Finding a good therapist is like finding a favorite pair of shoes—they provide you with therapeutic support and comfort while helping you reach your destination. But finding a competent mental health provider may be a little more complicated than finding the perfect pair of shoes. Understanding how to locate and choose a qualified mental health provider as well as some of the basic elements that assist people in therapeutic change can be crucial for positive outcomes in treatment.
Choosing what type of practitioner to seek is an important first step. Mental health providers that provide psychotherapy may include licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists and licensed professional counselors. Along with psychotherapy, psychologists can also provide testing for mental health issues and psychiatrists may provide medication. Although primary care doctors do not provide psychotherapy, they often can provide referrals to a qualified mental health professional.
The next task in finding a competent psychotherapist is making sure that the practitioner is a licensed professional by the state in which they provide psychotherapy. Most states provide a website for their consumers where a person can verify if the practitioner is qualified by that state to provide psychotherapy.
In addition to checking with your state, ask family and friends for referrals or check out sites like Psychologytoday.com or other therapy referral websites. These websites often offer some access to the practitioner’s professional specialties and office information and give a glimpse at the particular approaches used in treatment. Then, choose a minimum of three different practitioners to try out and see with whom you feel comfortable.
The final step is to take the time, either by phone or in person, to speak directly with the practitioner. Clinicians may offer a free phone consultation ranging from 15 to 20 minutes. It may also help to schedule a one-time, paid appointment to meet the clinician face to face to determine if he or she is the right “fit” for you.
Some questions to consider in talking with a clinician include:
- How long have you been practicing?
- What type of training have you completed in this specific treatment area?
- What is your general approach to treating this concern?
- How long does treatment usually last?
- How will you measure progress toward treatment goals?
During these conversations, you want to look for a positive rapport with the clinician, develop an understanding of their expertise with that particular concern and have a general understanding about how they would work toward assisting you in meeting your goals. Developing an understanding of how they might resolve any barriers that arise during therapy is also important. This prevents a client from staying in treatment that is not providing effective change.
It may take some time to find the right therapist. But, once found, he or she can help provide support and comfort throughout life’s journey—just like that perfect pair of shoes.