If therapy calls to mind images of lying on a couch while a strange, bearded man “analyzes” you and smokes a cigar, you might be watching too much television. Modern therapy is collaborative, dynamic, and hardly ever involves beards or lying on couches. Not all therapists are the same, though. Psychologists are highly educated professionals who have completed doctoral-level training. A good psychologist can help you deal with a wide variety of issues, but not every psychologist is good at what they do. If you’re beginning the process of finding a psychologist, here’s how to pick the right one.
Get a Recommendation
If you have a loved one who’s currently in therapy, consider asking for a recommendation. Of course, the fact that a friend goes to your therapist doesn’t necessarily mean the therapist is good. Instead, consider the ways your friend has changed. If your best friend has altered her negative patterns with men or your mother has gotten her temper under control, this could signal that they’ve found a stellar therapist. Ask for a recommendation so that you can benefit from the same stellar treatment.
Check Your Psychologist’s Reputation
You wouldn’t drop hundreds of dollars at a pricey new restaurant without reading reviews first. So why should a therapist be any different? Bad psychologists tend to leave a trail of angry clients in their wake, and at least a few of them may take to the Internet to voice their discontent. Google your therapist and check out his or her online reputation. If you stumble across more than a few angry reviews, find disconcerting news stories, or note that the therapist has a history of legal trouble or sensationalist news stories, it’s time to move on to someone else.
Choose the Right Modality
When a psychologist tells you how he treats clients, he’s giving you the information he thinks is most important. One thing to consider is what specific treatment methods your therapist uses, and whether they’re appropriate for your condition. Do some research in advance, then select a psychologist who specializes in a treatment method with which you are comfortable and which your research suggests is effective.
Ensure Your Psychologist Is Qualified
If your psychologist isn’t licensed, it doesn’t matter if she is smart, funny, insightful, or the best psychologist ever. State licensing boards are charged with protecting the public from unqualified therapists, so make sure your therapist has the qualifications she says she does; otherwise she’s not only unqualified, she’s also a liar. Look up your psychologist to ensure she has a current license. You can also contact your state board of psychology to inquire as to whether your therapist has ever been disciplined. Steer clear of psychologists who have a public disciplinary record.
Find Someone Whose Values Match Your Own
Some therapeutic methods are objectively right or wrong because, after all, psychology is a science. But there is more than one way to be a psychologist. Some psychologists, for example, incorporate their religious beliefs into a form of counseling called pastoral counseling. Others may latch onto political or philosophical ideals. For example, some psychologists specialize in feminist counseling while others focus on multicultural issues.
You deserve a psychologist who shares your values – or who, if she does not share your own values, is able to respect them and not force her own values down your throat. Of course, some values are psychologically unhealthy. You’ll never find a psychologist who specializes in racist counseling or in working with men who want to continue abusing women. Within these limited exceptions, though, you deserve a psychologist who shares your ideas, so don’t be afraid to ask about values issues.
Use an Expert
There are thousands of psychological issues and life challenges, and no psychologist can be an expert on them all. Good, qualified psychologists only treat clients who face issues with which the therapist is experienced. You deserve a psychologist who is an expert at the specific issue you face. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you don’t need a therapist who specializes in retirement or life transitions, for example. You want an anxiety expert. Ask your psychologist about his or her experience working with your specific issue; if your psychologist doesn’t have sufficient expertise or experience, ask for a referral to someone who does.
Ask Lots of Questions
To live a happy life, you have to question everything you’ve been told – by bad role models, by dysfunctional relationships, and by unhealthy societal trends. Good psychologists intuitively recognize this by embracing critical thinking. They also want to ensure you get the best possible treatment. You have to be your own advocate, and this means asking your therapist specific questions about the treatment you can expect to receive. Consider the following questions:
- What are your areas of expertise?
- Are you licensed? How long have you been licensed?
- Tell me about your educational background.
- How long have you been practicing?
- What methods do you plan to use to treat my problem?
- How long with therapy take?
- How will I know it’s working?
- How much does treatment cost?
- What happens if I don’t make progress?
- Do you take insurance?
- Have you ever been disciplined by the psychology board?
- What steps do you take to ensure that therapy is effective and ethical?
- What would you do if I questioned a piece of advice you gave me?
Listen carefully to your psychologist’s answers. More importantly, though, consider whether your psychologist seems open to your queries or rushed and annoyed. Mental health professionals who don’t want to answer questions certainly don’t care about their clients, and they may even have something to hide. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself by asking plenty of questions!
Interviewing psychologists may take a little extra time, but therapy is a big investment that can quickly cost thousands of dollars. You owe it to yourself to get the best possible treatment, and that means doing some proactive interviewing before you commit to a psychologist.