Having been a licensed clinical psychologist for 15 years, you would think I would have “heard it all”.  Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to some client's journeys to my office.  A good portion of my clients have been in therapy in the past, with many positive experiences.  I love to hear when someone has had a healing experience in therapy.  But too often I have found my clients have had multiple, not so great experiences.  Here are a few suggestions on how to avoid some of these mishaps when seeking therapy.

Maybe being new to therapy, you feel unsure about  where to start looking for a therapist, what makes for a “good” therapist or whether the services you are getting are “therapeutic”.

Where to start?

First, are have to decide if  you going to use insurance or pay out of pocket. If you choose to use insurance, it will be necessary to FIRST call your insurance company and ask for a list of providers, in your area, who specialize in the issue you are seeking treatment for. Also, it will be important to determine if you have behavioral health benefits.  If so, what are they. Unfortunately, behavioral health (or mental health) benefits vary dramatically from company to company. Ask for both in network benefits (these are used with a specific list of providers who are contracted with your insurance company) and out of network benefits. This simply means your insurance will cover a percentage of therapy but not 100% for a therapist who is not in the network. Sometimes, these benefits are not that different. Also, remember just because your insurance company states you have 30 sessions per year, this does NOT mean they will approve you to use all 30 of those sessions. There are many pros and cons to using insurance. You have to determine for yourself whether this is in your best interest. 

A great place to start is by asking friends and family.  At least 1/3 of my referrals come from previous clients who have had a positive experience and let others know about it.

Search on the internet.  We do just about everything over the internet these days, why not start your search here.  A great place to start is either the American Psychological Association or your local states Psychological Association. 

Make sure the psychologist you choose is licensed in your state.  You can verify licensure by going to your states Department of Professional Regulation website.  This site will also indicate if the therapist has ever had any disciplinary action. 

Another place to search would be on a disorder specific site such as ANAD.org for eating disorders.  Therapists listed on these sites typically have specialty training in the specific disorder and are likely treating clients with similar issues.

What am I looking for?

So you have a few names of psychologists…now what?  How do you make the decision from here?  

A good first step is to do an internet search. I recommend checking out their professional website, if they have one and possibly any publications or professional affiliations they have. Hopefully, from their website, you can begin to get a feel for who they are and what type of therapy they may provide. 

Next, make a few phone calls.  I always suggest to people to call the psychologist and ask a few questions over the phone before making the initial appointment.  I believe the response from this first phone call can be very telling.  First, does the psychologist actually call you back?  I have heard too many times that a client has made multiple attempts to contact a provider and NEVER heard anything back from them.  In my practice, I return every call, even if it is to let someone know my practice is full or that I do not serve a particular population or take insurance benefits.  

Writing down a few key questions before speaking with a psychologist is recommended.  Some questions may include:

-How long have you been practicing?  

-What percentage of clients do you currently see that have my specific issue (depression, anxiety, anorexia, infertility).

-How many have of these cases have you treated in the past?

-What is the cost of treatment?

-Have you had any specialty training dealing with my issue?

After the phone call, spend a moment thinking about how it went. Did you feel rushed? Did the psychologist seem open to your questions? Does their practice allow you to speak to the psychologist BEFORE you make an appointment?  Is this important to you?

Above all, you should listen to that guiding voice in your gut which seeks to steer you in in the right direction.  You should feel “comfortable” being able to share your deep emotional issues with your therapist.  When I say comfortable, I mean as comfortable as it can be to discuss often very difficult thoughts and feelings.  Therapy can provoke feelings of anxiety: this is normal.  You need to be able to trust your therapist 100% and believe they respect your thoughts, feelings and opinions.  You need to be able to be honest and open in order for therapy to be successful.  This is an investment in your future and your overall health. You should feel as though the psychologist is on the journey with you.