How to Choose a Therapist

The process of finding a therapist doesn't have to be anxiety producing. Sometimes when people decide they would benefit from seeing a therapist, it is because they are experiencing significant upset in their lives. It is not the ideal moment to be dealing with the stress involved in finding someone with whom they feel safe to ask for help. All sorts of people may hold themselves out as competent professionals to assist with emotional issues, but, just as in any field, discrimination is critical. An engaging personality is no guarantee of an ethical therapist with a strong set of skills. A therapist who is perfect for one person may not be a good fit for the next.

Choosing the right therapist calls for using common sense. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of finding a therapist who will help you reach your therapeutic goals in a highly satisfactory manner:

Finding a Therapist

  • There are more than 7,500 licensed marriage and family therapists located in regions such as South Bay, East Bay, Greater Sacramento, Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
  • Word of mouth is another good starting place. If someone you know and respect has had success with a particular therapist, it is possible that you might too.
  • Referrals from other professionals are a good bet. Doctors, lawyers, massage therapists, clergy, and teachers often hear about the work of therapists and can assist in your search.
  • Remember that virtually anyone can take out an advertisement or create a website. But a professional who participates in his or her professional organization is demonstrating a commitment to uphold high standards of care. For example, marriage and family therapists in California are likely to be members of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

Interviewing Potential Therapists

  • Interview more than one possible therapist, and be wary of any therapist who discourages this idea. No one therapist is ideal for everyone.
  • Tell the therapist what you want from therapy. Did the therapist hear you and respond appropriately?
  • Inquire as to the potential therapist's education, training, licensure status, and membership in a professional organization. Check online with the Board of Behavioral Sciences to see if the therapist is licensed and if there has been any disciplinary action taken against him or her.
  • Find out what type of therapy is utilized by the therapist. Does the therapist focus on helping to change how you think (cognitive therapy)? Does she or he focus on working with the unconscious (psychodynamic therapy)? No single approach to therapy has been proven more effective than any other, and hundreds of approaches have been developed. Many therapists claim that problems you have had for a long time are more likely to require longer term treatment. You can often get relief fairly quickly with short-term treatment for a recently developed problem or a part of the problem.
  • Notice how you feel in the presence of the therapist. Is this someone you can imagine seeing repeatedly and feeling respected by and comfortable with? Does the therapist pay attention to you? Is he or she too distant? Too cold? Too effusive? Sufficiently empathic? Too sure of herself or himself? Is she or he defensive about your questions? Does the office have an atmosphere that is appealing to you? Regardless of a therapist's training or philosophy, the therapist/client relationship is largely what determines whether you will think the therapy will be effective or not.
  • Is the therapist experienced in working with issues similar to yours? While it is certainly not necessary for a therapist to have personally experienced whatever you are experiencing, you need some reassurance that your needs are not beyond the therapist's scope of competence.

What You Can Expect from a Therapist

  • Therapists have a duty to tell you before you begin treatment how much the service will cost. Fees vary according to expertise, years of experience, and market factors, including whether the therapy is offered through an agency or in private practice, and whether insurance is involved.
  • Often therapists offer treatment agreements that address such issues as what you can expect from therapy, how to get help in emergency situations, and the limits of confidentiality. Ask to see a copy of the therapist's agreement for services.
  • An ethical therapist will uphold clear professional boundaries. Generally speaking, therapy is best served when the therapist does not have more than one kind of relationship with a client. For example, therapists do not treat their own relatives, close friends, or people with whom they have another personal, professional, or business relationship. Under no circumstances is it appropriate for a therapist to have a romantic relationship with a client. A good question to ask a prospective therapist is how she or he understands and observes professional boundaries.

Ask Questions After You Start Therapy

As an informed consumer, you should ask the therapist questions throughout your treatment about the process of therapy. You have a right to know what is happening and why. You can review a list of frequently asked questions provided below:

What should I ask myself?

What do I hope to gain from therapy?

Will this therapist help me do that?

Am I comfortable with this therapist?

Would I want to come back?

Remember: The most important factor in securing effective therapy is a good relationship between you and your therapist.

Do I feel assured that the therapist is qualified to help me with the issues or concerns that have motivated me to seek therapy at this time?

Am I willing to do the work necessary to participate in therapy?

Will therapy work for me?

Research supports the assertions that therapy works for most clients.

Many report relief from depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and issues affecting the elderly amongst numerous other issues.

Many also report seeking therapy as a means of personal growth and exploration.

How long are therapy sessions?

Sessions are typically between 45-50 minutes, but may be shorter or longer depending upon the treatment approach.


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