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How to Find a Therapist

Whether an adult or child needs therapy, finding the right therapist takes research, patience, and intuition.
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Counselors can help a wide range of problems, including depression, addiction and substance abuse, suicidal impulses, stress management, self-esteem issues, issues of aging, emotional health, and family, parenting, and marital or other relationship problems. They often work closely with other mental health specialists.

Get the Best ADHD Treatment for Your Kid.

Sorting It Out

When you start your search, keep an open mind. A therapist does not need decades of experience -- or a sheepskin from an ivy-league school -- to be helpful, says Turner.

"It used to be that a psychiatrist was considered most qualified because he or she had more education," Turner tells WebMD. "But that's not true anymore. Some psychiatrists got their licenses 25 years ago and haven't kept up. Many psychiatrists who are trained today just handle medications. You can have a primary care doctor do that -- it's not like psychiatrists are indispensable!"

Turner refers patients to professional counselors and social workers when appropriate. They often specialize in counseling couples and families and coordinating group therapy sessions, he says. "Some are good, some aren't. Some are excellent."

"Credentials aren't everything," says Robert Baker, PhD, a psychologist and program director of the behavioral medicine unit at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. "Even people with great credentials aren't necessarily great therapists. They may be smart, but that doesn't mean they have good common sense."

Where to Start?

Collect Names. "Don't start with three names from your managed care company," advises Avrum Geurin Weiss, PhD, author of the book, Experiential Psychotherapy: A Symphony of Selves. He is a child/adolescent psychologist and director the Pine River Psychotherapy Training Institute in Atlanta.

Very likely, you don't have the company's entire list of providers, Weiss tells WebMD. "Insist on getting the whole provider list. Then ask friends and colleagues if they know a psychologist or psychiatrist who could make recommendations from that list."

He gets plenty of calls from people who say, "I have Aetna insurance. I know you're not an Aetna provider, but can you look at my list?"

"They fax it to me, and I make recommendations. I do it all the time," he says.

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