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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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  • Call a university psychiatry or psychology department and ask recommendations of people trained in that program. "At least that way you know they're under scrutiny," says Turner.
  • If you're moving to a new city, ask your current therapist for referrals, or have him check with colleagues.
  • Call a large clinic; ask the receptionist for recommendations. "They know who specializes in what," Baker tells WebMD. "They can match you up pretty well."
  • Check with friends and family.

If you're embarrassed about asking for help, get over it, advises Weiss. "Get past the stigma. The outcome's too important."

Also, check with professional associations to learn about a therapist's expertise -- whether they provide psychotherapy, if they treat children, etc. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both provide such lists for people wanting to find a therapist.

The First Appointment

Ask questions: How long has the therapist been in practice? How many patients have had your problem? What were the results? Ask about policies, fees, payment. "But don't bargain hunt for mental health care," says Weiss.

"You find a therapist in the same way you choose any health care professional," he tells WebMD. "They must be professional, credentialed, and competent, with no lawsuits against them. And they must be an intuitive fit -- you can't underestimate the absolute value of feeling a good intuitive match with somebody. Also, if you ask them questions about themselves, and they get defensive, go somewhere else."

Another important point: Has your therapist been in therapy? "I'm shocked at the therapists who have never undergone personal psychotherapy," Weiss tells WebMD. "They have to have resolved their own issues, or they will steer you away from things they are not comfortable with. They may also bring their own issues into your therapy."

Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel reasonably OK with this person? "Feeling totally comfortable isn't the best criteria, because if you're too comfortable, you're just chit chatting, and that doesn't help you," says Baker.
  • Is the therapist really listening to me? Is he or she asking enough questions? Especially in the first sessions, the therapist should be asking many questions, to become acquainted with you and the issues you are dealing with.
  • Has the therapist asked what outcome you want from therapy -- how you want your life to be? How will you know when you get there, if neither the patient nor the therapist has established a goal?
  • Do you feel satisfied with the therapist's resources? For example, do you have to find your own therapy group? Or is your therapist checking with colleagues about a group appropriate for you?
  • Does what the therapist say make sense? Does it seem like bad advice? Does it help you or not?

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