Woman pondering a choice with question markers on the wall behind her

How to Choose a Therapist?

There are many different types of mental health professionals each with differing academic degrees, different clinical licenses to provide treatment, and differing approaches to treating problems such as depression. Furthermore, it has been said that there are currently more than 800 different forms of therapy in use, so it’s easy to understand how someone could get overwhelmed just trying to figure out how to get the right kind of help for themselves.

Let’s start with a quick description of some of the common types of therapists:

  • Psychiatrists are physicians. They have a medical degree (MD). Their orientation is typically that of medicine and biology and therefore their treatments are often focused on medication.
  • Psychologists are also referred to as doctors, but they do not have a medical degree. They have either a Ph.D., Psy.D.  or in some countries, people can be called psychologists who have a master’s degree (M.A.). Psychologists primarily use “talk therapy.”  In some places psychologists can prescribe medications but it is not common.
  • Counselors and Therapists are general titles that encompases many different types of professionals including: Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT), Clinical Social Workers (LCSW),  Professional Counselors (LPC). These professionals use ‘talk therapies” and do not prescribe medications.

You’ll need to do some “shopping” if you are to find a skilled clinician to work with. Therapists are generally well-intentioned people with a sincere desire to help others. But therapy is at least as much art as science, so there is lots of room for individual clinical judgment to influence the course of treatment.

To be blunt, some people’s judgment and level of skill simply isn’t as good as others. Two clinicians can have the exact same degree and license and yet have virtually opposite approaches. What matters more than the degree they have (or what their age or gender is) is their experience, clinical judgment, warmth as a person and ability to connect with you!


What should you look for when choosing a therapist?

·      You should first look for someone who is licensed by the state (or country) and is therefore accountable for the quality of work they do;

·      They should be well-trained academically (minimum of a clinically oriented master’s degree);

·      They should be positive and empathetic as a person;

·      They should have extensive clinical experience in treating depressed people;

·      They should be current with the clinical research;

·      They should have a good reputation in the community;

·      They should be available for providing treatment to you in a consistent manner.

·      They should require you to be an active partner in the treatment process, doing therapy with you, not to you. You have to carry your end of the bargain, too.

How to find a therapist?

  • Start by asking family and friends if they’ve seen a therapist they liked and found effective.

  • Ask your family doctor, too (but beware of the “medical brotherhood” that can land you in a psychiatrist/colleague’s office and on medication right away in case that isn’t what you want).

  • Call the local psychological association (or other local professional associations for marriage, family therapists, professional counselors, social workers, etc.) and get the names of people they’d recommend that specialize in treating the issues that you’d like to address.

  • It is not recommended that you just pick a therapist blindly without a recommendation or referral from a person or organization you trust but, if you’re going to check the internet or respond to advertisements posted in local stores or offices, it is critical that you ‘check out’ the therapist according to the guidelines suggested here. 
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Think you’ve found a therapist? Here’s the next steps…

Once you have some names (or even just one name) of possible therapists to see call them and ask for a brief conversation before booking your first appointment. In this brief conversation you want to get a ‘feel’ for whether this might be someone you’d like to work with.

Many therapists are happy to have an initial conversation before booking an appointment but others are not. If the therapist will speak with you, expect it to be no more than a 10 minute conversation. Be brief and to the point and respect the therapists time during this brief interview.

Here are some questions to ask your prospective therapist:

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1. Ask them about their experience with your issue (e.g., depression, anxiety, trauma, relationships, life decision making) but don’t expect them to listen to your whole story right now.

2. Ask them if they have a particular approach, model, style of intervention so you can assess if this is what you want. Sometimes people have an idea or have heard about a particular approach they’d like to explore (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT), Psychodealics, Hypnosis, etc). Find out if this therapist has experience with what you are interested in and can do that with you. If you don’t have a pre-conceived idea of what you want that may be helpful to you, listen to the answer the therapist provides and determine if that makes good sense to you. 

3. Ask about the therapists availability to see you and if they work in-person or remotely (sometimes called ‘telehealth’, ‘online’ or ‘virtual’ appointments’).  Can they see you weekly, biweekly, monthly? You want a therapist who can have routine appointments with you, at least initially. 

4. Ask about whether they take your insurance (if you have insurance). This question can be asked of staff instead of taking the therapists time.

5. Ask about what your role is in the therapy process. Yes, you have a responsibility too!  Good therapy, especially for depression and anxiety should be active. That means your therapist should be teaching you skills and practicing skills with you, giving you exercises to practice between sessions, giving you homework (things to try, do, read, etc). So, ask them if they do this.  It may (or may not) sound like what you want, but it is what you need.

If you don’t like your therapist, or don’t think you are getting the help you need then don’t stay with that therapist!

The conclusion to draw from leaving a therapist is…
“That therapist wasn’t right for me. I’ll find one who is!”