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Why You Should Google Your Therapist (and What to Look for)

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One of the most endearing aspects of the book, “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone” by Lori Gottlieb was, in my opinion, the fact that as a therapist, she fell into many of the same pitfalls us non-therapists do with regards to her own therapist. She wondered if she was boring him, worried if he liked her and was curious about his life outside of the therapy room. So, she did what most of us do when we are curious about someone — she Googled him. While she took a deep dive into the internet to find anything and everything she could out about him and then had some regrets about it, I’d argue doing some basic searching about your therapist on the internet is not only “normal,” it’s necessary.

• What is PTSD?

Let me preface this by saying, I’m not suggesting cyberstalking your therapist. There’s a point at which this can become an unhealthy obsession and a violation of your therapist’s boundaries. But, knowing some basic things can be helpful in assessing fit as well as alert you to any potential red flags. We check reviews and social media to determine where to stay, where to dine, get our hair cut, get a massage or get an oil change. Why wouldn’t we do the same when it comes to our medical care, be it physical or mental?

The technology exists for a reason and in my opinion, just like any business owner or public figure, one should be monitoring their online reputation and presence to ensure it is accurate and depicts them in a way that is honest, ethical and intentional. Think about it this way, for most services you use, asking a friend for a personal recommendation is common and they are more than happy to offer suggestions. I find therapy is different, though… if a friend is seeing a therapist or has seen one in the past, they may not want to advertise it or share details about the experience. It’s one of the few services where getting a word-of-mouth referral is highly unlikely, at least from my experiences.

1. Check reviews.

Several websites have reviews for therapists, including Healthgrades, Vitals, WebMD and Google business listings if the clinician has claimed their page. Cross-referencing these for reviews is a great place to start when searching for a clinician. While five stars is always preferred, don’t forget to actually read the reviews, including those with lower star ratings. Not every therapist will fit every patient and not every therapist is adept at treating all aspects of mental health.

Just like you may require a specialist to deal with a particular medical issue, you may find a therapist got a poor rating because they are not well-versed in treating those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or those with dissociative identity disorder (DID). If you aren’t seeking someone who specializes in those areas, a therapist may still be a good match. I’d recommend a follow-up phone call to ask them if they in fact are confident in treating your specific areas of concern.

2. Check social media.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok — every one of these social media platforms have different audiences, so a therapist may or may not choose to use one or another depending on their targeted clientele. A basic rule of thumb in my book is, if a clinician has a personal profile, the settings for that profile should be private, secured and inaccessible to those who aren’t personal connections to the therapist. If the clinician has a public profile or business page, the content of that page should be carefully crafted, focusing on therapy, mental health in general or subjects that are relatively innocuous.

If you discover a therapist using a public profile where they are either overly political, unethical or post about their patients for example, that indicates poor judgment in my opinion, and would make me question their boundaries, supervision status and how well they are guarding patient privacy.

And finally, if they are posting things that are personal that reflect their individuality that aren’t necessarily questionable, but for some reason antithetical to your beliefs, you can determine whether or not you wish to enter into a relationship with them. Personal religious beliefs come to mind. That could either be a pro or a con depending on who you are.

3. Check their website.

Not all clinicians will have a super fancy website and some well-established clinicians may not need one to stay busy. However, in today’s world, it’s fairly standard to have at least some kind of online presence and a complete lack of online presence may indicate a red flag. When looking at a clinician’s website, scan for specialties — for example, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) — education, experience and any publications.

Does the therapist have a Psychology Today profile you can reference? A YouTube channel? A podcast? A blog? All of these may provide valuable information to a potential client as to their approach, clinical biases, areas of weakness or strength and even things like whether or not you like the sound of their voice. You are going to spend a lot of intimate time with this person. Make sure they present in a way that feels safe and comfortable to you. Additionally, you can verify they take your insurance, offer telehealth, have a sliding scale or anything else you may deem of importance to you from their website.

4. Check on licensing and any complaints.

Every state has its own licensing body and requirements. You can Google your individual state to determine where that information can be found. Once you find it, make sure the clinician is up to date on licensure and check to see if any complaints have been filed against them. Again, depending upon where you are located, if there is a complaint filed these are typically not anonymous and will be listed. If you find one, depending upon the topic of and status of the complaint, you may decide against seeing that particular clinician.

This may sound like a lot of effort and perhaps a little overkill, but I assure you doing these things can save you a lot of heartache in the long run. Once you establish a strong therapeutic alliance, you don’t want to find out there’s something amiss you could have found out ahead of time before you got overly invested. Terminating after you bonded is painful and it makes trusting a future therapist that much more challenging. I speak from experience unfortunately. It was a lesson hard learned. Lastly, if something feels off in your gut based on what you find, trust your gut. Chances are, you are sensing something isn’t right and ignoring that could end up in you being re-traumatized by a therapist, a wound that is extremely hard to heal.

P.S. If anything you find concerns you or if you find yourself obsessively checking your therapist’s online presence, please bring this up in session. There are valuable lessons to be gleaned from all of this information and discussing it could actually strengthen the therapeutic alliance.

Unsplash image by Christin Hume

Originally published: July 15, 2021
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