Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Find a Good Therapist

One of the most common questions I'm asked is, "How can I find a good therapist?"

Well, it's a multi-step process, so let's get going.

Types of Therapists
First, it's important to think about the type of therapist you think is best for your presenting issues. There are many kinds of mental health therapists, but sometimes understanding "who does what" can be confusing. Here is a list to help identify the specialties and degrees therapists can hold.


Psychologists generally have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and must complete at least four years of post graduate school, however, only those who have been licensed can call themselves Psychologists. Licensed practicing psychologists are specifically trained in the mind and behavior as well as diagnosis, assessment and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Generally speaking, most psychologists do not prescribe medication.

Social Workers

Clinical Social Workers (C.S.W.) usually have earned at least a Masters' Degree, which is two years of graduate school, and some Social Workers obtain a doctoral degree (D.S.W. or Ph.D.). Clinical Social Workers credentials may vary by state, but these are the most common: B.S.W. (Bachelor's of Social Work), M.S.W. (Master's of Social Work), A.C.S.W. (Academy of Certified Social Workers), or D.C.S.W. (Diplomate of Clinical Social Work). Although there are exceptions, most licensed clinical social workers generally have an "L" in front of their degree (L.C.S.W.) communicating that they are a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Clinical Social Workers also receive training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Their goal is to enhance and maintain physical, psychological, and social functioning in who they treat.


A Psychiatrist completes a medical degree (M.D.) like any other physician, followed by a four-year psychiatry specialty. Psychiatrists prescribe medication yet sometimes do psychotherapy with patients. 

Marriage Family Therapists, Mental Health Counselors & Professional Counselors

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (L.M.F.T.), Mental Health Counselors (MHC) and Professional Counselors (L.P.C.) usually have two years of graduate school and have earned at least a Masters' Degree such as: M.A. (Master of Arts), M.S. (Master of Science) or M.Ed. (Master of Education). Marriage and Family Therapists have additional specialized training in the area of family therapy.

Certified Counselors

Certified Counselors are typically trained in drug or alcohol abuse specialties. A Certified Addiction Counselor (C.A.C.) or a Certified Alcohol Counselor, (C.A.C.) may have a I, II, or III added to their degree signifying the level of training in counseling (CAC-I, for example). A C.A.C. Counselor may or may not have a master's degree. Counselors are trained for supportive therapy. C.A.C's work within the field of alcoholism and substance abuse, providing education, consultation, counseling, aftercare, recovery and advocacy.

Religious/Theology/Pastoral Counselors

These are counselors who are clergy, pastors or who have a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, or a Doctorate in Theology (Th.D.) from a seminary or rabbinical school, with additional training in therapy. These spiritual counselors are trained in both psychology and theology and thus can address psychological, religious and spiritual issues.

Counseling Nurses

Psychiatric Nurses and Nurse Practitioners comprise a growing segment of mental health treatment professionals. They display the credentials R.N. (Registered Nurse), R.N.P. (Registered Nurse Practitioner) or M.S.N. (Masters of Science in Nursing). A Psychiatric Nurse is a registered nurse with a master's degree who has been trained in individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy. The Psychiatric Nurse and the Nurse Practitioner generally prescribe medication.

From Word of Mouth To Yellow Pages

Now that you know the kind of therapists to work with, how do you choose one?Well, here are a few ways that can provide leads to a good therapist.

  • Word of mouth: Asking a friend or relative that you trust can be a great way of finding a reliable therapist. When a clinician is highly regarded, there is usually a buzz in the community about him or her.
  • Professional referrals: Contacting your general physician, or inquiring with pediatrician, school guidance and special service staff if you're looking for someone to work with your child are good ideas. Contacting local psychological, psychiatric or counseling organizations can be very helpful in pointing you in a direction as well.
  • Online resources: Many professional organizations and grassroots organizations offer referral resources. There are also mental health websites like Psychology Today's Therapist Directory that can help you narrow down a search.
  • Insurance company: Your insurance company carrier often has an online search engine that can allow you to find a mental health specialist. Not very computer savvy, just call them directly and ask them to give you some referrals. 
  • Religious organizations: Many churches and temples have outreach programs that can help you find a therapist in the community. 
  • Yellow Pages: Many times I get calls from people who "look me up" in the Yellow Pages. With nowhere else to turn, people cold-call therapists with the hopes of finding a good practitioner. But, in truth, this experience can be frustrating and may lead you down a bumpy road of contacting therapists who don't truly specialize in what you need. If possible, try one of the other strategies listed above to help you find a good therapist.

The Initial Phone Call
Once you have a few names, find the time to call each one and talk on the phone with him or her. 

You can get a great feel for a professional during this informal chat. If you make a connection on the phone, arrange for an appointment to consult with the therapist. I call this "the meet and greet" consult where I get to meet the potential patient, assess the symptoms and issues and make sure that my training and expertise are appropriate for the necessary treatment. 

This is a time where the potential patient gets to know me as well, how I will work and also learns about my approach to treatment and the parameters of therapy. Though comfort and connection are necessary factors, so too are making sure that the therapist of your choice is educated, seasoned and a specialist in what you are seeking.

Questions to AskMost therapists will welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have. Here are some of the most important ones to consider:

1. What's your professional training and degree?

2. Are you a licensed mental health practitioner?

3. What theoretical school of thought do you follow?

4. How long are the sessions?

5. What is the cost of each session?

5. How does insurance work with mental health therapy?

6. What's your policy on cancelled appointments?

7. Have you been in therapy yourself? If so, how long?

8. How do I reach you in the event of an emergency or crisis? 

9. Do you receive regular supervision on your cases or belong to a peer supervision group?

10. What professional organizations do you belong to?

Enjoy the Process

Once these bases are covered and you settle into treatment, you should slowly begin to feel connected to your therapist. In time, talk therapy will help widen your awareness and help you make meaningful life changes.

1 comment:

Dr. Fairweather, a Texas psychiatrist said...

Excellent and thorough article. Much needed for those seeking help and overwhelmed or not sure where to start. Thank you Dr. Deb! ~ Dr. Fairweather from Colleyville, Texas