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How to Find the Right Therapist for You

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“I can’t handle this anymore. I’m losing my mind. My stomach burns and churns and I feel like I could jump right out of my skin. I’m so sick of thinking like this. I think I need help but don’t know where to go.”

Do you have thoughts like these? Have you tried everything to feel better? Are you thinking about reaching out for professional help?

Hiring a therapist can be one of the most important and scary steps you take. Be wise and research the best choice for a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, most people don’t take time choosing their therapist. Think about how important it is to have this person be the right choice. After all, you will most likely share things with this person that you haven’t shared with others. You’re seeking their expertise for your problems.

With this in mind, it’s critical to take the time to interview potential therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Whether you are struggling with a mental illness, an addiction or family problems, having the appropriate person on your team is essential to your mental health.

It’s important to talk with the prospective counselor before your first appointment. If you can’t get past the administrative assistant to talk with the therapist, keep asking. Be persistent.

When you do speak with the therapist, keep in mind this is not the time to talk about your issues, but to interview the therapist. Keep the conversation focused on the questions.

7 questions to ask when hiring a therapist:

1. What kind of specialized training have you received related to my particular problem?

For example, anxiety, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), paranoia, fear, addictions, etc. For example: If I’m struggling in my marriage, what kind of training have you had? What is your approach to this problem? If I don’t know what my problem is and/or don’t know how to sort through what’s happening with me, what approach would you use?

2. What is your opinion of, and approach to, mental illness and addiction?

Does this line up with your thoughts? Ask them questions about what is important to you.

When I hire my own therapist (yes, therapists need therapists too), I want to know if they have experience in counseling other therapists. I have my own ways of protecting myself, therefore I need someone who can call me out on my stuff.

Other things you might consider asking include:

Do I want to know if they believe in the 12-step approach? (If this is important to me.)

Do they think addiction a disease?

How do they help a couple who are yelling at each other in the office?

3. Where, when and whom do you refer clients out to?

Here, what you want to know is if they have team members or referrals for therapists with expertise in certain situations.

Occasionally, the therapist doesn’t feel confident in treating a specific issue so they would make a referral to another professional.

Does the therapist have physicians, psychiatrists or psychologists that they work with as a team? You would want a therapist to have such a team approach to your care.

4. How will you know when we’re finished with counseling?

An answer something like this is helpful. You (the person seeking counseling) determine the goals for therapy, and we work together to reach these objectives. I think it becomes a mutual decision about when we are complete. I have clients who achieved their goals, only to return to counseling for other reasons. People may need different levels of care, at difference times, based on their needs.

Sometimes programs for addictions or other mental health issues have predetermined lengths of treatment. For example, outpatient chemical dependency treatments are maybe six to eight weeks in length, or a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) group may be six months in length. Ask more questions about what happens in these types of groups.

5. What are your policies about scheduling appointments, missed appointments, fees and client responsibilities? Do you take insurance?

They should have a clearly defined explanation in written form for you to discuss and sign.

6. If spirituality is important to you, ask them, “ How do you support the concept of a spiritual component to the therapeutic process?”

Does the answer support or detract from your beliefs and needs?

7. Why did you choose this career path?

Sometimes therapists will share that they have a family member with mental illness or addiction, or they have issues themselves and have sought out therapy. If they do not share this openly, it’s OK to ask them, “May I ask a personal question?” If they respond with a yes, ask “Have you been in therapy yourself?” If they answer yes, ask, “Tell me what was helpful in therapy for you.”

As you ask these questions, take into consideration some of these thoughts too.

1. Does the therapist have a sense of humor?

2. Does it seem like I can be myself and talk openly with this person?

3. Do I feel safe and comfortable with this person?

4. Does the therapist seem open to sharing a little of themselves with me?

5. If the therapist doesn’t take the time to talk with you, that may be all the answer you need.

As you review the answers to these questions, consider your gut reaction. Don’t let someone talk you into hiring someone you aren’t confident about. On the other hand, it’s easy to discount and find fault in people when you are nervous, afraid and uncertain.

I’ve used these questions to find a therapist for myself. In the beginning I was a little nervous, but in the end I felt empowered to hire the right person to help me.

Brad Pitt Just Made a Really Good Point About Therapy, a Huffington Post article by Allison Fox points out that you need to shop around to find the right therapist. Just like Brad Pitt, we need to take the time and energy to locate a suitable person.

Remember, you are searching for someone who can help you on your journey to good health. Take the same time and consideration you would make for any important decision. You will be so glad you did because you’re worth it!

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Originally published: May 10, 2017
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