How to choose a Therapist

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Choosing and Evaluating a Psychotherapist

Selecting a psychotherapist who is a good match for you may be a bit easier if you first take the time to identify your goals for therapy. Knowing what issues or concerns you want to address may be a helpful first step in your selection process. Next, you may want to ask yourself whether there are any particular demographic issues that will influence your ability to engage in the process of therapy; for example, is the psychotherapist's gender a significant factor or is location an issue for your scheduling needs. Third, you may want to consider whether you are searching for a psychotherapist who has expertise in any particular specialty area. 

Although most psychotherapists are trained in a variety of approaches, it is important for you to identify and express your needs at the beginning of the process if you are seeking a particular kind of therapy. 

Remember: it is O.K. - and perhaps even desirable - for you to contact more than one psychotherapist before you make your final choice. You may want to ask them some questions during your initial phone inquiry and/or you may want to schedule an initial session to meet them in person to help you make your selection. Feel free to inform the psychotherapist that you are checking with other people as part of your decision-making process. 

The following series of questions will help you when choosing and working with a psychotherapist. Some of these questions are more useful during your initial conversation, and others will be more helpful once you begin.

Questions that are appropriate for your initial conversations with a psychotherapist might include any or all of the following

  • Does the psychotherapist use a type of therapy such as individual, group or family that fits your needs? 
  • Do you feel comfortable with the psychotherapist and do you feel you can trust him or her? 
  • Does the psychotherapist seem confident and professional in his or her presentation? 
  • Is the psychotherapist nonjudgmental and respectful of you and the issues you are bringing to therapy? 
  • Do you feel the psychotherapist has an essential understanding of your description of the problems or issues about which you are seeking help? 
  • Does your psychotherapist have the qualifications, training and experience to work with your particular issues, and does the psychotherapist willingly discuss his or her expertise when asked? 
  • Is the psychotherapist clear about the business aspects of the relationship such as meeting times, scheduling, fees and method of payment? 
  • What does the psychotherapist charge and what payment options does he or she offer -- e. g., does he or she accept insurance or managed care or does he or she have any options for reduced fee if finances are a significant concern in your decision about whether or not to engage in therapy? 
  • Does the psychotherapist explain issues of confidentiality, treatment goals and planning, diagnosis (if any), informed consent about various treatment options, his or her availability outside of session, backup during his or her absence (such as vacations), and procedures for emergencies?

Other questions that are appropriate during the initial stages of your work with a psychotherapist include the following:

  • Is the psychotherapist willing to discuss any matter of concern to you? (It is important to note, however, that most psychotherapists refrain from giving extensive personal information about themselves, in order to keep the therapy appropriately focused on your issues.) 
  • Does the psychotherapist handle your questions with respect and discuss with you his or her position on self-disclosure?
All licensed psychotherapists are expected to practice within the guidelines of their respective professional code of ethics. Most professional codes of ethics require that a psychotherapist maintain professional boundaries regarding social and business relationships with you and/or your family, including: 
  • Beginning and ending sessions on time; 
  • Maintaining an appropriate focus on your issues during the therapy sessions; 
  • Refraining from personal contact that interferes with the therapeutic relationship; 
  • Respecting the ground rules of confidentiality and refraining from discussing your information with anyone without your permission. Exceptions to confidentiality include circumstances of suspected abuse or imminent danger to you or others or when the law requires other action; 
  • Refraining from accepting your professional or personal services in exchange for the psychotherapy fee.
NOTE: A psychotherapist SHOULD NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES suggest, respond to, or initiate sexual activity with you within a session or outside of a session. 

Don't hesitate to talk with your psychotherapist honestly if you are questioning whether you think the two of you are a good match. She or he should readily enter into a frank discussion of your concerns to facilitate a satisfactory outcome for you. This process of talking openly and honestly should help you decide whether you can continue working with the psychotherapist. If you conclude that change is necessary, you can request that she or he assist you in finding a referral to another psychotherapist or you can call The Psychotherapy Guild for additional referrals. 

It is your right and responsibility to find a psychotherapist you can trust and with whom you can develop a safe working relationship.


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