Choosing a Therapist
By Rebecca J. Stigall
Just as not all doctors are created equal, not all teachers are created equal, and not all accountants are created equal, not all therapists are created equal, either. It stands to reason that you've come across many people that you wouldn't want to do business with, and therapists are no different. Because a therapist's job is to help you deal with very personal matters – matters you might never discuss with anyone else – it's important that you pick a therapist that is the right match for you.
Of all the important factors to consider when choosing a therapist, the most important is compatibility. If you don't "mesh" with your therapist, you won't work well together. Going to therapy isn't like a job where you have to just deal with the people you work with; it's a personal experience in which you have to be as comfortable as possible. If you feel that your therapist is not empathetic, has values that are very different from yours, or isn't really listening, it's best to find one that you are more comfortable with. You might also want to consider the gender of your therapist. You'll be discussing personal matters so if you're not comfortable talking to someone of the opposite sex, make sure you consider that when selecting a therapist. Factors such as gender, age, background, and even the therapist's personal appearance can all prevent you from feeling as comfortable as you will need to feel when working with a therapist.
The therapist’s area of specialization is another important factor. If you have an eating disorder, you probably won't want to talk to a therapist who specializes in depression and anxiety. If you are depressed and/or suicidal, you might not want to choose a therapist who handles mainly sexual dysfunction. The point is that the therapist you choose should have experience treating people with issues similar to yours.
Culture and Background
Some people find it difficult to talk to someone from a different culture or very different background. If your religion, cultural heritage, or race is a factor that affects your comfort level, it's important to choose a therapist who shares your beliefs. Even if these factors are not specific to your treatment, you might feel uncomfortable with a therapist who is very different from you.
Location is another important factor. No matter how much you like a therapist, and no matter how highly recommended he or she is, if you have to travel a long distance to get to him or her, you might find it easier to skip appointments than to keep them. Make sure that the therapist you select is close enough to your home or office that you'll keep every appointment.
All therapists do not receive the same training. There's a difference between a counselor and a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a social worker. Each job requires a different degree and a different level of training. Some therapists work under the supervision of an individual who has received more training.
Another factor to consider is the method that the therapist uses to help her clients. A psychiatrist, who is a medical doctor, might prefer medication over "talk therapy." A counselor might concentrate on behavioral methods to help you deal with what's bothering you. And a psychologist might use psychotherapy to guide your personal insight. Although a therapist might use various methods of treatment, she might have one method that she feels most comfortable with. You'll need to be comfortable with it, too.
Although medical insurance may ultimately determine who you choose to be your therapist, you have every right to make your selection between each of the available providers. Many therapists will meet with you once before you make your decision so that you can perform a sort of "interview." A good therapist understands that not every client/therapist relationship is an ideal match, so be sure to choose the therapist that you feel you can work best with. Working with a therapist is a very personal process and you will work best with a therapist that you like and trust.