There may well come a time when you begin to think you’d like some professional help and guidance for your anxiety, or issues in life that are crowding in. Choosing a therapist can seem a daunting task. For one thing ‘therapy’ is unregulated. Literally anyone with the inclination can quite legitimately call themselves a therapist. In order to guard against unqualified and potentially dangerous people I’m offering a few guidelines as to how best to select a therapist:
- Are you sure you need a therapist? This is a serious question as the symptoms of anxiety may be due to some physical rather than psychological cause. Only if you’ve ruled out the physical possibilities should you consider moving on to therapy.
- Seriously consider a professional referral. Word of mouth is fine up to a point but your needs may not best be served this way. See your doctor first or go through a professional organization such as the American Psychological Association (APA). A full clinical assessment should then be undertaken after which you may be advised as to the type or types of therapy best suited to your needs.
- Don’t be shy about asking questions. It’s your therapy and there are bound to be things you’re uncertain about. Don’t be fobbed off by statements like ‘we can talk about that when you come to see me.’ A decent therapist will address your concerns either by telephone, email or letter.
- Make sure your therapist is properly credentialed and that they carry professional indemnity insurance. Anyone can set up a website and refer to themselves as an expert. A properly credentialed therapist is both licensed and accountable to a professional body. This tells you the person is trained, and equipped for the task. It provides reassurance that their practice is ethically bound and they are up to date with the latest research. Any difficulties encountered can be reported to the professional body who will take the appropriate action. The ultimate sanction is that a therapist can be removed from the professional register for misconduct. A professional referral or a professional organization such as the APA is the best way forward.
- Consider the costs. Your health insurance may cover the cost of a prescribed number of sessions, but not all policies do. Fees can vary according to location, specialization and demand. On average, expect to pay anything from $100 - $300 an hour, but you may find cheaper (or much more expensive). If you have to cancel a session some therapists will still charge all or part of their fee. Others may require advance notice and charge nothing. Shop around for the available options and costs.
- Consider the practicalities. Before you sign up to anything make sure you have the time to get to the therapist, have your session and get back without time pressures. For example, if you have to cross town at busy times of day, or drive for an hour just to see them, it may be more sensible to find someone nearer. Not all therapists work out of clinics with convenient car parks. Some work from home and whilst this may seem a little disconcerting at first the chances are they have one or more specific rooms set aside from which they run their practice.
- Don’t settle for mediocre. The patient-client relationship is absolutely crucial if therapy is to be effective. You don’t have to settle for a therapist who appears indifferent, dismissive or incompetent. Even if they are none of these things it’s just possible the chemistry isn’t right. Don’t give up on therapy, just try a different therapist.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.