While the thought of trying to choose a psychotherapist might seem a little scary, intimidating or even overwhelming, it is not as difficult as you think. If you have ever picked a date for the prom, a baby sitter for your children, or a car to purchase, then you already know you are able to make choices. That’s good news!
How do you pick the ‘right one’ when there are several alternatives to choose from? Well, we all make a lot of decisions based on the process of elimination, intuition, just plain dumb luck, or some combination of these. Choosing a licensed psychotherapist is not so different in that you will want to narrow the field of candidates, trust your gut instincts and hope for the best. Here’s how:
Narrow the field
You probably knew something about what you did and didn’t want in your prom date or the last car you purchased. It helps to give some thought to what is important to you in your choice of therapist, too. For instance, would you like to work with a therapist who is:
• Male or female?
• Younger or older?
• Trained to listen a lot and ask a few questions (until they feel it is the right time to share information with you) or a therapist who is more interactive right from the start?
• Trained to work in many different types of therapy (ie-family systems, interpersonal, brief dynamic therapy) or focused on a ‘specialty’, either a type of treatment (ie-cognitive behavioral therapy) or a type of client/patient (ie-children, divorcees, substance abusers, couples, etc).
• A provider for your insurance?
• Located near your home or office?
Note: You can learn more about the different types of therapists (PhD, LICSW, LMHC, etc) therapies, and specialties by reading up on how psychotherapy works either on-line or in your favorite bookstore’s psychology section.
For some, issues like these (above) seem less important compared to what it actually feels like to work with a particular person or based on who recommended them. For others, if the therapist’s office isn’t conveniently located, it doesn’t matter what their gender, style, or experience are. What’s most important to you?
Trust Your Gut
Many people don’t realize this, but intuition frequently plays a role in the choices we make. You can use your inner or ‘intuitive voice’ when selecting a therapist, too. From the start, there is plenty of information available to you about what the therapist is like and whether or not they will be someone you can connect with. Maybe you first learned about them on-line and read their profile on a referral website. If so, what sense did you get about them based on what they wrote and the kind of language they used to describe their work? The same holds true if you spoke with them on the phone to set up an initial appointment. What did it feel like trying to reach or talking to them? This is important information as often we get a sense of people, right from the very start, but for a variety of reasons, we ignore this. Don’t discount whatever thoughts or feelings you have while moving through the selection process as these will help you make the right decision.
You can set up an initial session with a few therapists and see what it might be like to work with them. When you do, pay attention to:
• How did it feel to make an appointment with them, to sit in their waiting room or their office?
• Were you and the therapist able to settle on a session time that was convenient for both of you?
• Other than feeling some new situation jitters, how was it sitting in their space? Did you like being in there? Was it a comfortable, calm, welcoming, and professional looking space?
• Did the therapist greet you, look you in the eye while speaking and listen carefully to what you had to say?
Like any other, the therapist/client relationship should have a foundation of respect and courtesy. These bits of information can serve as support that you are making the right choice or help you to move along and continue your search elsewhere.
Hope For The Best
Even if you are lucky enough to have someone you trust recommend a therapist, you will still need to think about what you want and where you’d like the therapy to take you. This will help you to recognize whether or not the fit between you and a particular therapist is a good one.
With some attention to the above and a little bit of luck, you just might find yourself with a wonderful therapist who can truly assist you in learning more about yourself and finding different and better ways to go about your life. Good luck!