Choosing a Therapist


"I have been meeting with my therapist for years. She is very nice…and a good listener…but that's all she does. I feel like I have made  a little progress, but nothing I can write home about."

"My therapist is cold. I never know what he is thinking. Sometimes I want to shake him and make him comment on what I say."

 "I feel more comfortable with a female therapist. I have difficulty with men and I can talk about my sexual problems more freely with a woman."

"I much prefer a male therapist.  I have  spent my life fighting off my mother and to have another woman giving me advice frightens me."

"My therapist gives me the wildest interpretations to my dreams. I find it amusing….and sometimes he hits on some central themes in my life…other times I wonder why I am plunking down so much money to be amused."

"My therapist says my problems are due to a chemical imbalance. That makes me feel so anxious. I went to the therapist to discover what I could do to improve my life…and now I am told that there is nothing I can do but pop a few pills. I don't buy it."

Are you considering psychotherapy but worried that you will end up with thoughts similar to the ones I just mentioned? I have often been asked - "How do  you go about choosing a therapist?" Many people take a toss of the coin approach …they check the phone book, or call the first name they come across. But just as you would want your teenager to do a little research before he or she chooses a boyfriend or girlfriend, so you too want to do some careful question-asking in order to determine if you and your therapist are a good match.

Here are some  questions and thoughts that may help you create a dream match with a prospective therapist…a match that helps you understand yourself better and move forward in your life. You want a match that will help you  develop the thinking skills and the self worth to eventually grow and detach from that therapist – armed with a tool chest full of skills and principles that will help you lead a happy life.

Questions to ask a therapist

1 What is your background and experience with my problem? For example: anxiety, depression, child-rearing issues, relationship issues, sexual difficulties, grief, stress and time management, phobias. Most therapists have expertise in some areas but lack it in others. (e.g., expertise with adults but not with children). Does your therapist have expertise with your problem? You want to have some assurance that your therapist has experience and knowledge in the area in which you are asking for help.

2 What are your credentials? It is perfectly proper to ask for your therapist's credentials. Sometimes you just need to read the diplomas on the wall. But not every therapist displays credentials. Make sure that your therapist has training and credentials that you trust. Therapists range from ones  who have no degree or training to licensed clinicians with advanced degrees (e.g.,  Psy.D, M.D.,  Ed.D., Ph.D. - psychologists, psychiatrists)

3 What type of therapy do you offer? Types of therapy range from Cognitive Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Family Therapy, Freudian Therapy to Rogerian Therapy. You don't need to be knowledgeable about all these. What might help you decide is to present a problem to the therapist and see how he or she might handle it. For example, you might ask how your therapist would handle a family conflict. Would you meet together as individuals or as a family? Would your therapist just listen …or would your therapist actively give you skills? Does the therapist's reasoning behind his or her approach make sense to you? If you are depressed, how would he or she help you reduce your depression?

In the early stages of therapy, observe the following: Is your therapist goal oriented? Do you work on specific goals? Does your therapist focus on solving problems? Is he or she a careful listener….rather then jumping hastily in with an agenda that seems off base? In therapy, do you look back at your past purposefully….or do you spend oodles of time rehashing your past with very little application to present or to the future.

My preference is a Cognitive Therapist - one who helps you clearly grasp the connection between your emotions and your thoughts, one who teaches you thinking skills. You may also find an excellent solution-focused therapist from other schools of therapy. No matter  what a therapist calls himself, you need to judge whether the approach is rational or not - that's your most important task.

Beware - some people who call themselves therapists are  downright wacky and not helpful - they are frauds. For example, I would never advise going to a psychic or fortuneteller… or any school of therapy based on irrational practices or theories. And some  individuals, no matter what school of therapy they belong to, are incompetent. You do need to judge your therapist.

Many therapists borrow from several schools of therapy and consider themselves eclectic.   This could be a plus - they may have many different skills. It could also be a negative if they have a loose bag of disconnected skills. Again, as you start therapy with the person you choose….ask yourself - "Does the therapist's advice make sense to me?". Are you becoming more hopeful that your life can improve - not based on floating wishes, but based on facts and skills you  are learning that help you cope better with your world? Do you regularly experience "ah-ha - now I see the picture more clearly"? Or do you shake your head and wonder where therapy is headed? Always give  yourself permission to ask your therapist his or her reasoning for any advice you are given.  You want to grasp first hand why you should follow any advice.

 Now here is a question to ask yourself. Do you like your therapist? You want to feel comfortable with the person with whom you are sharing your innermost world, your most personal thoughts and experiences. If you feel uncomfortable, if you don't like this person's mannerisms, or his or her personality…then look for a better match.

You wouldn't want your child to continue dating someone that may be decent but not someone he or she felt comfortable with. Do you feel comfortable bringing up your most vulnerable issues with  the person you have chosen? Remember that therapy will do you no good if you work diligently on one issue such as time management…. but your real concern is dealing with becoming less inhibited in sex, or discussing an abusive situation. Do you feel comfortable discussing the most central issues in  your life with this person?

These are just a few of the many questions you may want to explore in choosing the person who hopefully will make a wonderful difference in your life. Make sure your  therapist is rational and is helping you improve your thinking skills and achieving your happiness.

I encourage you to get the help if you are in psychological knots. There is wonderful help out there if you shop carefully and find a good match for yourself.

Cognitive Therapy is the gold standard of psychology. Find a therapist anywhere in the country.