The three most important things to consider when choosing a therapist are trust, comfort level and professional qualifications.
Every person will seek counseling for specific reasons, and each person has a unique and complex past and personal story. So your goal is to do some background checking, get referrals and schedule a first meeting before you decide whether a therapist is the right match for you. And even if you begin treatment with one therapist, you are always free to make a different choice later, if you find that the therapist-client relationship isn’t adequately meeting your needs.
First, figure out what type of mental health professional matches the issue you’re dealing with.
If you are suffering from panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, the therapist most likely to work well with those issues is a clinical psychologist or social worker, rather than a psychiatrist, according to Dr. David Burns, clinical professor emeritus in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.
If you’re struggling with bipolar disorder, major depression or schizophrenia, it’s important to choose a psychiatrist or a psychologist with experience in that specialty, according to an article in The New York Times, “Finding the Right Therapist.”
A psychologist primarily clarifies a diagnosis and helps you establish the most beneficial strategies for treatment, mainly talk-based therapies. However, some severe or even life-threatening issues, like major depression that can impact self-care or cause suicidal thoughts, could require medication from a psychiatrist for the short-term or possibly a longer-term, in conjunction with other therapies, said Burns.
A recent survey by the nonprofit Mental Health America found that 56 percent of the 40 million Americans suffering from mental health issues do not seek treatment primarily because of insufficient insurance and high costs. Don’t let cost or insurance challenges keep you from getting needed mental health treatment. Call a local social service agency to see what options might be available. If you are near a university with psychology or social work students, they often provide counseling for little or no cost, and they are required to be under professional supervision, so that could be a good place to start.
Miller, Marissa, “How to Find the Right Therapist,” The New York Times, July 21, 2017
“How to Get Mental Health Help,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Aug., 31, 2017