About a year ago, I was looking for a therapist who specializes in eating disorders for a friend. I researched several professionals online and decided to call each office to speak with them over the phone. I called one office, and like I had with the others, asked the receptionist to speak with the psychologist. I explained that I had a few questions about her treatment practices and would take up several minutes of her time.
The receptionist’s answer? No. I was a bit taken back, so I repeated myself. But, according to the receptionist, the psychologist never speaks over the phone. That’s her policy, and that was that.
I was so turned off by this person and her policy that I’m still irritated. (Within seconds, I crossed her off the list.) Interestingly, the other therapists I contacted were happy to answer my questions and speak with me about their treatment methods.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Or maybe you’re looking for a therapist and have no clue where to start. Or what a good therapist even looks like.
Finding a good therapist can be overwhelming. That’s why, today, I’d like to share with you several tips from Sarah Ravin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders. I’ve interviewed Ravin before, and she’s incredibly knowledgable and skilled.
On her blog, she’s written an excellent post on how to find a good therapist. According to Ravin, “Having a good therapist is a powerful predictor of your chances for recovery, so it is important to take the therapist selection process seriously.”
For starters, if a therapist flat-out refuses to speak to you over the phone or answer your questions, that’s a red flag. (If they’re busy at the moment, the receptionist should take down your contact info and the therapist should return your call.) It shows they’re not open or accessible. And open and accessible is what you want in a clinician.
Your treatment should not be a secret. Fortunately, most therapists will do a free consultation over the phone for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Choosing a therapist based on location, insurance coverage or experience is not helpful. According to Ravin,
Choosing a therapist based on proximity alone is not a good idea. The therapist closest to you may not be a good fit for you. Choosing a therapist based on insurance alone is also not a good idea because many therapists don’t take insurance. Further, if you do use your insurance to pay for treatment, the insurance company will likely request a great deal of personal information about your mental health conditions, may discriminate against you based on diagnosis (or lack thereof), and will probably limit the number of sessions you can receive. Getting personal recommendations for therapists is tricky because it involves disclosing at least some personal information to a friend or colleague, and many people are not comfortable doing that. It is not always wise to choose a therapist based on how much experience she has in the field, because many therapists who have been practicing for decades remain entrenched in antiquated theories of mental disorders and practice less effective treatments Also, if you are a young person, it may feel more comfortable to talk to someone closer to your age who can relate to you more easily and who has a better understanding of your generational issues.
As far as what is helpful, Ravin recommends readers do extensive research on eating disorders and effective treatment and find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and uses well-researched, successful treatments.
Don’t hesitate to call prospective therapists and talk to them over the phone. Ask questions about their knowledge of eating disorders and how they treat EDs. Ravin has written another thorough blog post about which responses serve as red flags.
For instance, some red flags that Ravin mentions are: not knowing the etiology of eating disorders; blaming the parents or patient for the ED; not discussing their treatment methods and explaining the reasoning behind them; or believing that people don’t recover from EDs.
Also, ask how many of their patients have actually recovered. For instance, Ravin suggests asking the number of patients the therapist has treated in a three-year period and how many of those have recovered. “If she hems and haws, or describes therapy as a lifelong journey, or claims that one never recovers from your particular disorder, move on to someone else,” she writes.
Finally, Ravin suggests choosing therapists with a Ph.D or Psy.D and checking out university clinics or academic medical centers. She writes:
University-based mental health clinics and academic medical centers are excellent places to seek psychological treatment. Many of them offer low-cost services or provide treatment for free as part of research studies. The therapists are typically doctoral-level graduate students, pre-doctoral psychology interns, and/or post-doctoral residents, all of whom are closely supervised by licensed clinical psychologists. Advanced graduate students, interns, and post-docs tend to make excellent therapists because they are young, idealistic, energetic, fully informed about recent advances in the research and practice of therapy, well-trained, and constantly evaluated on their performance.
Please be sure to check out both of Ravin’s valuable posts on picking a therapist and red flags.
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Last reviewed: 1 Feb 2012