So, you have a list of names and you are thinking of contacting therapists. What is the next step? First, timing is really everything. When a person decides that he or she wants to see a therapist it should be because he or she is ready to engage in therapy. Often, people show up on a therapist’s doorstep because someone else in their lives thinks that they need “help.” While this is not a bad reason to consider therapy (and if you are the friend or loved one it is not bad to make the suggestion of therapy) when a person actively begins a search for a therapist it should be because he or she wants it. While it is also important that the therapist desire to work with the patient, the therapist’s desire alone is not enough to keep the therapy moving forward. If the patient does not want the therapy, the therapy will likely fail.
What should I look for in a therapist? Just like in many other facets of life the most important thing to look for in a therapist is that there is a “good fit” between you and the therapist. I have heard of many instances in which the therapist was very competent and the patient was willing, however, the therapy did not work out well. The therapy will not progress if the therapist’s style or personality does not match what the patient needs. Therefore, it is important that you make a list of qualities that you will be seeking in a therapist. Do not settle. If you do not feel completely comfortable with the therapist you are seeing (outside of the normal anxiety that accompanies speaking about deeply personal issues), look for another one. There are a lot of therapists out there. I have known far too many people who have stayed in therapy too long with therapists with whom they were not making any progress.
During your first appointment, ask questions. Gather information about the person’s therapeutic style. What is his or her therapeutic approach (i.e. cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic)? Has he or she helped people with your problem before? If so, how many people and what was the outcome? How many years have they been practicing? Also, make sure that you understand the therapist’s policies and procedures. What is the fee for a therapy session? Does the therapist take your insurance? What is the policy if you have to miss a session? Finally, ask the therapist about his or her credentials. What type of training does he or she have (Ph.D., M.S.W, M.A., etc)? Upon asking some of these questions, if the therapist becomes overly defensive or critical of you, I might look for another therapist. At the end of your search for a therapist you want to make sure that you have found one that is credentialed, professional, and a good fit for you. Do not stop looking until you have found a therapist who meets these requirements – it will make the difference between a mediocre therapy experience and a wonderful one.