How to Choose a Mental Health Therapist
Choosing a therapist can seem like a daunting task. You’re already overwhelmed by life’s challenges. How do you find a therapist with the right temperament, training, and therapeutic focus to help you figure out healthy ways to overcome your particular problems?
Luckily, there are plenty of referral sources you can turn to and common sense questions you can ask that will make it easier to choose the right mental health professional for you.
Before seeking referral for mental health help
Ask yourself what kind of problem you need help with. Are you or a family member abusing drugs, food, or alcohol? Are you having trouble communicating with your mate, parents, or children? Are you being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused? Are you having difficulty coping with changes at work? Do you feel depressed and that your life lacks meaning?
Being able to describe the issues you’re facing will help you find an appropriate therapist. Many therapists focus their practice on a particular problem, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, sexual or domestic violence, family dynamics, mood disorders, and so on. Some target their practice to certain populations, including adolescents, the elderly, gays, or lesbians.
Also, think about whether you would be more comfortable talking with a man or woman, or a therapist who shares your ethnic, racial or religious background.
When you're ready to find a therapist
Generally, there are two ways you can be referred to a therapist:
By person: If you feel comfortable reaching out to your family doctor or a religious leader at your church, you can briefly explain the challenges you’re facing and ask the person to refer you to someone who has experience in helping people with your type of problem. Or, if you know someone who has been helped by counseling, ask for the therapist’s phone number and set up an appointment.
By organization: If you have insurance through your employer, you may have mental health coverage either as part of your health insurance or through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If so, you can contact the coverage provider for a referral to an approved therapist.
If obtaining a referral through employer coverage isn’t an option, there are many organizations which provide state-by-state mental health provider listings, including:
You should get the names and phone numbers of three therapists so you can interview and compare. When you call to set-up a screening appointment, find out if the therapist will charge for the meeting. Many of them won’t.
Initial questions to ask a potential therapist
Your first meeting with a mental health therapist is both a fact check and a gut check. Depending on what information you obtained during the referral search, you’ll want to ask the following questions:
What mental health licenses and degrees do you hold?
What kinds of mental health issues does your practice focus on?
How long have you been practicing?
What type of therapy to you think will be of most help to me in my particular situation and why?
About how long do you think I’ll be in treatment?
What are your fees?
What types of payment do you accept and when is payment expected?
If you accept insurance, what kind?
Will you bill my insurance company or do I pay up front?
As the meeting is ending, ask yourself if you and the therapist have a comfortable, natural rapport. Do you feel you can confide your most personal problems and they will be handled professionally and respectfully? If not, move on to the next referral.