How to Pick the Right Therapist

A therapist-client relationship is similar in many ways to other professional relationships. It involves the components of confidentiality, establishing trust and confidence, has ethical and professional boundaries, and requires the therapist to have the expertise and experience needed to help you with your particular issue. It is also a very personal relationship that requires an intrinsic understanding of your personhood. By this I mean the therapist must accept you for who you are, what is troubling you, and where you are in your life journey.
There are several ways to connect with a therapist. You may be referred by another professional such as your doctor, or your insurance company. You may ask a close friend or colleague to recommend a therapist. Or you may look one up on the internet or phone book.

How do you know if a particular therapist is right for you? You could do the trial and error method, but that is time consuming and frustrating. However, there are steps you can take to increase your potential of connecting with the right professional.

If you have insurance, they may refer you to one or more clinics that accept their coverage. Normally the clinic will assign you to the next available therapist who has an opening. Many clinics pay therapists on a contractual basis. Whoever has the most openings will usually get the current cases. The underlying message is you are supposed to accept this person sight unseen. This method is the least desirable. Before committing, ask for the therapist to call you back for an interview.

Last year a friend’s daughter was having difficulties at school. She called her insurance and was given two clinics to choose from. She called each clinic and asked to speak to each therapist that worked with her daughter’s age group. Out of four clinicians, only two called back. She interviewed each of them. The first therapist didn’t understand he was being interviewed. His attitude was arrogant and condescending. The second therapist called back but was not qualified. My point is, don’t just blindly accept someone without first getting to know a little bit about who they are by conducting a screening interview.

Here are some questions you might want to ask during the screening interview:
1. What is their degree in? Are they a Licensed Professional Counselor, Social Worker, or Psychologist?
2. When did they graduate and how long have they been a therapist?
3. What are their specialties?
4. What style of therapy are they most comfortable working with?
5. What makes them a good therapist?
6. What populations are they most comfortable working with?
7. What populations are they not comfortable working with?
8. Ask them if you can come in for a free face to face consultation.

During the interview, listen to how they deliver their answers. Is it with confidence? Is it defensive? Do they sound put off by the questions? Finally, trust your instinct. If you have red flags come up, take note and ask questions. Going through this process allows you to obtain information prior to beginning therapy.

Once you have completed interviewing therapists, take the information along with your thoughts or concerns and run it by a close friend or someone who has experience with counseling. At the end of this process, you should have a good sense of who is right for you.

After three or four sessions if you feel that you and your therapist are not clicking, or you have doubts as to their capabilities, discuss it with them. Be aware that you may feel uncomfortable in the beginning and this may have nothing to do with the therapist. On the other hand, therapy is time consuming and costly. Don’t waste your efforts if you determine that it’s not a good fit.

Finally, remember that with the right therapist, and you putting forth your best effort, you will progress towards resolution of your particular issues. This inevitably will lead to a less stressful and more fulfilling life.

Michael Patterson, LMSW
Clinical Director
Namaste Family Services, LLC