Finding the Right Therapist

Commit to getting good therapy for yourself.

  • You may need to interview a few therapists before you find one that meets your specific needs.
  • Therapy with the right therapist can improve your life dramatically, but it can require a significant financial commitment, even if you have insurance. Consider carefully how much your happiness is worth to you.

It is your life. It is your therapy. Assert yourself.

  • You have the right to choose any therapist you can afford.
  • You have the right to ask for what you need from your therapist.
  • You have the right to change therapists if you fail to receive what you want from therapy.
  • The bottom line is: No one but you can choose the best therapist for you.

Decide on your basic requirements for a therapist.

  • Level of licensure and education? (psychiatrist/MD, psychologist/PhD/PsyD, social worker/MS; marriage and family therapist/MS/MA)
  • Male or female?
  • Experienced enough with your problem to help you?
  • Old enough/young enough to relate to you?
  • Similar to your background? (married, single, divorced, a parent, race, religion)
  • A more listening-based style or a more confrontational style?
  • Individual, couples, family or group format?
  • In-person therapy, by telephone or online?

Decide what style of therapist you want.

Popular forms of therapy include:

  • Medical Intervention – Some symptoms that seem psychological or emotional in nature can have physiological causes. If you suspect this is the case, you may want to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. Medications may be helpful in temporarily stabilizing your emotions so that psychotherapy can be more helpful to you. Psychiatrists and other MDs are the only professionals who can prescribe medications.
  • Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic – This traditional style of therapy tends to take longer (1 to 10 years) and is generally very expensive. Proponents of this style claim that it can help clients work through deep, unconscious issues stemming from one’s childhood. This type of therapist is less directive and speaks very little, making only an occasional observation or interpretation.
  • Cognitive/Behavioral – This style of therapy deals specifically with how we think and act. Cognitive theory has to do with changing our irrational patterns of thinking into more rational thinking patterns. This will, according to this theory, affect how we respond emotionally to events and relationships. Behavioral theory uses rewards and punishment to change our behavior. Both theories can be very effective, but require significant commitment and follow-through on the part of the client.
  • Family Systems – This theory is based on the belief that people act in accordance to their role within a family (or couple), and if you can change how one person in the system acts it will cause the other members of the system to change too. With a skilled therapist this can be a very effective style of therapy. This style is most often used by MFT’s (Marriage and Family Therapists).
  • Solution-Focused or Brief Therapy – This style helps clients clarify their goals and find new strategies for “getting back on track” by focusing on solutions rather than on problems. Proponents claim that it works faster than most other styles.
  • Christian or other Spiritual Therapy – Generally, Christian therapists fall into two categories: Bible Only – which rejects psychology and attempts to use only Scripture as a guide for thoughts and behavior; and Biblically Consistent – which rejects anti-biblical psychological concepts but uses psychology that does not run contrary to biblical principles (in addition to using the Bible itself as a guide.) Be aware, however, that many states do not require spiritual counselors to be licensed, so they may not have extensive training or experience.

Determine how much you can afford to pay.

  • If you have health insurance, be sure to choose a therapist who is covered by your plan. But even if the therapist you choose is not on your plan, many plans will still pay half of your cost. Call the phone number on the back of your insurance card for benefit information.
  • Psychiatrists charge from $100-$200 for a 45 to 50 minute session or $50 to $100 for a 20 to 30 minute follow-up session. Though some do provide psychotherapy, many psychiatrists provide only medical evaluation and treatment, referring out to therapists for psychotherapy,.
  • Psychologists charge anywhere from $75 to $150 for a 45 to 50 minute session.
  • Licensed Social Workers and Marriage & Family Therapists charge anywhere from $50 to $125 for a 45 to 50 minute session.
  • Pre-Licensed Social Worker, MFT or Psychologist Interns often set their fees on sliding scales, so you can often negotiate a lower fee depending on your ability to pay. This could be as little as $10 or $20 for a 45 to 50 minute session.

If you feel comfortable doing so, ask friends for referrals.

There is no guarantee that a friend’s therapist is right for you, but it is a start.

Check local phone hotlines, Yellow Pages or the Internet for therapist referrals.

Protect yourself by checking the current status of a therapist"s license.

If they are being investigated or on probation for ethical or legal problems, keep looking. There are plenty of good therapists out there. In California you can check licensing status for…

  • Licensed MFTs and Social Workers at http://www.bbs.ca.gov/
  • Psychologists and Psych Assistants at http://www.psychboard.ca.gov
  • Board Certified Psychiatrists at http://www.abpn.com/geninfo/status.html
  • Medical Doctors, including Psychiatrists at http://www.docboard.org/docfinder.html
    or http://www.quackwatch.org

Contact psychological groups to find a therapist that specializes in your problem.

  • American Psychiatric Association at http://www.psych.org/
  • American Psychological Association at http://www.apa.org/
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy at http://www.aamft.org/
  • California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists at http://www.camft.org/

Call and ask specific questions, then use your first session as an interview.

Interview your therapist to make sure you are a good match. Some therapists offer a free initial interview, so it may cost you nothing if you decide not to continue with a particular therapist. Even if you do have to pay for the initial interview but decide it is not a good match, it would be better to find out early than to stay with a therapist that does not meet your needs.