By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Sometimes life struggles are too great for you to cope with them alone, or solely with the support of family and friends. Those are the times you need the guidance of a professional. Once you determine this, the question becomes: How do I choose a therapist?
This is an important question, because therapy takes a big commitment in terms of time, energy, and money. And it requires that you face the very struggles that make you feel particularly vulnerable. Here are a few guidelines for choosing a therapist:
Clarify your problem and the goal for therapy: You can do this by asking yourself some relevant questions:
- What’s the problem you’re struggling with?
- How does it show itself in your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors?
- How is it impacting the different domains of your life? (e.g. social, work, parenting)
- How will you know when therapy has been successful?
Find a therapist with experience working with your kinds of struggles: Begin your search for a therapist by getting recommendations from family, friends, your physician, a local clinic or hospital, or your insurance company. You could also contact the American Psychological Association or your state’s psychological association for the names of psychologists in your area.
Once you have the names of a few therapists, you’ll want to determine if they have the necessary experience. Some therapists provide information about themselves and their services on the web, and that can be helpful, but you’ll want to talk with each of them briefly on the phone to get a clearer sense of their experience and ask questions, such as:
- Are you licensed?
- How long have you been practicing for?
- What is your area of specialty?
- Briefly explain your situation and ask: Do you have experience treating this kind of problem?
- What approach would you use?
Consider whether the therapist is a good fit for you: No matter how experienced or renowned they are, the success of your treatment will be very much affected by your connection with the therapist.
After deciding on one (or two), schedule an initial appointment. During this appointment, you’ll share more details about your struggles, and the therapist will ask for other relevant information. This process will let the them gain a better understanding of your problem and how to help you. It will also help you assess whether you trust and connect with the therapist. It’s worth repeating that no therapist is a good fit for everyone, no matter how experienced and well regarded they are. So, before you commit to this therapist, be sure they’re a good choice for you.
Consider the finances: Therapy can be expensive. Even if you can afford a few sessions, consider whether you can afford to maintain this expense for a length of time. Therapy often takes more sessions than you might originally think. You don’t want to be in the position of having to end therapy too soon because of money. So, if money is an issue, talk with the therapist up front about this. They might use a sliding pay scale or be able to refer you to another well-regarded therapist or clinic that’s more affordable.
Once you commit to a therapist, do your part to give the therapy every opportunity to work. This often means telling the therapist when you feel the therapy isn’t working or if you have concerns about the therapy. Doing so will enable the two of you to work together to keep the therapy on track toward a successful outcome.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.