732128_72168845When searching for and interviewing a prospective therapist, ask him to tell you about his rate of successful outcomes.

A therapist should be able to tell you what percentage (approximately/in the ball park), of his patients with problems similar to yours (for example, clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, addiction, and so on), have achieved successful outcomes with his help. If you don’t have a diagnosis, it still may be helpful to hear from the therapist how his patients have improved.

A successful outcome may mean, for many patients, there is no need for therapy after the initial course of treatment. Sometimes a successful outcome may mean learning how to manage symptoms but still attend limited and/or minimal therapy sessions.

A successful outcome is the result of excellent therapy which helps the patient actively engage in therapy. The end result is a patient who is able to leave therapy and live a meaningful, productive, and positive life without recurrence of serious symptoms or without having to return to therapy on a regular basis.

Although a therapist’s answer to the question about successful outcomes may be subjective and will rely heavily on his interpretation of events, you can learn a few things about a prospective therapist if you read between the lines. His answer can tell you how diligent he is about following up with his patients. His answer can also give you clues about how he runs his practice.
Is he results-oriented, viewing successful outcomes and client independence as the main reason for therapy? Or is he process-oriented, focusing more on the value of the therapeutic process?

Is he aware of the successes (or lack of success) he has had in his clinical work? Or is he not really in tune with his performance? Does he seek to improve or does he blame the patient?
As someone who is results-oriented and who supervises and trains therapists, I believe that, like any other service, achieving a successful outcome is the main goal of therapy. Therefore, I encourage professionals to keep in touch with their former patients and find out how they are doing, even after they have completed therapy.

A therapist and a patient can create a follow-up plan together, and then they can determine how often the therapist  will check-in with the former patient: once a month for six months, twice a year for one, year and even two years after they leave therapy–whatever works best for the individual.

It’s a good idea for therapists to keep careful records of positive responses as well as any negative ones. They should especially try to follow up with patients who had very challenging problems, or problems with a high rate of relapse (both mental health issues and addiction.)

Many therapists are prepared to tell prospective patients what percentage of their patients (including those with specific issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse problems, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, etc.) have had positive, long-lasting outcomes. Though this follow-up work is very time-consuming, it can be invaluable.

By following up, a therapist is able to evaluate the methods he uses and hone in on where he might need more training. He might find, for example, the need to consult with colleagues who have certain areas of expertise or research and read up on more of the latest information or attend professional development classes.

Virtually all competent therapists continually seek feedback and opportunities to improve their skills.

Follow-up is also invaluable to patients. They deserve to get the best care. Good therapists want to be able to help their patients reach their goals.

Adapted from Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On (HCI Books)