Are you looking for a psychotherapist to help you with your personal concerns? Finding a good therapist can be quite a challenge all by itself! As a therapist in private practice, I've talked with many people over the years who have found this to be true. With over thousands of psychotherapists in every state, where do you begin? What's the difference between a psychotherapist, a social worker, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist? How important are one's credentials, personality, or practice orientation? What should you expect when interviewing a recommended therapist?
This article is designed to help you answer these questions and concerns.
Psychotherapists...counselors...therapists...these are all generic labels for someone in the business of helping others with their problems. Anyone can call themselves a "psychotherapist", "counselor" or "therapist". As a matter of fact, in most states, anyone can legally practice psychotherapy, regardless of their academic education or professional training...or the lack thereof. However, most states now requires that all practicing psychotherapists pay a fee to either be licensed or listed in a state database kept by the Department of Regulatory Agencies. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to know who is competent, ethical or effective in helping others. However, you can learn how to interview a prospective therapist and assess whether that person matches your personal needs and concerns.
With so many different therapists practicing such a wide variety of styles of therapy, where does one begin? It may be helpful to start by getting a few names from different sources. Do not rely upon the first recommendation you get. There are other considerations you may want to be aware of that might help you to make a better, more informed choice about who to work with.
Talk with other people who have been in therapy. Get names recommended from family, neighbors or friends. Also talk with other professionals who may have contact with therapists in the community. Doctors or clergy may also know of a particularly effective and experienced therapist that they refer to. Another good source for referrals may be other mental health professionals you may know socially, who are familiar with psychotherapists in the community and would have nothing personally to gain by referring you to someone.
Some caution is advised however when receiving referrals from personal recommendations. Take into account who you are receiving the referrals from. Friends, relatives or neighbors may not necessarily be the best judge of competence or be able to determine the right match according to your needs. Selecting a friend's therapist could also raise concerns of loyalty, competitiveness or confidentiality. Doctors or clergy may not necessarily know very much about psychotherapy or the different approaches and practitioners. You might wind up being referred to a doctor's colleague or friend, who is biased towards a particular treatment approach accepted among their limited professional circle only. The same holds true for referring mental health professionals. Evaluate for yourself how well the person you are receiving referrals from understands your needs and how knowledgeable they are about varying styles and approaches that differ from their own. Also, do not choose a therapist who you may already know socially. It is unethical for a therapist to work with someone with whom he or she may have a dual relationship.
Other sources for referrals can be found by ads in the yellow pages, local newspapers, and other free community magazines and directories available at restaurants and shops around town. Keep in mind that these advertisements are designed to catch your attention and do not necessarily provide any assurance that the person is qualified, experienced or reputable. Attending public presentations or workshops by therapists is another way to get introduced and learn about one's personality or practice style.
Psychotherapy referral services may appear to be a good way to get referrals, but they typically only give out names of therapists who have paid a marketing fee to the company or get a commission for making the referral. If you call an agency or large group practice for a referral, you may be assigned to a therapist solely on the basis of who has an opening in their schedule. If you have selected a health insurance plan which limits you to seeking treatment only from an "in network" provider, you may get referred to a therapist selected solely because their zip code location is nearest to yours. You may also find that that therapist in the provider network is severely restricted to the kind and amount of therapy covered under your insurance policy.
After asking around, you may find that the same person is recommended from several different sources of referrals. That may be a good sign that you have found someone competent. But, are they compatible? Regardless of which method you ultimately use to get a particular therapist's name, it is essential to follow up with a personal interview. Only then can you better assess for yourself if working with this person is right for you.
Even though a therapist may come highly recommended and has many years of experience helping countless others, he or she still may not be the right match for you or your needs. It is essential that you feel comfortable with the person whom you will inevitably entrust with your deepest secrets and fears. Take some time to interview a few different therapists. You have a right to ask questions and make an informed choice.
Be prepared to interview a therapist by phone and in their own office. Most therapists will talk to you briefly over the phone when they call you back. As you may know, therapists are difficult to reach directly, so be prepared to leave a detailed message, giving them alternative times and phone numbers where you can be reached day and evening. Tell them how your were referred, and explain your intention in wanting further information from them. When asking about an initial interview, ask whether you will be charged and how much. Some therapists charge full fee, while others will waive their fee entirely. Some will meet with you for a few minutes, while others will set an entire hour with you.