How to choose a therapist? (Part 1 of 2)

How to choose a therapist?


I have had many people report to me their experience with mental health and it has been inconsistent.  Some people love their therapist and psychiatrist, some are indifferent and unfortunately, people may have a bad experience with a mental health professional that forces them to reject care. 

There are a ton of therapists out there and maybe a handful of psychiatrists but if you can help it, choose someone you LIKE.  This may come as a surprise to you but you get to choose who can help you.  With insurance, there is usually more than one provider listed.  Finding the right therapist for you is like finding a best friend--there has to be a connection.  This doesn't mean you should find someone who feels like a peer but it should at least be someone you feel you can open up to and you can respect their opinion.  I have had patients tell me they stopped treatment because they didn't like their therapist and never told them.  I have had patients tell me they stopped taking medications because they didn't like their psychiatrist and felt like they never listened to them.   Noncompliance is a huge problem in treatment and patients may not actively engage in treatment if they don't like their providers.  The relationship is a key part of the treatment process.  

Don't get me wrong, exploring why you don't like someone is important and staying in a therapeautic relationship is important.   If you have liked your therapist thus far and you find yourself avoiding them or disliking them in session, that is crucial to explore in therapy.  More importantly, a good therapist will be curious to know what your feelings are.  However, if you never liked them to begin with, it may end up affecting your treatment adversely if you don't want to come in or if you don't want to disclose to them further.   I tell people to interview at least 2 therapists before they decide who they want to work with.  No two therapists are the same; they have different modalities of treatment and styles of interacting with patients.  Find someone you can relate to and build that relationship so you can feel like a partner in your treatment.  And if you are with a provider and you don't feel listened to, give them that feedback so they can change their approach. 


Furthermore, there are so many types of therapists out there which can be overwhelming.  There is everything ranging from psychoanalysts to life coaches.  I decided to write my next blog entry about the most common types of therapists because I think this is so important.  People often do not know from which educational experience each mental health provider operates. 

It is my personal opinion that when a client is selecting a therapist, the goodness-of-fit is most important, not the letters behind the name.  However, the letters are important in telling us from what kind of lens will they view the client.  For example, MFTs will look at the client's symptoms from a family systems perspective.  On the other hand, a psychiatrist is trained to look at them from a biopsychosocial model but has a more medical background. 

Equally important to ask is what KIND of therapy are they offering the client because certain types of therapy have more evidence for success with a certain diagnosis.  A therapist regardless of what school they graduated from may vary in their knowledge or talent at doing types of therapies (cognitive behavioral, trauma focused, psychodynamic etc).