How to Choose a Psychotherapist

There was a time when the lonely rancher would find a life partner using a mail order bride service. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes not. Today few of us would seek out a partner using this method. Yet, due to a stigma associated with mental health, we rarely ask friends or acquaintances for recommendations, instead, like that lonely rancher, we are turning to the internet, the modern version of mail order service. Ironically, according to recent research findings, many clients choose therapists primarily based on attractiveness and trustworthiness of their faces.

The world of psychotherapy can often seem mysterious. You have to choose a person to share most intimate details of your life, details that you probably don’t share with your partner, friends, and relatives. Can you trust a therapist? Absolutely! All licensed psychotherapists and psychologists are bound by professional and legal regulations and everything you share is strictly confidential. And let me assure you that in almost every instance you will encounter genuinely caring people whose focus is helping you become a better person.

Yet, when choosing a therapist you should make sure that you are absolutely comfortable with this person. The process of psychotherapy creates a unique relationship between yourself and your psychotherapist. A relationship that is sometimes identified as a therapeutic relationship.

Again, you may confide in your psychotherapist things you would not tell even your best friend. Hurtful, even toxic events and people that have left an indelible mark on your life. What kind of person do you want to make this journey of therapy with? This is what we will explore in this article.

What is a Psychotherapist?

Simply put, a psychotherapist is a state licensed, professionally qualified individual who has met a licensing criteria requiring specific formal education and training in counseling as well as agreement to a certain standard of therapist/client relationships. What this means to you is that in most locales there are educational and professional standards that someone calling themselves a psychotherapist must meet in order to practice.

Within this broad definition you will encounter psychotherapists with varying backgrounds. There are those whose licensure, training, and education is in:

  • Psychology,
  • Social work,
  • Human development,
  • Counseling, including, pastoral counselling,
  • Nursing

Within these broad categories you will find varying levels of education and experience. There are bachelor-degreed individuals, although in most jurisdictions the requirements to practice psychotherapy requires a minimum of a master’s degree. It is very common to find therapists who have earned a doctorate level training such as PsyD or PhD.

Finding a Psychotherapist

The primary ways a person finds a psychotherapist are through referral and by online search.

Through referral:

  1. A name given to you by a friend, family member, clergy, or medical professional.
  2. Becoming a client of a community mental health center or private agency.
  3. In the case of a crisis you may be referred to a psychotherapist by a hospital.
  4. Many employers offer a wellness program where you can obtain the needed services.

Online Shopping for a Psychotherapist

Few of us would buy a pair of shoes sight unseen off the internet. Why should something as important as selecting a psychotherapist be any less important? The most important piece of advice I can offer you is that you ask for a face-to-face or Skype consultation with potential candidates. Even if it costs money, you will save more by choosing the therapist that is right for you. Besides, many professionals will be glad to offer you free initial consultation.

Once you feel ready to make a decision, ask for a time limited series of sessions, usually five or less, as a way of insuring a good match.

NOTE: Whatever method you use always remember, you are in charge of your life. This includes your ability to change psychotherapists as needed.

How to Select a Psychotherapist

As mentioned in the introduction, many choose therapist by facial features. Yet, there are some very specific areas you will need to know more about when selecting your psychotherapist. These include;

  1. The type of therapy they are most comfortable using?
  2. Why that particular one?
  3. How do they deal with a patient for whom that therapy does not seem to work?
  4. Their level of education and for how long have they been in practice?
  5. Client reviews on online reviews sites such as RateMDs, Yelp, etc.
  6. Methods of payment including any cash discount, insurance, and copays.

It is strongly suggested that you do some minimal research into the basics of psychotherapy – you can read about different types of therapy in our blog. Try to understand how different therapies work, and if you see yourself participating in such therapy. Once again, it is important that you know that you are entitled to clarity and honesty about your treatment. You need to feel comfortable asking for and receiving answers to your questions.

Red Flags

As difficult as it is to believe, there are some therapeutic relationships that should have never been entered into. Try as you might there are personality conflicts, mismatched scheduling, or other “red flags” for you to be aware of.

Perhaps no red flag is more important to be aware of than what I call “Who’s in charge”. Although rare, the “Who’s in charge” approach is employed by qualified psychotherapists who have boundary issues. They will often interrupt you, not seem to be on track with you, or otherwise needing to control where the therapy is going. So subtle is this issue that the only clue you may have that is occurring is a feeling of uncomfortableness. Jut be aware that this can occur and if it does do your best to stop it or change therapists.

As a potential mental health client you will be entering into a whole new world. A world filled with a different language, new ways of interacting, One that demands openness and honesty. You will no longer be the only traveler on your road. There will be bumps along the way, but in the end you will come out a better person.