Therapy. It’s a big word. Psychotherapist, even bigger, and the word psycho doesn’t help much. These bastions of mystery are the folks designated to take us on a journey, and change our lives (preferably for the better). Obviously there is an expectation that a therapist has some degree in psychology (but do check), and the hope is they are good at what they do.
So what makes a good therapist? How do you find one and more importantly how do you choose the right one?
Here are four “Do’s” and “Do nots” that should be noted when evaluating a potential therapist.
1. Area of expertise:
Do – look at the kinds of issues that the therapist tends to deal with. You will find various very specific practitioners and focuses such as Eating Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PTSD, Sex Addiction and others as well as more general practice areas and practitioners working with Depression, Anxiety, Life Issues, Addiction and the like. Within each there are of course variations and each can be broadened or made more specific by a particular therapist.
It is important to note what they treat and who they focus on because this will give you a solid baseline. Don’t worry about trying to diagnose yourself, if issues arise outside the scope of your therapists care, a referral can be made.
Don’t – Many people hyper focus on modality, or the way/particular science and strategy behind how the therapist operates. Trying to shop or avoid a particular therapist based on modality, when you need help for an issue can often serve to delay the process and add an element of confusion. Though modality is certainly important, for most, who lack the expertise, it can be like one of those added details on a sports car that the layman wouldn’t know how to use.
2. Experience and Education:
Do’s – Using your therapist name and license number, doing a quick online scan of a therapists license can tell you a lot about them including years licensed, status of the license and reports filed. Such a search can also tell you about their education, areas of specialty, certifications etc. While not entirely indicative of the therapists practice, these items can shed some light and also give you a sense of comfort when choosing a therapist.
Don’t – start judging your potential therapist based on the school they went to. Many factors contribute to a good therapist including life experience which may have led them to one school over another, earlier or later in life.
Do – Believe it or not, scheduling and availability can be as important as anything else. Being able to see a therapist that both works with your schedule and is also flexible enough to meet your needs on an “off schedule” basis (when appropriate and clinically indicated) is important. Make sure you are clear regarding your own availability and get a good feel for the therapists scheduling.
Don’t – put yourself on a six month wait list to see the “best therapist in town” if you are in need of help. The best can’t help if it isn’t timely and consistent.
4. Reviews and Recommendations:
Do – One of the easiest ways to learn about your potential therapist is by reading reviews as well as getting recommendations from others in the field. There are a multitude of online listings such as Psychologytoday.com, Linkdin.com, and even Facebook where you can easily obtain information. Therapist not listed? Ask them to provide a few names for you to contact.
Don’t – take every review as gospel. Therapists see a variety of people with an even greater variety of issues and in such complex therapeutic relationships things can get emotional. Read reviews for context and balance them against other reviews if possible.