When you are in need of a therapist (or any other professional), the first thing you should do is trust your instincts (gut feelings). This is a person you will be paying and if you don’t feel comfortable with them, there are other professionals available. If you live in a small town, it might be worth it (if you can) to drive into the nearest large town.
Secondly, a psychotherapist MUST be licensed to practice in the state you live in. They cannot practice with clients in California if they are licensed in Nebraska. The reason for this is twofold. 1. Each state has their own guidelines, laws, ethics on how one should practice as a professional. 2. The therapist must know where to direct you in case of a mental health emergency.
Third, the professional must be licensed as they are titled. If they call themself a doctor, than they must be licensed to practice as a psychiatrist or psychologist. Some people have a Ph.D. but are licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist, Social Worker or Professional Counselor. You do NOT need a Ph.D. to practice as a psychotherapist with those three licenses. They cannot operate as a psychologist or psychiatrist unless they are licensed in that profession. Any questions – ask! If in doubt, contact your state licensing board for further questions. A good professional will explain all of this to you, so that you will not be confused.
Fourth, what are you looking for in a therapist? Do you want someone who has a specialty in a specific disorder? Ask for this. There are so many different types of therapy approaches it would be hard for me to list each and every one of them and tell you what they are best suited for. I tried finding a good list on-line but there aren’t any. For basic needs, any therapist will do. However, if you have a specific diagnosis, you want someone who has experience working with this type of client. Every therapist has their favorites and their least favorites. In other words, they know which client they work best with. Usually there will be a list [on their website] of the type of perspective clients they are looking for and this means this is an area they are most comfortable with. If you don’t see Bi-Polar on their list, chances are they are not the best person to work with. Again, if you are in a small town, you don’t have a lot of choices, however, a therapist is trained to work with anyone who as a psychological disorder but in some cases it does require that they collaborate with a doctor.
Fifth, make sure they tell you their fees up front and that you sign a contract showing that you are agreeing to therapy services. This contract should list their fees, their experience and education and other pertinent information about their services, such as what they can and cannot do, so that you the consumer are clearly aware of what you are getting into. Make sure you read this contract before signing it and if the therapist tries to change anything on that contract, you should sign another one. If the therapist raises their fees (after you have seen them for quite some time), they should let you know in advance. Generally, the policy is that you don’t raise fees on existing customers but if they have seen you for a number of years, this is different.
Sixth, there is no sex or touching in therapy. This being said, there are new techniques now called “EMDR,” where there is tapping, or hand movement in front of the eyes. A therapist who is trained and certified in this approach will discuss this with you ahead of time and let you know about this technique, this is the only time there should be touching. You can tell the therapist NO if you don’t want to do this. If a therapist explains a technique other than EMDR that does involve touching and it is new to you, make sure you research it first before agreeing to this. Also, contact the state licensing board to double-check what they are talking about and make sure it is legitimate. There are NO techniques for having sex with a therapist and a therapist will lose their license for this.
Seventh, don’t pick a therapist who reminds you of someone you know. This is the worst mistake you can make and it often results in a difficult alliance between therapist and consumer. If you really feel you like the therapist and want to work with them, even though they remind you of someone, make sure you warn the therapist of this up front. This process is important to the therapeutic relationship. If the therapist is going to be seen as someone who reminds you of another, this is the beginning of the relationship building and trust process and why it needs to be discussed. A therapy relationship is different from a friendship. The therapist is not your friend, nor your relative and never will be. They need to be chosen as a professional for different reasons. The main one is your gut feeling and the fact that they are licensed to practice in your state and are specialized, or experienced, in what you seek counseling for.
Here are some additional websites that can help you make the right choice in finding a therapist:
Both give you many options and all have been verified by that website before the professional can be listed. It is good to read the profiles of the various clinicians and see what they have to offer. Often you can get a good feel for the therapist just by reading their introduction and looking at their photo. If you like them, give them a call, email, Skype, and find out more about them. You are hiring this person, so make sure you are getting what you want.