potential to exponentially improve you!
Are your ready to begin your journey? Learn more about the integrative care provided at Life Enhancement Psychotherapy.
About the Author
Dr. LeShelle Woodard, PhD is the founder, owner and lead clinician at Life Enhancement Psychotherapy. Dr. Woodard possesses a broad array of clinical skills that range from traditional talk therapies (psychodynamic and CBT) to neurobiology and body-based approaches. Additionally, Dr. Woodard has more than 20 years of university level teaching experience that includes an array of psychology courses such as Abnormal Psychology, Personality, Group Dynamics and Psychological Trauma. Feel free to contact Dr. Woodard via email or Face Book.