Choosing a Therapist

Taking care to choose the therapist who is right for you is worth the effort. Successful therapy can help you to transform your entire life.

1. First, talk with people you trust.

Get recommendations from friends, relatives, your family doctor, your clergyman or your local professional association.

2. Next, call to get a sense of each therapist as a person.

Call the recommended therapists on the phone and take a few minutes to talk with them. Get a sense of what they're like as people.

If they're successful therapists, they may be very busy. But they should be willing to spend five or ten minutes on the phone, answering questions.

A) Be prepared to tell them a little about what your problems are and ask them if they've dealt with those kinds of issues before.

B) Ask about their fee so you're not surprised when you arrive. If you have insurance, make sure your sessions will be covered. The therapist may not be providers on your plan.

C) Make sure they have adequate credentials and licensing., and that they are professional in the way they talk to you.

D) If they seem impatient or defensive about answering your questions, write them off your list. They would probably act the same way if you were in therapy with them, and you don't want a defensive or impatient therapist. The research on successful psychotherapist shows that kindly therapists who care for their clients achieve the best results.

3. Then, go for a test drive, and trust your own impressions.

If you can afford it, it's very helpful to make appointments with a few therapists with whom you feel some rapport on the phone.

A) Be prepared to pay their regular fee for this initial session, which they may charge more for because it may be longer than their regular sessions.

B) Being in their presence and seeing how they relate to you is an invaluable test of how you and they will get along. After all, committing to working with a specific therapist is a very important decison.

C) You are going to spend quite bit of time with this person, entrusting some of your most important, perhaps painful, issues with him or her, so you should be careful about making the decision to see that therapist in therapy.

D) Above all, trust your own impressions. Your friend Charlie or Diane might swear by a particular therapist, but that doesn't mean he or she is right for you.

4. Agree on a Trial Period.

Even if you do feel comfortable with this person and think that he or she can be of help to you, I suggest you talk with the therapist about this being a trial period.

A) If you're only interested in short-term treatment for a specific problem, you probably won't be going to the therapist for more than a couple of months. If, however, you're interested in a more long-term therapy, in which you can deal with major issues in your life, I would suggest telling the therapist that you want a trial period of around two months. It takes a couple of months to see if you're making any progress.

B) At that point, you and the therapist will take stock of how things are going and you decide whether or not you're getting what you need. You can then either continue or stop and switch to someone else.

C) But also remember that you should feel that you're getting something out of each session.

5. Feeling "connected" is very important.

Much research studies on the results of psychotherapy show that feeling comfortable with and understood by the therapist is more important than the therapist's theoretical orientation or even amount of experience.

A) It's not that your therapist should be chummy with you. He or she should be professional, interested, concerned.

B) There should be clear rules about how much notice must be given if you have to cancel an appointment, and the sessions should start and end on time.

C) Be particularly wary if the therapist starts to act at all seductive with you. This type of therapist is being very unprofessional and should be avoided like the plague!

6. But different people need different things from a therapist.

Some people want a therapist who is very professional and aloof, others want someone who is warm and friendly.

Some people are best working with a man, others with a woman, for others the sex of the therapist doesn't matter. The most important thing is that you're comfortable with your therapist (not that you should be too comfortable and relaxed). It's not like being with a friend or a relative; if you're too comfortable, your therapist may not be the kind of person who can help you deal with painful things, and you might not get anything out of the therapy. But avoid any therapist who seems cold, hostile, impatient or sarcastic. The research shows that clients of this type of therapist also don't get much out of therapy.

7. What about the sex of the therapist?

In recent years, many women have chosen to work with women because they don't feel a man can understand them.

Or they may have a past history of sexual or physical abuse with men and are afraid to trust any man. For this type of woman, seeing a female therapist may be the right thing to do for her first therapy experience. When, however, the woman works through some of her fears of men with the female therapist, it might be a good idea to see a male therapist to work through the rest of her issues. Relating directly to a male therapist can be more effective in working through fears of men than just talking about it with a female therapist.

8. The same issues apply to male clients.

Having had a poor or very conflictual relationship with one's mother or sister can make it difficult relating to women, and a male therapist might be the best, initial choice for a male client. A female therapist might be the best person to see later on.

Here is an example of what finding the right therapist can mean.