By Sara Altshul
Medically Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD
Original Article is here.
These strategies will help you find the best counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist for you.
A vexing life problem you can’t solve on your own, a troubled marriage, a pervasive case of the blues, or worries you just can’t banish from your brain — these and many other emotional issues could send you seeking the help of a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Recognizing you need help is the first step, and the second is finding a practitioner who’s both qualified and simpatico.
Here’s some excellent advice from patients and experts about what to look for in, and how to find, a therapist who’s right for you.
1. Identify the Issues You Need Help With
“You first should have an idea as to why you’re seeking help,” suggests Ryan Howes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California. Be clear in your own mind: Are you struggling with emotional issues, having relationship difficulties, experiencing focus or memory problems, or have addictive behaviors you want to tackle and eliminate? Identifying the problems for which you’re seeking help will start your search off on the right foot, Dr. Howes says.
2. Think Carefully Before Asking for Referrals From Friends and Family
Though most people start off by asking trusted friends or family members, this path can have limitations, Howe notes. “You might not want to see the same person your friend or family member sees, because it could be awkward if you need to discuss that person in therapy,” he says.
Of course, a good therapist will keep everything you say in your sessions confidential and should be able to remain neutral and objective. But it may be worthwhile for you to ask the therapist up front if he or she has a general policy about treating friends or people in the same family.
3. Try an Online Search for a Therapist
“The most common approach today is to seek a therapist via the Internet,” Howes says. Two services, PsychologyToday.com and GoodTherapy.org, can help you narrow your search based on location, specialty, and even types of insurance the therapist accepts, he notes. On these sites, licensed therapists typically include a brief personal sketch so that you can see who might be a good match for you.
4. Take the Therapist for a Test Drive
Once you’ve found three or four therapists who seem suited to you, ask if you can schedule a free initial consultation or phone chat. Most therapists will accommodate this request, Howes says.
During your trial session, plan to briefly discuss your issue and ask how the practitioner might approach it. “What they tell you is important, but what’s even more important is how you feel as you’re having the conversation with the therapist. Therapy is called ‘the talking cure’ for a reason, and you should choose the therapist you’re most comfortable talking to,” Howes says. Afterward, ask yourself these questions:
Did you feel comfortable?
Did you feel like the therapist listened to you? Did you feel judged
orignored in any way?
5. Consider Which Type of Therapist Is Right for You
“Psychologists have PhDs, but social workers and mental health counselors with masters’ degrees can also be licensed therapists, says Minneapolis counselor Michelle Bisson, who has a masters’ degree in psychology and counseling. “Their training is very similar, although Ph.D. therapists obviously have many more hours of training. What’s really important is that your therapist, whether degreed with a Ph.D. or an MA, is licensed by your state. Also, consider whether your therapist takes your insurance, assuming you have insurance. When you see a therapist under an insurance plan, he or she is required to submit a diagnosis and updates on your treatment plan, as would a medical doctor,” Bisson notes.
Psychiatrists (MDs) are also licensed therapy providers. Even though many psychiatrists primarily prescribe medications, many also provide therapy in addition to meds or function solely as psychotherapists.
There are substantial differences in training between Ph.D. psychologists and masters level therapists: Psychologists do much more academic and research work as art of their training, including writing a thesis that’s often research-based, and they can ultimately work in a larger variety of clinical settings.
6. Watch for These Red Flags
If you’re a quiet person and the therapist is confrontational, an approach often used in drug and alcohol therapy, the relationship might not work for you, Bisson says. And if you feel manipulated, move on, suggests Claire Kowalchik, a college communications associate in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, who has depression. “A psychologist I went to for several months made a comment that was clearly manipulative, and it killed the relationship,” Kowalchik says. This specific situation might not apply to every patient, but it’s an important issue to be aware of.
7. Find a Common Connection
“When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I needed professional help,” recalls Mary Lengle, who owns a video production company in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “My husband is a Pennsylvania state trooper, and I found a local therapist on our insurance plan whose family also happened to be in law enforcement. What’s more, like me, she was an only child and a business owner, and having those common connections really worked for me,” Lengle says. Again, this might not be the case for every patient, but it’s still an important issue to be aware of.
8. Make Certain You Can Establish Trust
“Trust is the essential part of the relationship,” Kowalchik says. “I need to know
that the relationship is safe, that the therapist will handle my thoughts and feelings with care,” she adds. Also, she notes, if you don’t trust your therapist, her advice won’t have a lot of meaning or value for you.
9. Look for Brain Power
“I need a psychologist who’s smart,” Kowalchik says. “I once tried out someone who didn’t seem to get me or what I was going through. She didn’t offer any insights, so I moved on. The therapist I see now is smart, and I trust her. She offers great insights into me and what I’m going through, and she leads me to see things about myself I wouldn’t have considered on my own. She’s helped me see how my life experiences have shaped my behavior, which has been invaluable to my growth.” While this might not be the experience of every patient seeking mental health care, it’s an important issue to be aware of.
Fast Facts About Therapists
A psychotherapist or “therapist” has a Master’s degree or higher level of education (usually, one to three years of advanced study beyond college) and a license to practice in their state. Psychotherapy is a scientifically-based treatment approach for dealing with behavioral, cognitive, relational, and/or emotional issues, Howes explains.
A psychologist has a doctoral degree, typically a Ph.D., PsyD, or EdD, and has spent four to seven years in graduate school. In addition to offering psychotherapy, psychologists are trained to administer and interpret tests that can help diagnose a person’s problems, or evaluate their intellectual skills or neuropsychological functioning, according to the American Psychological Association.
A psychiatrist has graduated from medical school with an MD degree, and has completed residency training in psychiatry. Many psychiatrists also complete an additional 1 to 2 year fellowship training in a psychiatric subspecialty. They diagnose, treat, and help prevent mental health and emotional problems, and their medical training allows them to understand the body’s functions and the complex relationship between emotional illness and other medical illness. A psychiatrist is trained to conduct psychotherapy and prescribe medication to treat mental health and behavioral problems, says the American Psychiatric Association.
Counselors, therapists, and social workers usually have masters’ degrees in psychology, social work, education, or a related discipline, according to Mental Health America.