How do I find and choose a therapist or counselor?

Finding a therapist is a process, and with any luck you will be close enough to someone who can help you with this process. Often, you will know someone who has been in therapy and who will perhaps refer you to their therapist. Or, if you’re located in a part of the country — the San Francisco Bay Area for example — where being in therapy or “having” a therapist is as common as having lox and bagels, you’re bound to know more than one individual who can refer you to a competent therapist.

If all else fails, you may consult the yellow pages under marriage, counselor, psychologist, psychiatry (under physicians), or social workers. Many communities have referral services provided by the local chapter of the state or county psychological association, and they, too, can be found in the yellow pages. Now you also have the advantage of CounselorLink to help you find a therapist. Currently, most therapist are not found on the net, but in this case, you have come to one of the first.

It is also possible to call your local county mental health facility, where you will find all of the same services that exist in the private sector but at a lower fee. For the most part, these therapists are every bit as competent as any other therapist, and will provide you with a quality of services on par with any private clinic or practitioner in the area. It is simply untrue, despite what many would have you believe, that county offered services are generally of a lower quality than privately provided services. It is no surprise that elitism has a bit of grip on the noble profession psychotherapy.

How you choose the therapist you eventually decide to see will, in no small part, be determined by how you’ve understood the answers to the questions presented here. Probably the most important quality above and beyond a therapist’s competency is whether or not you feel comfortable with the person. The fact is, some therapists are remarkably competent in all respects, but the chemistry between the two of you may not work. This is nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it is.

If you do encounter a situation of mismatched chemistries, try not to be discouraged, and do continue with your search. If your personal preference is to be with a therapist of one gender or the other, then that is also one of your determining factors. If your intuition tells you to see a female, then see one — trust yourself, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. After all, this process is difficult enough without others trying to influence you or change your mind.

Some people like to interview several therapists before they decide on one. From a consumer perspective, this is a good approach, for several reasons. First, it breaks the ice if you’ve never set foot in a therapist’s office before. Second, it gives you a feel for the way different people approach the same problem, and one therapist’s approach may clearly feel better to you than another’s. Third, it can also help you become that much more clear about the issue(s) you are taking to therapy, and this can be highly advantageous.

On the other hand, from another perspective, the interviewing of several therapists before choosing one can be problematic. Some people spend years interviewing therapists and somehow never seem to find the “right” one. Many potential clients also feel that the first hour or session of therapy should be free or with no charge. You should know that most therapist do not work with such an arrangement, but some do. If you want to find someone who does not charge for the first hour, you may have to shop a little longer.

Therapy is work, after all, and both therapist and client must remember that therapy — which is not always pleasant and which can sometimes be confusing and even painful — can also be very rewarding and even life-changing when competent and motivated therapists and clients find each other.

Contact Dr. Hutt

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