By: Suzanne Maiden
As a Family Therapist one question frequently asked is: “How do I find a good therapist?” Below are 5 basic components to consider:
I. Word of Mouth is still one of the best ways to find a skilled therapist. If you’re resistant to asking a friend, consider calling the following to ask for referrals:
* Primary Care Physician/Doctor’s Office
* Local church (call several)
* Hospice or Funeral Home (if grief related)
* Local Hospital Mental Health Unit
* School Guidance Counselor (s)
* Community Mental Health Center (often listed in the front of your phone book)
* EAP (employee assisstance program)
II. The First Call – What to Ask?
* What are your clinical specialties?
* What population do you enjoy working with most?
* Do you accept insurance? Will you consider a sliding scale?
* Do you have access to a competent psychiatrist if medications may be needed?
* Average length of treatment?
* Are you in therapy? Have you ever been?
Most therapists have the academic training to treat the full spectrum of mental health issues. However, as therapists we have our clinical strengths. For example, one of my areas of expertise is SIB (self-injurious behavior) or ‘cutters.’ Many therapists dislike working with this population for various reasons. I can work with cutters all day long. Don’t be afraid to ask. The last question surprises people. You want your therapist to have actively spent time working on their issues before they help you work on yours. I stay in therapy because I need a great therapist for me to be a good therapist. It’s like Tiger Woods continuing to take golf lessons – it keeps him on top of his game.
III. The First Appointment – What to Expect:
* You want the therapist to take a thorough history. Yes, I know, you or your loved one may be in crisis and you finally make it to the therapist’s office; you’ve got a lot to say. You don’t want to spend part of your 50 minutes by answering a lot of questions. But a thorough history potentially eliminates big future ‘uh oh’s’ and errors. It’s imperative to your best treatment. Nearly every time I compromise on initial history taking – I regret it because I inevitably miss a big piece of information that perhaps my client did not think was a big deal – but was key for correct diagnosis and treatment.
* Be honest about all medication use, especially recreational drugs to include alcohol.
* Make sure you understand confidentiality policies. Therapists are mandated reporters. Loosely, a mandated reporter is legally obliged to report suicidal/homicidal threats and physical/sexual abuse. This does NOT mean that if the client mentions suicidal/homicidal thoughts that they will be reported. Only, if the client presents imminent danger to self or others, then therapist must take appropriate action.
IV. Trust Your Gut – But Don’t Quit Prematurely
* Trust your gut whether the therapist is a good fit; BUT, give a new therapist 6 sessions before you bail. Rapport takes some time.
* It’s important that you like the therapist as a person; this doesn’t mean that you agree with everything they say, I guarantee you won’t, that’s OK
* It’s important that you feel confident in their ability
* It’s important that you experience the therapist as genuine, compassionate, sensitive, and non-judgmental of whatever you bring into the session
V. A Good Therapist Can Change Your Life:
The therapeutic relationship is one of the most intimate relationships you will ever know because it is supposed to be a safe haven to explore your inner world and deepest thoughts. It is completely about you – the client. Reciprocity does not, nor should it, exist. That is, the therapist is always in service of the client.
Lastly, the therapeutic role is to assist the client in exploring healthy life choices and identify barriers which may inhibit that process. Therapy can be one of the most growth-enhancing and healing events anyone can ever experience. Make that call.