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How to find the BEST Therapist for you

Seven tips on finding the best therapist for you.

Posted Feb 16, 2011
The first time I went to therapy, my parents chose a psychotherapist quickly (an
easier decision than which mechanic they took their car to). The way they found
this nutter-butter-can-of-cashews was that my first pediatrician didn't know wh
at to do for my nightly all-nightevery night nightmares and so he sent me to a t
herapist. He thought she was good because of her seemingly impressive pedigree,
and let me let them tell you as they told everyone who asked, She did therapy on
the Prime Minister from Israel. Even at ten I found this bit of information tro
ubling and logistically dubious, as we lived in a beachside suburb in Los Angele
s and the Prime Minister from Israel lived in Israel.
Here are a few examples of her wacky behavior
1. She ate cottage cheese with her mouth open during our sessions. I feel sure t
hat her mouth full of curds gave me more nightmares rather than less.
2. She read her mail during
r was not very stimulating,
what the latest edition of
. Good God, do I wish I was

our sessions. While I get that my 10-year-old chatte

she was getting paid to listen to me and not to read
Readers Digest said about how to declutter your desk
making this stuff up.

3. I have since learned that she asked patients for rides to the airport. She ne
ver asked me for a ride, but I was only ten and I didn't even have a bike.
I thought, as a public service of sorts, and since I am a therapist and since I
write about being in therapy, it might be a good thing if I shared some thoughts
about picking a therapist---should you ever find yourself in need of one---as t
hey can be harder to find than a good mechanic.
1. Ask friends and family
Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapist. If they do, find ou
t what it is they like about them and ask your friend to ask her therapist for a
list of referrals. I have never gotten a good referral that way but I have give
n out some good referrals because friends have asked me if my therapist knew any
one for them.
If none of your friends are in therapy or if they tell you that they don't like
their therapist and how they keep going just because they don't want to hurt the
therapist's feelings, it is best to get a referral elsewhere. I have gotten my
most of my referrals by calling institutes (JungianPsychodynamicPsychoanalytic)
to find out what therapists were in my area. That said, you don't want a therapi
st who is convenient---you want a therapist who is good. Good and convenient do
not often go hand in hand. I could have a therapist that is only five minutes fr
om my house but I believe Igor is worth the hour drive. And, I find the 60-minut
e drive home to be an important time to process my feelings.
Many institutes have a service in which a clinic director will do an intake and
determine what therapist in the community might be a good fit for you. That is a
wonderful way to find a therapist if you don't have a referral source.
2. Shop online
While I have never found a therapist online, I do have an ad on Therapist Finder

. And I do think (in the age)

t meet their therapist is on Psychology
hopping I would look for therapists who
em to be trying to tell you about their
h patients.

it is likely the way that most will firs

Today's Therapy Finder. When therapist s
are not selling themselves but rather se
work and their philosophy of working wit

3. A picture tells a story

Take a look at therapists' pictures on Psychology Today's Therapist Finder. Red
lights for me are therapists who seem to be using a glamour shot or whose portra
its seem in any way seductive. I would also steer clear of therapists who chose
for their professional portrait shots of them partaking in their favorite hobby
or recreational activity. If you have any doubt based on photos, I would listen
to that and maybe see if you can find someone who you could easily sit across fr
om. I am not saying your therapist needs to look like a supermodel---just if whe
n you look at them and you feel any concern or apprehension, I would heed that i
4. Gender
I think that when choosing a therapist, almost all people have an instinctive hi
t on gender they would prefer to work with. For me, my default therapist choice
is always male which, in fact, comes out of my relationship with my parents. I d
on't think there is a right or wrong when it comes to choosing which gender you
prefer to work with. However, I think it can be clinically valuable to notice wh
ich gender you absolutely wouldn't want to work with. I would make note of that
and let my therapist know about my strong feelings of no way when considering a
certain gender for a therapist.
5. Theoretical orientation
This one is REALLY tricky. There are many theoretical orientations and I certain
ly cannot explain them all in one single post. Here is what I can say in a huge
and gross oversimplification
If you believe there is an unconscious motivation for your behavior, you might
want to go to a psychodynamic therapist.
If you want to change your thoughts and you think doing that will change your l
ife and you don't believe in an unconscious---then you might want a cognitive th
If you don't ever want to talk about mom and dad and you only want the here and
now then maybe narrative, behavioral, or solution-oriented therapies are someth
ing to consider.
If you want to work on your family and not on just you then maybe family-orient
ed system therapists. Let me say again that was an enormous oversimplification.
If you want to know a little more read this.
If you still have no idea at all about what orientation you might want, I would
then call the referrals you found and ask them to tell you about their orientati
on. If they say I am an existentialist and leave it at that, then have them expl
ain what that means and how you would experience that orientation in the work. K
eep calling until you find someone whose style of working resonates with you.
6. Call them
When you find a therapist to call---then call them. It sounds easier than it is;
I have had the numbers of therapists in my possession for weeks before I dared

