Choosing a therapist is one of the most important decisions anyone can make. Like tradespeople, there’s a therapist for just about everything. You don’t want to hire a plumber for an electrical problem, and you don’t want to hire the wrong therapist for your unique issue. Psychotherapy is a big commitment of your time and money, and you want to be sure that you get back the benefits of your investment.
Making an appointment with someone does not mean you’re going to work together. Therapy, like any relationship, needs to be a good fit. Scheduling an initial consultation allows both people to see if they are comfortable and if the therapist can help with the presenting problem. If you don’t care for the therapist during the interview, trust your gut. It’s probably not going to get any better as time goes on.
It’s also a good idea to interview several people. While it does take additional time and money, comparison and contrast can make you feel more secure in your choice. You don’t need to commit to a relationship with the first person you meet.
There are so many people in the helping field, it’s hard to keep track. Coaches, therapists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, all specializing in different things and types of treatment, can be overwhelming when seeking help. You want to be sure that the person you hire has the proper credentials for your needs.
First, the therapist should have a combination of classroom and internship experience. This means they’ve been taught theory and application and also have been supervised. Certification and licensing provide further assurance. This doesn’t guarantee competency, but it helps.
Ideally, a therapist is trained in three areas: mental health, addictions, and psychoanalysis. Mental health and addictions are often interrelated, and all too often, a person suffering an undiagnosed addiction is diagnosed with a mental disorder. Also, a patient’s suffering could be related to having a dysfunctional family. The therapist needs to understand such dynamics and how they’re different than other issues such as grieving and life stress.
Psychoanalysis is the foundation of all psychotherapy, but more importantly, it provides a skill set not offered in other types of therapy. Knowledge concerning how to help patients with resistance, transference, repetition compulsion, reenactment, and the power of the unconscious are essential skills for any psychotherapist who intends to do anything other than brief (a month or two) therapy with patients.
Traditionally, therapists have been advised not to share personal information. For one reason, the time is yours, but also for the therapist’s privacy, and for both people to remain objective about each other. However, when you are interviewing a therapist, you do have the right to ask questions, and one of those could be to inquire about the therapist’s training, which would or would not include their own therapy.
In my opinion, every therapist should have whatever amount of therapy is needed to be mentally healthy – at least two years. If a therapist is certified in psychoanalysis, they have had extensive education, supervision, and psychotherapy for years above and beyond graduate school.
Therapy is an art. A good artist has a natural talent that only improves with time. Likewise, good therapists will constantly improve their skills through continuing education and learning from successes and failures. If you’ve signed up for therapy through a training program offered through a clinic or university, your therapist will be supervised by someone who has the necessary experience. Otherwise, there’s no reason for you to be part of their training process.
While no one’s perfect, psychotherapy – like any other relationship – needs to feel comfortable. If there’s something about the therapist that bothers you, there’s no reason to force things. You don’t want to use your energy trying to figure out why you feel uneasy.
If you can’t trust, it’s going to be near impossible to work through the natural conflicts that might emerge as time goes on. Is this someone you can trust to guide you where you want to go, or is this a person who seems they don’t quite have it together? Again, the benefit of several interviews before you decide with whom you’d like to work can give you a comparison and contrast of different styles and techniques.
You want to like the person and feel they resemble the type of mental health you want to achieve. If you don’t feel a sense of respect for the person, move on.
Choosing a therapist is one of the most critical decisions in your life. It’s essential to take the time to find the right person so that you don’t wind up jumping from one person to another. Whether you need short-term or long-term therapy, you want to be able to have a therapist you can count on and with whom you can establish a relationship that can stand the test of time.
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Dr. Donna Marks has been an author, consultant, public speaker, and psychotherapist for over thirty years. She was licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987 and then certified in Addiction, Gestalt Therapy, Hypnosis, Sex Therapy, and Psychoanalysis. She currently has a concierge psychotherapy practice in Palm Beach, Florida.
She has appeared on numerous podcasts and local television. She is the author of two books, Learn Grow Forgive – A Path to Spiritual Success, and Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Solution (revised), and winner of multiple book awards. Her next book, The Healing Moment: Seven Keys to Turn Messes into Miracles, will be released in 2023.
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