Choosing a psychotherapist

The first step in seeking psychotherapy is deciding to make contact with a mental health professional. The second step is deciding which professional to see. Psychotherapy outcome studies have shown that it is the therapeutic relationship is a highly significant factor in the healing process, so it is very important that you find a professional with whom you feel safe and comfortable.

If you have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through your job, you might begin there. EAP personnel can assist you with referrals for short-term or long-term mental health care, and their services are confidential. If you have insurance coverage that includes benefits for psychotherapy, you will need to decide if you wish to use that insurance. If so, you need to access the provider list of licensed mental health professionals–psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, advanced practice nurses–for your policy and begin to narrow your choices.

If you have a friend or relative who has seen a mental health professional, talk with that person about his/her experience. Word-of-mouth information will probably be the most helpful of all to you. If you decide to call several psychotherapists, you can expect to speak with a receptionist or hear a recorded message on your initial call. If you get the voicemail for a psychotherapist, listen to the voice and the message and see whether it seems to you that the person you are hearing might be someone you would want to sit and talk with. You cannot of course know everything from a brief recorded message, but you can begin to form your impressions. You need not leave a long or detailed message–just give your name and say that you are calling to inquire about psychotherapy services and leave the telephone number where you can be reached.

When you speak with a psychotherapist, be ready to talk a bit about what you would like to consult with him/her about. Let the therapist know whether the therapy would be for you alone or for you and a partner or for an entire family or other group. You will want to ask.

  • if the therapist has experience and expertise in dealing with the concern you would be bringing
  • what the hourly fee would be
  • whether there is room to negotiate a lowering of the fee if you do not have insurance or choose not to use your coverage or if the therapist does not accept third party payments and the fee seems out of your price range
  • whether the psychotherapist would consider meeting you for a half-hour session at no charge so you both could decide whether a therapeutic relationship might work

Please remember that above all else, you need to be sure of two factors as you decide on a psychotherapist. First, the person you choose to enter psychotherapy with needs to be a credentialed professional who holds a state license in his or her field or, in the case of a pastoral counselor who is also a psychotherapist, clinical membership in the American Asssociation for Pastoral Counseling. Second, you need to feel as safe and as comfortable as possible talking with a psychotherapist. You will most likely be nervous during your first session, but you still can pay close attention to your fundamental sense of safety and security. Does the office feel welcoming and comfortable and safe? Is the therapist a person with whom you can relax as much as possible and talk as freely as possible? Do you have a sense of trust for the therapist? If so, then set yourself a goal of meeting with that therapist for three or four sessions as an initial commitment and then reassess. If not, contact the next therapist on your list.