As if deciding to open up to a stranger wasn’t difficult enough, the next step – knowing how to choose a therapist – can often feel like yet another hoop to jump through.
When you first start out, new terms and an infinite number of different approaches to choose from can make therapy feel like an alien world.
So, where should your begin?
The good news is that you don’t have to be concerned about all of the details. Simply spending some time clarifying what you want to get out of therapy and learning some of the fundamental differences between the various types of therapy is all it takes to put yourself in a good position to choose a therapist who feels like the right fit for you.
And when that happens, the benefits are multiplied tenfold. When the relationship is right, science shows that therapy can literally rewire the brain to create stronger, healthier neural network connections. And it is at this point that we begin to see real, positive changes.
This article is a full guide on how to choose the right therapist. I bet you, these simple steps can help you on your way.
Before we proceed, let’s get a full definition of a therapist!
What Is a Therapist?
A therapist is a broad designation that refers to professionals who are trained to provide treatment and rehabilitation.
The term is often applied to psychologists, but it can include others who provide a variety of services, including social workers, counselors, life coaches, and many others.
What Makes One a Successful Therapist?
Knowing what therapists do can assist you in determining the best therapist for you. To start with:
- Therapists help people develop awareness and insight into bothersome thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
- They can also help with stress management, relationship difficulties, the effects of living with a mental illness, and more.
- A therapist is not a friend who listens to your problems and offers advice. Instead, seek out an informed professional who can assist you in recognizing and changing negative thought patterns and/or problematic behaviors while also accepting you for who you are.
- Further, a good therapist assists you in improving without judging you for your difficulties.
Truth is, being selective in your selection will allow you to get the most out of your therapy time.
The American Psychological Association (APA) emphasizes the importance of selecting a therapist with strong credentials and effective interpersonal skills that contribute to a sense of trust and forward progress.
What to Think About When Choosing a Therapist
There are many factors to consider when choosing a therapist, including specialty, personality, cost, and scheduling.
Understand Your Goal
Why do you want to get help with your mental health? You’ve already answered whether you need therapy, but the more specific you can answer why you want therapy, the better prepared you’ll be to get the most out of your sessions.
Consider the following questions to help you decide what you want to get out of therapy:
- What problems are you currently dealing with?
- What effect do they have on you? Consider your emotions and thoughts, as well as the negative impact they are having on your life.
- What do you hope to get out of therapy? What do you hope will improve as a result of this?
Many times, people simply know that something isn’t right in their lives but struggle to put it into words. This is normal and acceptable.
One goal of therapy is to help you make sense of what you’re going through. As a result, you are not required to develop lengthy and detailed responses to these questions.
Allow them to guide you in developing a rough goal so that you can ask a potential therapist if he or she addresses what you require.
Certifications, Licensing, and Education
There are various types of mental health professionals, each with its own level of education, licensing, and certification.
Professional credentials indicate that he or she has completed years of specialized training to assist people with mental health issues.
This conveys the level of understanding and competence required not only to help people but also to avoid harming them.
The use of credentials alongside their name indicates their level of education, as well as their certification and licensing status. When you contact their office, you can also inquire about their credentials.
While most therapists see a wide range of clients for a variety of reasons, many specialize in specific areas. Some, for example, concentrate on depression, anxiety, or other specific issues. Some mental health professionals work with a specific age group.
Therapists have unique approaches to people and problems. There are numerous approaches to therapy that focus on specific problem areas such as thoughts, emotions, or behavior.
The following are some examples of common types of therapy:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapeutic approach that teaches people how to recognize and change unhelpful negative thought patterns.
- ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy): The emphasis in the ACT is on attitudes and behaviors toward values-driven goals.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This approach is beneficial for coping with emotions and distress, and it entails skill development for effective problem-solving and action.
- Exposure and response therapy (ERT): Exposure therapy assists people in dealing with and overcoming anxiety and phobias. ERT combines exposure therapy and response prevention to assist people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders in breaking the cycle of obsessions and compulsions.
- Person-centered therapy: The therapist’s primary role in person-centered or client-centered therapy is to listen to the client and engage in a discussion that helps the client discover how to move forward.
Each therapeutic approach has merit in and of itself. What matters is that your therapist’s approach is evidence-based and goal-oriented, while remaining flexible and open to your unique needs and experiences.
Cost and Insurance Protection
When selecting a therapist, financial considerations are critical. Both the NIMH1 and the APA2 state that it is acceptable to inquire about therapy costs when choosing a therapist.
You have the right to obtain the following information from the therapist’s office or your insurance company:
- Their treatment expenses
- Whether they will accept your insurance
- How much your insurance will cover and how much you will have to pay out of pocket
- If your insurance company has a limit on the number of sessions you can have, and how the therapist adheres to that limit.
- Whether the therapist accepts Medicaid or Medicare.
- If they have a sliding fee scale that is based on income.
When choosing a therapist, practical considerations such as office location and scheduling flexibility are critical. The therapist you select must see clients when you are available, and it is advantageous if his or her office is in a convenient location.
