Bryan M. Knight, MSW, PhD
Dedicated to bringing you information and opinions about psychotherapy.

  How to Choose the Right Psychotherapist   

There is no 100% fool-proof method of selecting the right psychotherapist, any more than there is a guaranteed way to select the right lawyer, physician, accountant, or plumber.

Major sources for finding a reputable psychotherapist are: physicians, family or friends, the workplace, the Yellow Pages, Web search engines, and lists from professional associations.

A doctor can refer you to a well-reputed colleague or to his or her own psychotherapist. But there can be no guarantee that the recommended therapist will be suitable for you. Personality factors, particular problems or differing ideologies may interfere with rapport. The same is true for referrals by family or friends.

Above all, do not be misled by reputation alone. A great reputation in the therapy field is not always based on competence. Sometimes it is fed by publicity and by professional colleagues who have a personal liking for a particular therapist, especially if he or she devotes a lot of time to their organization's interests. The colleagues may be impressed by that therapist's speeches, self-confidence and self-promotion. But do they personally know any successfully treated clients?

Trust your reaction when talking with a psychotherapist. Shop around. Spend at least as much time to select a therapist as you would to choose a car.

The best criterion is satisfied clients. Ask the therapist for written testimonials. Any psychotherapist who has been in business for a reasonable length of time will have letters on file from grateful clients. These will be people who have given permission for their comments to be shown to enquirers. Read and verify them.

And be sure you feel comfortable with the therapist. If you feel uneasy, it may be a sign that he or she is not good for you.

Key questions to ask yourself are:

    Does he or she seem interested in my problems?
    Do I feel welcome?
    Is the therapist on time?
    Do I feel accepted?
    Does he or she treat me with respect?
    Does he or she appear hopeful?
    Does he or she ask a lot about me?
    Is he or she genuinely interested in me?
    Does his or her office feel like a haven?
    Does the therapist really listen?
    Does he or she seem knowledgeable?

Key questions to ask the psychotherapist are:

    Why should I see you, and not one of your competitors?
    What experience do you have with my kind of problem?
    What are your professional qualifications?
    How long have you been in practice?
    Do you have references?
    What psychotherapy associations do you belong to?
    How soon can I make an appointment?
    What are your fees?
    May I bring someone with me?
    Do you mind if I tape-record the session?
    Do you play audiotapes?
    Will you teach me techniques I can use on my own?

Experience is a good criterion. Experience both of life and of psychotherapy. To ask the therapist questions relevant to his or her experience is a smart move. Has he or she written books or articles which you could read?

Respectful therapists do not speak in a condescending manner. They treat you with the importance you deserve. After all, their business depends on you, and others like you, who seek a better life.

Lack of respect also applies to improper questions, suggestions or behavior. And not just about sex. Impropriety also applies to money and morals.

In a truly therapeutic relationship you are heard, accepted, understood and guided to strengthen your inner resources. The therapist is your ally. Not your friend. Not your business partner. Not your guru. And certainly not your lover.

Above-board psychotherapists will be delighted that you bring a friend or relative with you. (Not to sit in the session however!). Similarly, they will be pleased you wish to tape-record the session because then you can use the tape at home as reinforcement.

Psychotherapists with your interests at heart will automatically teach you self-care techniques such as EFT or self-hypnosis. It is part of your becoming self-reliant. At the very least, the therapist could recommend a relevant book. [In the case of hypnosis, for example, he or she might suggest my Health and Happiness with Hypnosis, which includes explicit instructions on how to hypnotize yourself.]

Psychotherapy should be tailored to you, the individual. No two problems, and certainly no two people, however similar, are identical. Settle for nothing less than personalized service.

That individualized approach requires a complete history-taking. It is of course impossible in the short time available for the therapist to learn everything about you. But he or she should know the details of your presenting problem, your family situation, important life events, health condition, fears, likes and dislikes, etc.

Do not be overly concerned with the per session fee. A very low fee per session may sound attractive, but, in monetary terms, it is the total number of sessions which will count in the end. In human terms, becoming well makes even a high fee seem like a bargain.

Beware of any therapist who has a one-track mind. Some therapists continually find that the origin of all their clients' problems lies in childhood sexual abuse; others find that all their clients' problems arise from past lives; others find that all their clients' problems arise from birth trauma, etc., etc. Not all of life's distresses arise from one trauma, or indeed, from any trauma. Human beings are far too complex and life, fortunately, is far too rich, for there to be one single cause of everyone's troubles.

Two questions that concern most people are,How many sessions will it take? andWhat is your success rate?

No one can know in advance how many sessions your problem will take to resolve. There are far too many variables, including: the personalities of you and the therapist, your talent for self-understanding, whether you really want to shed the problem, what other issues may surface, etc.

Of course, you could specify a certain number of sessions. And some psychotherapists do set a fixed number of sessions. The pressure of this deadline approach sometimes helps but there can be no guarantee.

To ask a psychotherapist his or her success rate is a meaningless question. Who would tell you her success rate is 3%? In any case, should the psychotherapist's rate be 95%, this says nothing about your chances of success.

The truth about success rates in therapy in general is that one-third of clients get better, one-third stay the same and one-third get worse. Choose wisely and you'll be among the successful third.

Licensing and governmental regulation over who is allowed to practice psychotherapy vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Many states and provinces, such as Quebec, have no rules whatever. Others are very stringent.

Remember, to find the right psychotherapist for yourself, first do your homework about credentials and experience and then -- trust your instincts.

Therapy Insights can be reached by e-mail at drknight AT therapy-insights DOT com, by regular mail at 7306 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC, Canada, H4B 1R7, and by phone at (514) 827-4673.

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