to call. Once on the phone I would have some questions handy. I would ask
Where did they go to school The best schools don't necessarily make for the bes
t therapists. When asking this, I am not looking for a certain answer. I just wa
nt to know for sure that it is an accredited school and not an online coaching c
What is their specialty I tend to be wary of people who specialize in EVERYTHIN
G. One can't be all things to all people.
Have they worked with people with your issues Share a little on the phone about
your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds.
What is their training If they say they are trained, find out if it was a one d
ay seminar in EMDR andor if they took a three-hour online course in psychoanalys
is-- if they call themselves an expert in a modality after such a short training
I would likely hang up and move on to someone with a little more experience.
Are they licensed If they say that they are, I would still look up their licens
e and make sure. There are people, people I know, people I went to school with w
ho don't have a license and they are practicing and it makes me wackadoodledoo.
I have too big of a Superego to ever trust someone who would work outside of the
law. Once you are sure that they actually have a license, I would also look on
the state licensing boards to see if there are any infractions against their lic
Are they now or have they ever been in therapy This is a BIG one. Seriously, do
not, repeat do not, get into therapy with someone who hasn't done their own work
. Seeing a therapist who doesn't do hisher own therapy is like going to a priest
who has no relationship with God. This is a big one for me. I just feel that un
less one has done their own work, they are likely to have issues that create an
increased chance of boundary issues, unmanaged counter-transference, and blind s
Before I set up the appointment, I would find out their fee and discuss if you n
eed sliding scale or if you are planning on using insurance. If you like everyth
ing about them but their rate and is more than you can manage, I would tell them
that. If they can slide no lower, then I would ask for referrals. They might kn
ow someone who works like they do at a lower fee. That said, cheap is not always
If you don't have insurance and can't afford the fees, a good way to go can be t
o see an intern at a clinic. The great thing about working with interns is that
you get two therapists for the price of one. You get the therapist you are worki
ng with and the supervisor who is supervising the intern. Training institutes us
ually have interns on staff that are available for very low rates.
For years I saw a Jungian Analyst for the embarrassingly low fee of $25 a sessio
n. He saw me at that low rate because I couldn't afford more and because he was
doing pro-bono work for the institute as a way of giving back.
7. Notice
Notice how you feel on the phone with the therapist. Nervous was how I usually f
elt on that first call. I rarely have had an immediate yes feeling when I talked
to a therapist on the phone. I usually felt a little weird and awkward. You may
feel differently. Just notice how you feel on the phone and after you have mad
e the appointment. Also, if you are doing psychodynamic therapy, you might want
to write down any dreams you have had once you have made the appointment.

On your first appointment, notice how you feel when you are in the room with the
m. Do you feel heard when you speak Notice how you feel in that person's presenc
e. Notice everything. You might not decide on the first session if the therapist
is for you. It may take some time to determine if you have picked the right the
rapist. If you decide that it isn't a good match, then you don't need to come ba
ck. It is best to tell the therapist what it is you're looking for and why heshe
isn't the best fit for you, as the therapist might have some ideas for a referr
al that would work for you. And sometimes that desire to not come back is motiva
ted by some more unconscious anxieties about being in therapy. Best to discuss t
hose, too.
Also notice if there are any red flags, any ethical boundary issues or cottage c
heese eating that starts to arise. If there are, it might be time to pick anothe
r therapist.
Copyright Tracey Cleantis 2011