Selecting a therapist is an important decision. Finding the right match
is critical to the success of your treatment.
While each person’s experiences are different so to are each
professional’s area of expertise. The type of professional you choose to work
with will be dependent not only on that individuals knowledge and skills
but also in their ability to make you feel comfortable in working
together to achieve your goals.
One therapist may be most experienced providing marriage and family
therapy while another may be skilled in the treatment of substance abuse
or co-occurring disorders. While some therapists feel most comfortable
working with adults, other may prefer to work only with children or
To help you select a therapist that is right for you, SAMHSA, the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, issued the
- See your primary care physician to rule out a medical cause of your
problems. If your thyroid is "sluggish," for example, your symptoms
(such as loss of appetite and fatigue) could be mistaken for depression.
- After you know your problems are not caused by a medical condition,
find out what the mental health coverage is under your insurance policy
or through Medicaid/Medicare.
- Get two or three referrals before making an appointment. Specify age,
sex, race, or religious background if those characteristics are
important to you.
- Call to find out about appointment availability, location, and fees.
Ask the receptionist:
- Does the mental health professional offer a sliding-scale fee based on
- Does he/she accept your health insurance or Medicaid/Medicare?
- Make sure the therapist has experience helping people whose problems
are similar to yours. You may want to ask the receptionist about the
therapist's expertise, education, and number of years in practice.
- If you are satisfied with the answers, make an appointment.
- During your first visit, describe those feelings and problems that
led you to seek help. Find out:
- What kind of therapy/treatment program he or she recommends;
- Whether it has proven effective for dealing with problems such as
- What the benefits and side effects are;
- How much therapy the mental health professional recommends; and
- Whether he or she is willing to coordinate your care with another
practitioner if you are personally interested in exploring credible
alternative therapies, such as acupuncture.
- Be sure the psychotherapist does not take a "cookie cutter" approach
to your treatment. What works for one person does not necessarily work
for another. Different psychotherapies and medications are tailored to
meet specific needs.
- Although the role of a therapist is not to be a friend, rapport is a
critical element of successful therapy. After your initial visit, take
some time to explore how you felt about the therapist.
- If the answers to these questions and others you come up with are
"yes," schedule another appointment to begin the process of working
together to understand and overcome your problems. If the answers to
most of these questions are "no," call another mental health
professional from your referral list and schedule another appointment.