Choosing a Therapist
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Decided to take the plunge and seek help from a counselor? Congratulations! This could well be the start of a new, more effective, and successful phase of your life. Seeking help for personal problems is never easy, but making significant life changes is permanently rewarding. So, having made the decision to undergo counseling, just how do you tackle the job of finding the right therapist?
One of the governing factors affecting what type of therapist will be right for you is dependent on the condition for which you are seeking help. People suffering from major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression and anxiety will initially, and perhaps even long-term, require the services of a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are medical doctors with a medical degree together with several years of specialist study in psychiatry. As doctors, they are qualified to prescribe medication and hence are usually at the frontline in the treatment of the above conditions.
Psychologists on the other hand do not hold medical degrees and therefore are not able to prescribe medication. Where psychiatrists are primarily concerned with medication regimes, psychologists work more to provide a framework for recovery based on changing thoughts, behaviors, and the client environment: factors which both precipitate and prolong many psychological disorders. Often psychiatrists work in conjunction with psychologists. In many cases, psychologists are the therapist of choice for less severe conditions.
Regardless of whether you are consulting a psychiatrist or a psychologist, it is important that a good therapist-client rapport be established. The relationship between therapist and client is an all important one. Where there is a good match, progress is both steady and rewarding. For the relationship to work there has to be a degree of trust on the part of the client, for he or she must feel comfortable enough with the therapist to discuss painful and sometimes embarrassing aspects of their emotional life.
The general rule of thumb is to see a therapist at least twice. Not everyone gets off to a flying start in any relationship and leaving prematurely may backfire on you, the client. If after two sessions you feel uncomfortable with the therapist, seek another one. Even if your best friend has recommended this person to you, what one person requires from a therapist is different to the next. When it comes to therapy, follow with your instincts. If you are picking up undesirable vibes from a therapist, even if it is something you just can’t quite put your finger on, trust yourself and move on. No positive work can come from a therapist-client relationship that is not built on trust and mutual respect.
In cases involving sexual abuse, female therapists are usually preferable to male counselors if only from the client’s point of view, rather than the expertise of the male therapist themselves. Of course, there will always be cases of unhelpful and even harmful female therapists.
Going into therapy is a big commitment involving time, money, and personal
energy. Be prepared to shop around for what suits you. You wouldn’t
buy the first car you test drove, so don’t short sell yourself
when shopping around for a good therapist. Ask your primary care physician,
your friends, neighbors. and family by all means. Ask the therapist
what their qualifications are and determine whether they are a good
match for your needs. But regardless of pieces of paper in frames on
the wall, the final decision comes down to you and your feelings.