As a licensed clinical therapist, one of the most commonly asked questions I receive is, “How do I go about finding a good therapist?” Choosing the right therapist can sometimes feel like finding the right pair of jeans. Stay with me here. My point is that you want to find someone you trust, who provides a good degree of support and is also comfortable to be around. You want a mental health professional that is compassionate, competent, and experienced in their area of specialization. Essentially, you want the right fit. However, the process towards discovering the right fit can be overwhelming. Here are a few guidelines to assist with the process:
Consider your needs. Whether you are coping with anxiety or depression or are parenting a child with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or Autism, it is important to be able to articulate your area (s) of struggle. This is done by identifying problematic behaviors or interactions that interfere with basic life functioning. While identifying symptoms is important, refrain from self-diagnosing. Leave that to the professional-and that is if a diagnosis is even warranted. Your task is to clearly report what you’ve observed, and share details such as when the issue occurs, where, and the duration. Once you are clear about those points, then you’ve come one step closer to finding the right therapist that can address your specific needs.
Ask family, friends or other professionals. Pediatricians, Primary Care Physicians (PCPs), holistic health doctors, and lawyers are all professionals that may assist you with a referral for a good therapist. Referrals can stem from many sources and different settings. In fact, one of my former clients found me based upon a recommendation from a Whole Foods employee! As a therapist, most of my referrals come from former clients. While browsing Google can yield promising results, no amount of internet research tops someone that can offer a personal narrative about their overall experience with a therapist. Since the therapeutic relationship is a deeply personal one, obtaining a referral for a therapist from someone who knows you well, such as a family member or a close friend, is not a bad idea.
Browse online directories: If you don’t have a personal referral source, accessing information online about therapist in your area is a great option. Psychology Today is an excellent site that provides an extensive directory of therapists in your local area. This site provides a detailed list of each therapists’ education, training, credentials, and areas of specialization. You can search by zip code, and filter by gender, and theoretical orientation or types of therapy like EMDR. Many of the therapist’ profiles even include photos. I love this because almost as important as knowing a professional’s credentials is getting a feel of what it might be like to sit across from that individual.
Visit Therapist websites: So now that you have explored several online profiles, you may want to create a viable list of about 3 potential options. Then you will want to check out their website. Is the content updated? Does the photo appear to be professional? Or, relatable? Are you able to get a feel for them based on their bios? Does the website include links to articles, blog posts, or podcasts that reflect your area of need? If so, review those resources carefully. All of which are methods for understanding the professional style and approach of this professional with whom you will be entering into a personal journey of transformation.
Know the difference between credentials: Another frequently asked question is, “What is the difference between a Counselor, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Social Worker?” The various titles can be very confusing and the different credentials (e.g., LPC, Psy.D., LMFT, and LCSW) can appear to be the alphabet soup of the mental health profession! Without a tutorial, it is difficult for a layperson to determine which mental health professional will best suit your need especially since titles and specialties can vary by state. Here is a general overview. Licensed Counselors, Psychologists, and Social workers are all therapists trained to assess mental health conditions and assist you with understanding and coping with various life challenges. A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed a specialization in psychiatry. Psychiatrists diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe and monitor medication, and some even provide therapy. Depending on the mental health care professional, she or he may have different levels of expertise and training but, in time, working with any of them should lead to symptom reduction and better coping skills.
Call and ask the right questions. Research is clear that the most critical component of successful therapy is attributed to the relationship formed between therapist and client. Fortunately, most therapist offer a free 10 or 15-minute phone consultation where you can share your goals for therapy and also learn more about your potential provider. Some questions and points to consider:
- What are your fees? It is important to know the cost of therapy prior to the first session. If you have insurance that you would like to use, inquire if the therapist is a participating provider of that insurance plan. If you are in between employment, underemployed, or a college student, it is reasonable to inquire about a discounted rate or sliding scale. If the therapist isn’t willing to provide a discounted rate, ask them if they could provide a referral that might be.
- Experience/Training: What training or education has the therapist received? How long has the therapist been practicing? What licenses or certifications does she or he hold? Lastly, ask about how many clients they have treated with similar concerns. You want to feel confident that they are trained and experienced to work with your specific issue.
- Do they ask about you? Be leery of a therapist who is overly pitching themselves or a little too eager for your business– especially prior to them asking you some key questions about you and your concerns. You are essentially interviewing them for the position, but they should also ask a few questions about you and your history in order to determine if they are a good fit.
- How will the family be included? If you are seeking a therapist for your child, be sure to ask about how the therapist will include the family. A good child/teen therapist understands the importance of engaging the family as an ally. That does not mean that the therapist will disclose the information that your child has shared– unless there is a need for immediate intervention. However, the therapist will engage you by periodically discussing your child’s progress and offering recommendations. A good therapist understands that her or his role is temporary and that you as the parent or caregiver is the primary support system and will remain a central component of the recovery process even when therapy has concluded.
Chinwé Williams, PhD, LPC, NCC,CPCS is a therapist in Roswell, Ga specializing in adolescent, young adult and women’s mental health and wellness issues and trauma recovery. Website: www.meaningfulsolutionscounseling.com