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How to Find the Right Therapist for You

Admitting that it’s time to speak with a therapist is a major step that takes a lot of self-reflection and courage. But, can you find the right therapists for you? You can start by doing the following.

Know various professional labels.

“There's the alphabet soup of PhDs, PsyDs, MDs, MSs, and MSWs, not to mention all the labels -- psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage & family therapist, family counselor, licensed professional counselor, social worker,” writes Jeanie Lerche Davis on WebMD.

Even though they all offer mental health services, they have various training, expertise, and areas of specialization. So, the first step is to become familiar with professional labels so that you can narrow down your search.

  • Psychiatrists: These are doctors who diagnose and treat those with mental or psychiatric illnesses. They have medical and psychotherapy training. They are also licensed to prescribe medications.

  • Psychologists: These are doctoral degree (Ph.D. or PsyD) experts in psychology who study the mind and human behavior. They’re also trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing. Psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medications.

  • Social Workers: These are specialists providing social services in any health-related setting. As such, they’re governed by managed care organizations with the goals to assist with a person's psychological and social functioning.

  • Licensed Professional Counselors. These counselors most at least have a master’s degree in counseling and 3,000 hours of experience -- as required by state licensure laws. They’re licensed or certified so that they can independently diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders ranging from addiction to depression to family relationship problems.

Ask what therapy means to you?

“You should know what you want to work on [when beginning therapy],” says Dr. Colleen Cira, a licensed clinical psychologist, on NBC News. “Do you feel really strong that you don't want to focus on your past and only the present? Do you want to focus more on things that have happened to you in the past? Do you want someone to help you ‘solve’ your problems or someone who will really sit with you in your pain or both? These are all things you should ask yourself that will help guide your search.”

Asking these types of questions can help determine what you want to work with a therapist. And, it will also help you focus on only searching for therapists who have the correct professional label for your needs.

Get referrals.

Conducting a Google search or visiting sites like Yelp or Psychology may help you locate mental health providers in your proximity. But, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be a good match for you. A better approach would be to ask your friends and family for referrals.

You could also find recommendations by contacting your local university psychiatry or psychology department or the American Psychological Association. If you’re moving, ask your current therapist if they can refer you to a colleague in your new town.

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.

The American Psychological Association suggests that you ask, usually over the phone, the following questions before making an appointment:

  • If they are familiar with “evidence-based treatment for your concerns and if your therapist uses evidence-based treatment in their practice. These are treatments that have been tested scientifically and shown to be effective. Evidence-based treatment (e.g. for depression, anxiety, panic attacks, bedwetting for children, obsessive compulsive behavior) is based on published research of controlled studies meeting acceptable criteria.”

  • Have they have previous experience in dealing with your concerns? If so, how much?

  • What the fees will cost? Is there a charge for missed sessions? Are you covered by your insurance? If so, for how many sessions?

  • Where is the therapist is located? What are there hours and will they see you in an emergency?

  • What kind of therapy does your potential therapist is likely to provide? Is it long term or short term? Individual or group therapy?

While your therapists must make their credentials public, don’t obsess over their degrees. They could have earned their Ph.D. over twenty years ago. But, they may not have kept up with training or the latest advancements since then.

Trust your instincts.

Finally, listen to what your gut is telling you. You may not be able to determine this over the phone. But, you could schedule an intake session. Most therapists don’t charge for this session, so it’s a chance to see if the relationship feels genuine. More importantly, it allows you to determine if you feel comfortable moving forward.

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