Many therapists and counselors now provide online therapy, in which the therapist and client communicate via HIPAA-compliant video chat.
Because video therapy eliminates the need for anyone to commute, it can make scheduling a session more convenient.
According to studies, online therapy and in-person therapy are essentially equal in terms of effectiveness.
Various Types of Therapy
Therapists are broadly classified into three types:
- Psychologists who specialize in clinical psychology
- Psychologists who provide counseling
Because their definitions are so similar, the terms ‘counselor’ and ‘psychotherapist’ (or simply ‘therapist’) are frequently used interchangeably.
Some mental health professionals prefer to refer to themselves as counselors if they work with clients on a short-term basis with the goal of changing behavior, whereas psychotherapists may work with a client on multiple issues on an ongoing basis.
However, neither title is protected in the United Kingdom, which means that anyone can use it. As a result, it is critical that you check to see if a professional is registered before working with them.
A counseling psychologist has a psychology degree and a Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology.
This means that, while they may deal with similar issues as therapists and counselors, they will frequently use a more scientific approach.
In the United Kingdom, the title “counseling psychologist” is a protected title that can only be used by those who have received the necessary training.
How to Examine a Therapist’s Bio or Website
Do some preliminary research before making your first call to inquire about a therapist. Many therapists and mental health centers that employ therapists have professional profiles on their websites.
Some online therapist finders include photos, write-ups, and/or videos of the therapists who appear in your search results.
The majority of those online therapist profiles will state whether they provide online therapy or only in-person therapy.
The credentials behind a therapist’s name are the first thing to look for in his or her profile. This frequently indicates their level of education as well as their certification or licensure.
Having a string of letters indicates that they are more than just someone with some mental health advice to give, but rather a legitimate mental health professional who knows how to help.
What to Expect During Your Initial Consultation
During your first session, your therapist will most likely explain how therapy works, provide you with confidentiality information, and ask you to sign some forms.
Following that, you may be interviewed about the problems or symptoms you are experiencing, as well as your treatment goals.
The therapist may inquire about your childhood, medical history, family history, and any history of previous mental health treatment.
Your responses can help them form an overall impression of you. It will also make it easier for them to collaborate with you on goal-setting.
Your experience during the first therapy session may differ slightly depending on whether you meet online or in person.
Another consideration is whether you will pay cash or bill your insurance company. A therapist may need to conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine whether you meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis. Most insurance companies only cover mental health treatment for people who have a mental illness.
Remember that the first appointment is also an excellent time to ask any questions you may have about the therapy process.
What Should You Ask During a First Call?
Many people are apprehensive about calling a therapist’s office and asking questions about the process or the therapist.
Recognize that doing so is perfectly acceptable. Therapists expect people to have questions about a variety of topics, and they welcome them.
Make a list ahead of time to make a call less intimidating and to ensure you remember to gather the necessary information.
The NIMH and APA make similar recommendations, which include questions like:
- What are your charges?
- Do you accept my health insurance? (Have your insurance card ready.) What do your credentials mean to me?
- Do you have any experience working with people who have issues similar to mine?
- How do you go about assisting others?
- Do you devise treatment strategies? If so, would you mind sharing yours with me?
- How do you find the sessions? (How long does each appointment last? What are we going to do?)
- How long do you think I’ll be working with you? (How many sessions does each person have with you?)
- It’s time to schedule your first appointment if you had a positive conversation, believe the therapist is open and easy to talk to, and the rates are reasonable for you.
What to Think About Before Your First Therapy Appointment
Your first appointment is an opportunity to meet a therapist in person and determine whether or not you would be comfortable working with him or her.
Rapport between you and your therapist develops quickly, though it’s natural to be hesitant during the first few sessions.
Note, whether your therapist greets you warmly and puts you at ease. Is he or she someone you’d be able to confide in about your deepest thoughts and feelings?
During your first appointment, look for the following qualities in a therapist:
- They make a point of discussing confidentiality so you know what will be kept private and what will be shared and why.
- Therapists that are easy to talk to. They communicate both verbally and nonverbally that they are not passing judgment on you but are interested in your experiences.
- They are nice, but they don’t appear to want to be your casual friend.
- And those that act as if you two are a team.
Because the positive working relationship and forward progress are both part of a process that takes time, you may not leave your first appointment feeling “cured.”
A helpful therapist is one who does not act as if they feel sorry for you because you are incapable of helping yourself, nor does he or she make grandiose promises that if you continue working with them, you will never have problems again in your entire life.
Make a few more appointments if your first session went well. It may take several sessions to fully determine whether or not you are making progress with a therapist. Then, after three or four weeks, you can re-evaluate to see if you want to continue.
Identifying the appropriate therapist is a matter of personal choice that entails selecting a mental health professional who will assist you in overcoming your unique challenges and working toward your own goal achievement.
It may take some investigation and even some consultations, but the right fit for you is out there. Deciding the therapist with whom you will work is well worth the time and effort.