Looking for a therapist is a constructive positive thing to do in your life. It does not matter if you are seeking help for larger mental health issues, or if you need help gaining clarity or distance in a specific situation.

A therapist can act as a supportive and caring professional to help you through whatever is going on in your life.

Because we seek therapy for such deeply personal and often hurtful problems, it is important to find someone you like and respect. In the beginning, it can be hard to talk about deeply personal issues with a total stranger. Your therapist knows this and should do everything in his or her power to help you feel comfortable.

Due to therapy’s personal nature, it is important to realize that not everyone will suit your needs. The clearer the mental picture you have about how therapy can help you, the easier it will be to find the right person. If you are not comfortable with your therapist, it is necessary to shop around.

Before seeing a therapist.

Arriving prepared for your first therapy session is helpful. Spend some time thinking about your situation and expectations. Here are some tips to think about before seeing a new therapist. I suggest spending some time alone to think and write about the questions below. Though not a necessity, your therapist should help you explore the questions.

  1. Write about the problem in detail. How does this problem affect you?
  2. What is your goal with therapy?
  3. What will you not tolerate in a therapist? Are there things a therapist might do that would prevent you from working constructively with them?
  4. What qualities would you like to see in your therapist? Are there qualities that would help you during therapy?
  5. Are there any unacceptable forms of treatment? If yes, what are they?
  6. Are there any treatment forms you strongly believe in? If yes, what are they?
  7. While it is unethical for a therapist to promote his or her own religious beliefs during therapy, there are some therapists who use a Christian, Spiritual or other religiously based approach. If the therapist is ethical he or she will be open about such religious affiliation. I would suggest discussing your own preferences with religiously based approaches up front with your new therapist, and to reach an agreement on the place of such approaches in your therapy.
  8. Do you have any special concerns when looking for a therapist? If yes, what are they?
  9. Have you had any previous bad experiences from mental health professionals? If yes, what are they? How did they affect you? What lessons did you learn from those experiences?
  10. Have you had any good experiences with mental health professionals? If yes, what are they? How have they affected you? What lessons did you learn from those experiences?
  11. Write down specific questions before meeting your new therapist. Meeting a therapist for the first time can be a difficult experience and most people find it helpful to have their questions written down.
  12. Therapists have different certifications and educations. Therapists at least have a MA or MS in Psychology, along with a certification for certified social work, or marriage, family, child counseling (MFCC) which is legal in your state. Many therapists have PhDs or plan on getting them. Often, therapists with a full PhD are much more expensive than those with a MA or MS. PhD’s also have an area of specialization and more supervised hours. However, the certifications towards a licensed social worker, or a MFCC, are demanding and rigorous. I believe having a good feeling about your therapist is more important than whether or not they have a PhD. Psychiatrists, MD’s who specialize in brain functions, also sometimes provide therapy. Knowing your therapist’s background and education is important.
  13. There are several therapists who have not gone through licensure. They sometimes present their therapy under a religious or spiritual umbrella. Most of these therapies, such as rebirthing, integrated breathwork, and certain meditation practices, are very controversial. For some, even hypnosis can be controversial. Other forms of therapy still being tested by the psychology community have not been accepted as mainstream. It is important to carefully consider your needs before accepting such a therapy, and realize that there are no safeguards, should something go wrong. Unlicensed therapists are not necessarily trained in ethics. Nor do you have any legal recourse if the treatment goes wrong, or makes you feel worse than when you started therapy. If you choose a controversial therapy, thoroughly research its pros and cons. Listening to the therapy’s detractors is often as illuminating as listening to the supporters. If you choose an unlicensed therapist, take extra care in finding one. During the therapy, continue to check that you are reaching your original goals.

Finding a therapist.

Obtaining referrals for a therapist is always a good idea. A friend, coworker, or family member might recommend someone. You can also ask your doctor or local minister for a referral.

If you are looking for help with a specific issue, there are specialized organizations on the web to assist you. They might provide referrals to someone locally with experience working with your issue.

If you do not have access to these resources, you can find someone yourself. The internet can provide names, phone numbers, and short descriptions of clinicians. The phone book provides names and numbers. If you choose the phone book, take your time interviewing your new therapist, and talk to more than one before settling on one.

Interviewing several therapists might help you sense whom you feel the most comfortable with.

If you have specific questions to weed out therapists, call and ask these over the phone before setting up a personal interview.

These questions might include:

  1. Does the therapist accept your insurance?
  2. Is the therapist’s payment schedule within your means?
  3. Does the therapist have experience working with your specific challenges?
  4. Ask any specific questions about a preferred treatment on the phone.
  5. Ask any other questions to assist you over the phone.

Before your first meeting, I strongly suggest getting details about their certifications, including certification number with the State Board of Behavioral Sciences. Then, contact the State Board of Behavioral Sciences and ask if there are any actions against them. Many states have this information available on the web.

Meeting your therapist the first time.

Remember, you hire your therapist. You can fire your therapist if you feel you cannot work with this person for any reason. Your first meeting should be partially viewed as the therapist’s job interview.

Here are some suggested questions to ask a potential therapist when meeting them for the first time. Please add or subtract any questions as they fit your comfort level.

  1. What are his or her credentials? Where did they get their education? Where have they worked before? What is their job related experience?
  2. Does this person have any experience working with people with your specific issues?
  3. What treatment methods does this person use?
  4. How do you arrange payment with this person?
  5. When and how often do you meet?
  6. In case of emergencies, how can you reach your therapist? What do emergency calls cost? What are this therapist’s rules and boundaries in emergency situations?
  7. If you have any specific treatment forms which you especially like or dislike, ask how the therapist uses these forms.
  8. If you are seeking help for anything controversial within psychology, such as DID, False Memories, ADHD, or other mental health issues of controversy, ask your prospective therapist where they stand on those issues.
  9. Any other questions you feel would be important to ask your therapist to help you feel comfortable seeing him or her.

Examples of questions the therapist might ask you during the first meeting.

  1. Why are you seeking therapy?
  2. How can I best help you?
  3. Do you have any specific concerns or fears about going to therapy.

Questions for yourself after the initial meeting.

  1. Is this a person you can come to trust given the time and opportunity?
  2. Did the therapist put you at ease?
  3. Did you feel this person genuinely cares about you?

Again, remember, you hire a therapist, and you can fire a therapist. This is about working through your difficulties, and it is important you feel comfortable.

© Copyright 2001, by Malene Comes and Mental Health Matters. All Rights Reserved.