Finding a Psychotherapist can be a daunting task. I'm often asked, “How do I find the right therapist
for me?” The first thing I recommend is ask around for a referral from family members, friends, and coworkers. It is then I realize there is still a stigma around getting psychological help. Many people just don’t feel comfortable asking people in their own lives for a recomendation. Either they don’t want others to know that they need help; or they’re afraid of making other people uncomfortable if they asked them!
1. To help you find a therapist, ask people you know for a suggestion.
Word of mouth is still my first suggestion. Ask around (those who you feel comfortable
asking). In the meantime, I guess we have to do more educating about
psychological problems so that people do not feel judged when they need
2. Check the yellow pages/websites.
Print advertising and the web are very helpful. Yellow pages advertising usually requires that professionals
be licensed to list under certain categories. While going to a licensed
professional does not guaranteed a good therapeutic fit, you can make
This professional has the education and training
needed to pass licensure requirements in the State.
- This professional has ethical standards they must maintain; and if they do not,
you have recourse for disciplinary action.
- This professional probably has to
have continuing education in their field to maintain their license.
- This professional must follow certain professional guidelines in
administering treatment to their patients.
In finding a psychotherapist,professional categories to look under are:
Psychotherapists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Marriage and
Family Therapists, Social Workers, Counselors.
Work Setting Categories are:
Mental Health, Social Service Organizations, Crisis Intervention Centers,
Domestic Violence and Women’s Shelters, Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centers,
Human Service Organizations. These may vary somewhat within your
local phone listings, but you get the idea.
You might get a referral or recommendation or check the local phonebook as a first step. Then google the provider and see if they have a website or are listed in some of the online directories. Just look for the same credentials that you checked for from other referral sources.
As a point of clarification, Psychologists have a PhD and do psychotherapy and
psychological testing. Psychiatrists are MD’s or DO’s (medical doctors)
who have a specialty in Psychiatry. So, they can also be found under
Physicians in your yellow pages directory. Psychiatrists can prescribe
and manage psychotropic medications, but most do not do psychotherapy.
3. Get a Referral from Another Professional
Other professionals who deal with people in distress, such as Other Therapists, Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Attorneys, Human Resource Offices at
Businesses, Teachers and School Psychologists and Counselors, and Police and the Courts all may be appropriate sources for referrals. Some communities also have a referral systems. For example, Physicians Referral, which is a call in service.
What kind of helping professional would work best for me?
Let’s go through some differences in therapists:
- Would you feel more comfortable with a man or a woman?
- Do you think you can connect better with a younger or older therapist?
- Do you need to have a professional who accepts your insurance?
- Do you need a therapist with evening or weekend hours?
- Do you know that you work better with a certain treatment approach or style?
- Do you want a therapist who will be supportive for your lifestyle? For example
a therapist who is gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender affirming.
As a note, sometimes clients believe that they cannot get understanding
from a therapist unless the therapist has had the same experiences. For example,
“I can’t go to a therapist who has never been married”, or “She can’t understand,
she’s never had children, or “He's advising me, and he’s divorced!” “He’s never
lost anyone, how could he know how I feel.”
a reason why therapists do not talk about their personal lives, and this is one
of them. Psychologists go through extensive training to become professionals
in their field. Part of that training often involves the therapist becoming
the patient so that they can work through their own personal issues before trying
to help others. Just as the medical doctor has not had all illnesses, psychologists
haven’t experienced every human experience, but they learn through training and experience.
Now take a look at your situation?
- When you are attempting to find a psychotherapist, do you need somebody who specializes in your problem? Unless a therapist lists
a particular specialty in their advertising, most therapists are general practitioners
and can handle most problems.
- Do you need medication? Most
often a person doesn’t know if they need medication. In this case,
it’s usually best to schedule an appointment with someone other than
a psychiatrist. If you need a psychiatrist, you will be referred to one.
- Is the problem more an individual issue or a relationships issue? If
most of your misery is stemming from your relationship, and your
partner is willing, start with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
These professionals have had additional training and experience that
qualifies them specifically for the Marriage and Family Therapist
licensure. Again, this doesn’t guarantee they will be good therapists, but
it does mean they have met certain requirements in the field.
- If you are having sexual difficulties,
and are trying to help, you might want to seek help from a
certified Sex Therapist. I find it is better to seek help from licensed professional
who also has experience and training in sexual dysfunction. The field of
Sex Therapy is somewhat less regulated than the others mentioned, so in finding a therapist, you want
to make sure this individual is someone who is reputable.
What type of psythotherapy do you feel will be most helpful to you?
is a question most people do not know how to answer. What types
are there? In finding-a-psychotherapist, this is why it’s helpful to talk to a friend who has been
I am primarily a cognitive therapist, for example, but I wouldn’t
expect you to know that. And I don’t list my primary treatment preference in any
advertising because I like to be somewhat eclectic in my approach.
I would answer that question when you called in for an appointment if you asked me. Certainly, I would discuss my approach when you came for your first appointment.
If you were suffering from an Anxiety Disorder, I would use a more exclusively
cognitive/behavioral approach, if you came in for PTSD, I would add some other
treatment modalities specific to that disorder. Marriage Counseling, although cognitive,
is treated a little differently than individual therapy. For example, I use more structure,
more homework, and am more active with couples. It works better and gets the couple
moving toward health more quickly.
In the process of considering therapy,people wonder what is the average length of treatment?
This probably has the most varied answer of all.
- Some have chronic and severe mental illness and in addition to talk therapy, they need the involvement of a Psychiatrist for medication and a therapist for initial treatment and then followup
periodically as changes happen in the condition throughout life.
- Some have more difficult acute disorders like a major depressive disorder which
may also need medication and weekly therapy until the depression is reduced. Some
do remain on antidepressant medication for years to maintain health. The majority
stay on medication for 6 months to 2 years, depending on their particular case.
- Eating Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, can be
stubborn to treat in that they have impacted at many levels of the clients life.
In the most difficult PTSD cases, two to three years of therapy is not uncommon. In the case
of eating disorders, it can take longer.
That’s only a small sample of possibilities, it really depends on the client’s response
to therapy and their life situation and the resources available to them in the community.
For eating disordered people, for example, there are excellent inpatient treatment
programs that can be lifesaving, and therapy would be follow up to that.
Hopefully I have shed some small light on the mysterious world of psychotherapy.
These are suggestions for finding a psychotherapist. One of the things I do not
address is “the personality factor”. There really is no way to access your comfort level
with a therapist until you meet with him or her. Since the first session is usually
information gathering, give the new therapist two or three sessions to see if your
personalities are compatible for entering into this most important trusting relationship
with one another.
Finding-a-Psychotherapist: The Gay-Affirming-Therapist
Finding-a-psychotherapist: Recommended Books