Open the phone book to the “Psychotherapists” listing, and you’re likely to find a long list of names. In fact depending on how large the town or metro area in which you live, that list may seem overly daunting.
How do you narrow down that list so you can choose a therapist that will be a good fit for you? And how do you make sense of all those titles and credentials?
First, understand that choosing a therapist is a highly personal decision. While you will want to ensure some basics – that the therapist has the appropriate training and is in good standing with the state licensing board, for example – the ultimate choice should be made based on how comfortable you feel with the therapist.
Locating A Therapist
You can pick up the phone book and simply select a few (preferably 3 to 5) names who appeal to you. This doesn’t need to be a scientific process. If there’s a Yellow Page ad that you find particularly appealing, include the name in your list of possible providers.
If you’re insurance plan covers mental health services, you can visit the insurer’s website or call their customer service line to obtain a list of referrals for therapists in your area who are within the insurer’s network.
If you’re comfortable, you can also ask friends or family members if they have recommendations.
Doing Your Research
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of possible providers, you’ll want to find out a little more about them. If you’re insured and your names did not come from your insurance company, give them a call to make sure the therapist is within their network. And, be sure to ask about copays, deductibles and any other coverage issues.
You should also check with the state licensing board to ensure that the therapist has not been disciplined or reprimanded for misconduct. Many states have this information online and easily accessible to consumers.
Interviewing the Therapist
Make a list of questions you’d like to ask the therapist. You will want to include some basic questions such as fees, whether the therapist will bill your insurance company directly, and whether the therapist has appointments available at times that are convenient to you. You may also want to ask if the therapist has expertise in the issues you are facing , what type of training the therapist has, and how long he or she has practiced.
If the therapist has an administrative assistant, she may be able to answer some of your questions, but you should also ask to speak directly to the therapist. The therapist should be willing to spend a reasonable amount of time on the phone with your to discuss your questions.
If you’re comfortable after your phone conversation, schedule an initial appointment. Look at your first appointment as a “trial” session. Use it to gauge how comfortable you feel with the therapist.
If you don’t feel a sense of connection to the therapist or if things just don’t seem to “click,” you are under no obligation to return for a second appointment. A good therapist will not take such a decision personally because he or she knows that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important factors in determining whether therapy is a success.
So What’s With All Those Titles? I Just Want A Counselor
Mental health services are offered by an array of providers with different degrees. While there are slight nuances in their training and/or approach to therapy, their qualifications are similar. With the exception of psychologists (who have Ph.D.) and psychiatrists (who hold medical degree), mental health professionals have master’s degrees which focus on certain core aspects of psychology.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (http://www.aamft.org/about/Aboutaamft.asp)
American Mental Health Counselors Association (www.amhca.org/about/facts. aspx).
American Psychlogical Association (www.apa.or/about /index.aspx)
National Association of Social Workers (www.helpstartshere.org/about-social-workers)