This year, you’ve resolved to get help: to learn tools for managing panic attacks, to explore the issues underlying your relationship fiascos, or to decrease your drinking. You’re ready to seek therapy. But now what?
Choosing a therapist isn’t like choosing a new dentist or dry-cleaners. Your therapist is someone you’ll entrust with your personal experiences and vulnerabilities. You’ll share private information with your therapist and partner up with him or her to identify the triggers and maintaining factors for your problem behaviour.
It’s in your interest to find a therapist you’re comfortable with, and who meets your needs. Here are a few guidelines to help you make a good choice.
Consider therapeutic approach. Your therapist’s approach must be consistent with your therapy goals. If your objective is to decrease your compulsive shopping habit, or manage your panic attacks, it may be a case for cognitive-behavioural therapy. If your inability to experience or express emotion is wrecking your relationships, it may be a case for emotion-focused therapy. If you have no specific pressing issue but your intense stress level prevents you from feeling present, it may be a case for a mindfulness approach. Don’t be shy to ask your potential therapist which approach(es) he or she uses.
Consider credentials. In Quebec as of 2007, the title of psychologist requires a PhD in psychology. Psychologists licensed in 2006 or earlier have a masters degree in psychology; certain guidance counsellors, sexologists, social workers, nurses, psychoeducators, and occupational therapists may be accredited as psychotherapists. A PhD means six years of psych coursework, research, and internships; a masters degree means two or three years. Licensing as a psychotherapist requires a master’s degree in a different mental health field and training in psychotherapy. Don’t be shy to ask your potential therapist about his or her background. (Click here for a review of the differences between psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychotherapist.)
Consider experience. A therapist who recently completed his or her training may be proficient in the latest tools, techniques, and evidenced-based practices. However, an older therapist may have the wisdom of decades of experience (and may also be proficient in evidence-based practices). When choosing a therapist, consider whether or not this factor is important to you.
Consider fees. Psychologists in Quebec charge anywhere from $60 per session to $200 per session, with an average of about $100. Many insurers will cover the costs of psychotherapy with a psychologist (but not other types of therapists), and many therapists have a sliding fee scale. When researching potential therapists, consider your budget.
Consider location and availability. Psychologist A charges $100 per hour but her office is a 45-minute drive away and she only sees clients between noon and 5pm. Psychologist B charges $130 per hour, but his clinic is in the building next to your office and he can see you at lunch or after work. When researching potential therapists, consider location and availability.
Consider age, gender, and culture. If you’re an older person, you might believe that a young therapist wouldn’t understand your perspective. Alternatively, you might prefer a young therapist who could offer you a fresh perspective. If you’re younger, you might prefer a therapist close to your age; alternatively, you may be seeking a maternal or paternal figure. Similarly, you may prefer a therapist of your gender or of the opposite gender, of your culture or of a different culture. When researching potential therapists, consider your age, gender, and culture preferences.
Finally, consider the possibility that age, gender, culture, experience, and credentials might not matter as much as you think. The most important indicator of client-therapist fit is your global feeling of comfort or discomfort. Even if you find a therapist who meets all of your criteria based on the factors listed above, if you feel like your therapist doesn’t get you, if you feel uneasy in her office or unable to open up, it could be a poor fit. Similarly, even if your therapist is the wrong gender and younger than you expected, if there’s a nice ‘click’ between you and a feeling that working together could be constructive and gratifying, it could be a great fit.