Selecting a Therapist
Is there a way to ensure that you will find a therapist who will be able to help you without risking that you select someone who is not going to be a good fit for you? While it is impossible to be absolutely certain that a clinician will provide you with exactly what you are looking for, there are some very specific steps that you can take to strengthen your chances of finding a competent provider that you can collaborate with.
While this may seem obvious, be sure to choose a therapist who you can get to easily and who has hours that work for your schedule. If therapy isn't convenient for you, it will be harder to go consistently. Be sure to interview your therapist and ask questions at your first visit to assess you are meeting with the right person for you. You are making an investment of time, energy, and money when you see a counselor. Consider the following questions when you are deciding on a therapist.
How important is the therapist's degree, licensure, and experience?
Of course it is vital that the counselor that you are seeking have a master's degree. What the degree is in is not as important, but should be considered. The degree should be related to human behavior or counseling in some way. Most commonly, therapists have a master's degree (and sometimes a doctorate degree) in social work, counseling, education or psychology. Sometimes therapists have degrees in other disciplines. If the therapist that you are considering seeing has a non-standard degree for clinical practice (something other than social work, counseling, education, or psychology) or if the counselor has less than a master's degree, it would be wise to scrutinize the capabilities of the provider more carefully than you would otherwise. Education is important, but can only go so far in molding a skilled clinician. It is a good idea to ask about the counselor's education, but keep in mind that most programs teach similar courses and themes to students and often the type of degree makes little difference.
Finding a therapist that is licensed is critical. While a license does not tell you by default that a clinician is skilled, a license does tell you that the provider is in good standing with the state that he or she is licensed in, that the provider has at least two years of post graduate clinical experience, and that the clinician has practiced under the supervision of a licensed clinician.
Most importantly, consider the professional experience of your potential therapist. While length of experience can be one gauge to look at, the type of experience is also critical. What types of issues is the provider most experienced in working with, what different settings has the provider worked in, and with what ages of clients has the provider worked with in the past? Think about the types of issues that you want to deal with in therapy and get a sense of how the counselor has worked with those sorts of issues before. Has the counselor had successes with previous clients who shared your situation? When you put all of this information together, you will get a sense of how qualified and skilled the clinician is.
Do age, gender, religion, ethnicity, or other demographic variables make a difference?
Of course, these sorts of demographics shape, in part, who we are as individuals. A therapist is no different. However, one thing to keep in mind is that these features do not shape each person in the same way. It may not be accurate to presume that a therapist will have certain life experiences, impressions, or characteristics based on certain demographic attributes. Instead of searching for a provider based on age, gender, race, or other demographics, you may be better served to tell your prospective therapist what kind of experience you are looking for in a clinician and ask if that therapist is confident working with that kind of an issue. There is nothing wrong with seeking a clinician of a certain gender, age, or religion. If you feel that you will only feel comfortable talking to someone with certain demographic qualities, then seeing someone different from that profile may inhibit your progress in therapy. Be realistic in what you expect from a counselor when you base part of your decision to see him or her on these types of criteria, though.
Should I choose someone who shares my values?
A qualified therapist should be willing and able to work with individuals with an array of values and not impose his or her values on the client. While this is the ideal, not surprisingly, some therapists--purposely or not--impose their values on clients. If you think a therapist may have an agenda with certain aspects of what you will be discussing in therapy, talk about this before you see the clinician. If you are seeking counseling for support in leaving a marriage and the provider that you are meeting with does not view divorce as a valid option, your therapy could very easily be derailed and you may not get the guidance that you are looking for. A therapist need not necessarily agree with you on all things. In fact, meeting with someone who simply agrees with you on all points could likely be of little value. But when it comes to discussing issues that are bogged down with decisions about values and morals, it is important to find someone who is willing to respect your perspective, even if it isn't shared by the clinician.
What sort of techniques should my therapist be skilled in?
When it comes to actually doing therapy, there is an abundance of theories, techniques, and methods of going about it. Some have research behind them, others do not. Certain therapists adhere very rigidly to a certain type of therapy. More commonly, therapists use a number of different techniques to tailor the counseling to an individual client. Finding a clinician who is flexible, has a wide range of knowledge of different techniques, and offers modalities that seem comfortable to you is probably most important. When you talk with your therapist, ask what sort of therapy he or she does most often and find out what sorts of techniques might likely be employed in therapy with you. Decide if that approach and those techniques make you comfortable. Often some discomfort in therapy can be a good thing--it can mean you are challenging habits and patterns. If the therapist describes a modality that sounds like it will cause you pain without the return of any benefit, will not help, or is unprofessional, ask more questions and learn more about it.