About a month ago, one of the sites I have been published on sent a mass email to clinicians who write asking for short submissions focused on “Finding the Right Clinician.” Most of the article that follows is from that submission, although they did not select it. But I’m adding this introduction to discuss an experience that both added too and supports my suggestions.
On Monday, March 23, 2009, I spoke to a psychology class at a local high school. It was actually four classes, all with the same teacher. Basically, I spent the day there, talking a little about what I do, and then answering their questions. The teacher discussed how much she likes therapy, and how it has helped her over the years. A few of the students shared their experiences with therapy which seemed negative, and others discussed their fears regarding pursuing a career in psychology. One of the points the instructor wanted made was the stigma attached to therapy, and how it truly is an unnecessary negative perception. She also made it clear she had begun therapy with someone who was not a good fit, and made a change until she found a therapist who fit her. This supports one of the most important suggestions I made in the original article. She was a true advocate of therapy, and rightfully so.
Therapy is for personal growth. It doesn’t mean you are weak, or can’t handle life, or anything of the sort. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can benefit from therapy. I truly love therapy. I love being a clinician providing therapy. I love when I am in therapy, and am able to learn about me. I love talking about therapy with other clinicians. I love teaching psychology, and hopefully affected those that will enter the field in a positive manner. And, although this probably should have been last, I think any therapist worth their salt will feel similarly about their profession.
Choosing the right clinician for your needs is a complicated matter. There are some simple steps to begin heading in the right direction. It is important to understand your needs and what you are looking for. There are several different types of clinicians in the helping profession.
I want to start by explaining some of the differences in the types of clinicians in the helping profession. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in psychiatric treatment, and can prescribe medication. In today’s day and age, psychiatrists generally only prescribe medication and monitor its effectiveness. Often other therapists, if they determine medication is necessary or would be beneficial, will refer the client to a psychiatrist they work with.
Psychologists either receive a Ph.D. or a PsyD. Ph.D. programs are usually research based. PsyD. Programs are clinically based. Again, both psychologists have a doctoral degree. If you are in need of testing, in most states a psychologist is the person who is qualified to provide it. Testing can be psychological, personality, intelligence, and other testing. Many psychologists also provide therapy, and in fact this is their main focus.
In many states there are three licenses for clinicians with a master’s degree, but not a doctorate degree. One is a licensed mental health therapist. LMHCs provide many different types of therapy and have varied training. Licensed marriage and family therapists are another type of therapists. Although LMFTs are more clinically trained in theories more applicable to couples and families, they are still qualified to do most other types of therapy. The third type of therapist is a licensed clinical social worker. LCSWs training are often social in nature, but again, like other licensed therapists, they are qualified to do many types of therapy. There are several other specialties in therapy, which are of important consideration. In many states, addiction therapists as well as sex therapists are certified separately by the state. Hypno-therapists are also usually certified by the state, or a qualified school.
The next step is determining who can best meet your therapeutic needs. Therapists have different world views they use to guide the way in which they practice therapy. For example, psychodynamic therapists focus on your childhood, and discussing how your history is affecting your present. Psychodynamic therapy is usually of long duration, lasting years. One of the common shorter term therapies is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This focuses on recognizing fallacies in your thinking, and learning to use both challenges to your thinking as well as behavioral interventions to change the problem behavior. There are many types of therapists, even within the above categories. There are existential therapists, client centered therapists, family system therapists, those who engage in brief therapy, and many more.
My suggestion for finding a therapist suited to you is to first decide what you are looking for and how long you are willing to be in therapy. When you are looking for a quick solution any brief therapist can be of great assistance. If you want to understand yourself and why you behave the way you do, longer term therapy may be the best choice.
Another consideration in choosing a therapist is finding one you are comfortable with. Many people simply go with their insurance company’s referral. I do not believe this is the best tactic, although at times financial necessity dictates this avenue. Often friends or colleagues can provide a referral if they know of someone who is a therapist. There are websites that provide licensed therapists in your area. But as discouraging as this may sound, I suggest you get a referral and call the clinician. Often you can gather some information that might be helpful in making your decision before meeting them. Maybe they have a website you can peruse to learn more about them. If this is not practical, or if the phone conversation goes well or you like what you read on their site, you can have a session or two with the therapist and if he or she is not for you, seek another. Even if after more than several sessions you begin to feel you are not clicking with your clinician, discuss the issue with them, and if there is still no connection seek another therapist.
The therapeutic relationship is very important to progress in therapy. If you don’t trust, respect, relate to, and feel understood by your therapist, it will be difficult to commit to the process. A therapeutic relationship can be one of the greatest helping relationships in your life. But in order for this to happen, you have to find the therapist that is right for you.