Finding a therapist can be a daunting task. Our communities are full of these trained listeners. But what makes an effective therapist? Of course, the ability of a therapist to develop a strong, therapeutic alliance and the ability to genuinely convey empathy and understanding are important factors in a therapist’s “good fit” for any given individual and their needs. This premise, frequently referred to as “common factors”, is most certainly critical for change to take place.
But, beyond these relationship factors, there is strong evidence concluding that effective psychotherapy also involves an active, collaborative, skill-building, process that provides clients with the opportunity to create change through new learning experiences, involving changes in thinking, emotional processing, and behavior choices. Yet, there are varied avenues to these therapy goals. With these varied paths to change, how are consumers to choose a clinician that is likely to provide effective treatment?
Firstly, it is important, as an informed healthcare consumer, to know that psychological treatments come in different approaches. Therapists refer to these perspectives as “theoretical orientations.” There are many orientations, many of which have merit (That’s a post for a later date); however, as an informed consumer, you should know what you’re getting and why.
- Learn what research has shown to effectively treat the problem. Although they may not be the ONLY approaches to effective treatment, these are considered to be evidence-based. Here are a few ways to check this out.
So Many Choices…Where do I look?
- When you know what kind of therapy you seek, check out some different ways to find potential therapists in your area:
- Word-of-mouth – Ask your doctor, friend, relative, human resources, school guidance office, or child study team
- ABCT.org – if it is cognitive behavioral therapy you seek
- APA.org – to find a psychologist
- Search Google for a national organization that pertains to your difficulty. For example, organizations such as the International OCD Foundation, Trichotillomania Learning Center, and Anxiety and Depression Association of America, have referral databases of providers who claim these areas of expertise.
- Google search results or databases such as Psychology Today
- Call your insurance company and ask for a list of providers in your area.
- Know your insurance benefits. Call your behavioral health subscriber’s line and ask for both your in-network and out-of-network benefits (or ask HR).
Pick up the Phone
- Don’t be shy. Call some of the potential therapists you’ve found and ask questions. Consider asking: How long have you been in practice? Where did you earn your degree? From what theoretical orientation(s) do you practice? Are you familiar with __________ treatment for _________? How long is a typical course of treatment? Tell me a little bit about your training and experience with ___________? Look for them to convey knowledge of that particular treatment, or use of the terminology associated with specific treatments, such as exposure and response prevention or habit reversal training (not just cognitive behavioral therapy).
- Trust your impressions. Look for a therapist who listens, is responsive, empathic, and available.
- If you don’t have access to a therapist with specific expertise, choose a therapist who is open to learning and exploring.
- Choose a therapist who keeps current with psychological treatment trends and research.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Just because a provider is listed in an online database does not mean that they are endorsed by the host organization.
- Just because someone claims to have skills in the treatment of a particular problem does not meant that they treat from an evidence-based approach.
- Just because someone is out of your insurance provider network does not mean you will have to pay the fees in their entirety. Often, individuals have out-of-network benefits, meaning that they pay out of pocket for an out-of-network provider and submit their own claims for reimbursement from their insurance company, which reimburses them according to their out-of-network benefit agreement.
- Therapy shouldn’t be one size fits all. Manualized treatments are used in research out of design necessity, but in practice, therapy should be individualized, even when using specific treatment plans. After all, we are all one-of-a-kind, as are our struggles.
- Therapy shouldn’t be a mystery. Choose a therapist who explains treatment at the outset and the principles on which the treatment is based.
Best wishes for finding the right therapist for you!