When researching therapists in your area, there are lots of factors to take into account before choosing one. I recommend visiting with a few different therapists to help you decide which will be the best choice for you. Most therapists will offer either a complimentary phone consultation or will meet with you for a reduced fee the first time so you can get a feel for what it will be like to work with him or her.
I’ve outlined a few factors to consider when researching therapists. What considerations did you keep in mind when searching for a therapist? I’d love to hear your thoughts and additions to this list in the comments section below.
First, consider whether you need a specialist based on what brings you to therapy. Most therapists will give an idea on their website what their specialties are. It’s especially important if you are seeking support for an eating disorder, addiction or phobia that you work with a therapist that has experience in that particular subject.
A therapist is required to refer you to another practitioner if you come to them with a presenting problem that’s “outside the scope of their practice”, meaning they don’t feel they have enough experience or training with that issue to treat it. This doesn’t mean they’re not great therapists, or that they don’t want to work with you—it’s just that this isn’t their area. You wouldn’t see a dermatologist to help you with your back pain, would you?
The next thing to look at is personality. Therapists aren’t here to be your friend, but it is important to note how you feel around her in that first session. Do you get the sense that he is competent? Does she seem like someone you can become comfortable with and build a relationship with (no one expects that you can share everything with your therapist in the first meeting—but think about whether you can see yourself growing to trust her)? Does he seem genuinely interested in what you’ve shared and listen to your concerns?
There are many different kinds of therapy (often called modalities, philosophies or models) that a therapist might practice. In the early sessions any therapist should be able to share with you a little about the type of therapy she practices, and why they use that particular style. This is something that should compliment your needs and personality. If you want to explore mindfulness techniques to help you with your anxiety or depression, for example, a behavior therapist probably isn’t the best option for you. A therapist’s website is a great place to read a little about whether his model will fit with your own perspectives and objectives. And don’t worry if you aren’t sure what kind of therapy works for you! If you haven’t been to therapy before, there can be some trial and error to finding the style that resonates with you the most. Don’t worry if you don’t know what kind of modality works for you. Talk to your potential therapist about it! She will share with you her ideas and what the research says, so you can make the best choice for you.
Again, if you find that the style of therapy the first therapist uses is not a good fit, this doesn’t mean you haven’t found a great therapist. Maybe he’s just not the best therapist for you. It takes all kinds to make the world go ‘round and you can find a therapist that will be a good fit for your goals and personality type.
Education & Recommendations
OK let’s talk licenses, education, and recommendations. First, if you have a family member or friend that you trust that has seen a therapist they love, they might be able to help with a recommendation. Same goes for your doctor, your lawyer, your yoga instructor…the point is ask around! People (understandably) may not want their family and friends seeing their therapist, and the therapist may have rules against that anyhow, depending on the closeness of the relationships and the ethics that could be involved. But if that person is in a practice, you could see one of the other therapists that work there, or the therapist may have a colleague to recommend that is great.
When researching therapists, you want to be sure they’re licensed. There are lots of different paths to becoming a therapist, so here’s a quick run-down of the different licenses a psychotherapist might have:
LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LMFT – Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor
All of the above are acceptable education and training routes to becoming a therapist. What additional licenses or trainings does your potential therapist have? He may have additional certifications in a particular specialty (as a trauma therapist, for example), or in a particular therapeutic technique (perhaps she is certified as an EMDR therapist). Your therapist will be able to describe any additional education or certifications he has obtained, and how it supports his therapeutic process.
The Most Important Part
It sounds simple, but the most important part of choosing a therapist really is your relationship. The relationship is widely regarded as the agent for change in therapy, and this belief has been confirmed in more than one well-regarded study. As therapists, we often refer to the relationship between the client and the therapist as the therapeutic alliance. My personal belief is that therapy presents an opportunity to heal old wounds, and healing happens in relationship. Your therapeutic relationship should become a partnership between you and your therapist, with you both working toward common goals. Your therapist can’t “fix” you or your problems, but she will work with you and support you on the path to healing and self-improvement.