Usually people choose therapy because they want help in dealing with painful aspects of their lives. A therapist is someone who explores with you ways to deal with those things that are important to you. A therapist is someone who acts as a catalyst to your personal growth. They can guide you in the ways of change and growth that you wish to explore. In many ways they can act as a teacher for how to deal with your emotions. Nobody can "fix you" or run your life for you. Be wary of someone who portrays that they have a magic wand that will fix everything quickly and fairly painlessly.
To start: Ask people that you trust to give you names of therapists they think are good therapists. Some people you might ask would be: friends, clergy, your doctor, a special teacher, etc. Consider interviewing several therapists. This is something important for your life! Most people do not choose the first car or house that they look at to buy. You are the client, you have the right to choose. Even if you go to a community mental health agency, you have the right to request to interview several therapists.
Before the interview, ask yourself: What personal qualities do I want in a therapist?
Some questions you may ask yourself to look for are:
- Is he/she a gentle/tough/caring/intellectual/warm/cold/serious person?
- Is he/she intelligent?
- Does he/she use therapeutic touch such as giving hugs or shaking hands?
- Does he/she say things clearly?
- Does he/she treat you like a human being worthy of respect or like a case to add to his/her load?
- Is he/she a good listener?
You are the expert on yourself. Ask yourself what personal qualities of a therapist are important to you. What qualities are less important? What qualities can you not tolerate? (This is not an exhaustive list of what qualities you may look for in a therapist, but a place to help you start thinking from to make your own list of what would be important for you to look for.)
During the interview some questions you may want to ask are:
- What are your fees? Is there a sliding scale? Do you accept insurance?
- What is your education?
- What kind of therapy do you practice? (Freudian, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt, etc.). You may want to research that type of therapy if you are not familiar with it. Do you think you can work with that kind of therapy model?
- How much and what kind of experience do you have?
- Have you ever dealt with my kind of problem? (child of alcoholic, depression, abused as a child, etc.). How do you feel about this kind of problem? Are you comfortable dealing with it?
- How will you deal with things that are important to me? e.g. What will you do if I am suicidal? How will you deal with my religious beliefs? How will you deal with my views for/against medication?
- How long will you be practicing therapy in my area? If you leave, are you willing to refer me to someone else?
- Can you be reached in a crisis or emergency?
- What is your philosophy about life?
After the interview, ask yourself:
- How do I feel about this person?
- Am I compatible with this person?
- Do I like this person? Is he/she someone I would like to be my friend?
- Does this person seem to be accepting of me?
- Do I feel a little bit better about myself after talking to this person?
- Is this someone who listens to me and respects what I am saying?
- Does this person have the personal qualities of a therapist that are important to me?
- Is this person direct, open, and honest?
- Does this person say things clearly?
- Will we be able to communicate effectively?
- How do I like this person's office? the physical surroundings? Is this a place where I can feel safe and comfortable to take the risks that I need to take?
- Is this person someone who will work with me as I find my way or will he/she try to make me follow his/her own preconceived plan of action for my life?
- Are our values/interests similar?
- Do I feel like this person is a wise, sensitive, and mature person that I can share an important part of my life with?
- Do I feel good about this person?
Trust your own judgment and intuition. You are the expert on you! You are worthy of choosing a good therapist for yourself, the person that is best for you. It does not matter what level of education the person has: psychiatrist vs. psychologist, social worker, etc., as long as his/her experience and training is good and he/she is able to fill the needs that are important to you.
Remember: You have the right to choose a therapist that is appropriate for you, and you deserve it. Good luck!