Psychotherapy is a partnership between a person and a psychologist that is designed to help a person overcome his/her difficulties. It offers a supportive environment where feelings and worries can be shared in an honest and confidential way.
Professional psychologists are highly trained in the assessment and treatment of mental health concerns, addressing problematic behavior patterns (e.g., smoking, relationship difficulties, excessive worry), and the use of behavior change strategies.
Professional psychologists follow a strong code of ethical standards and abide by the state’s laws that regulate their profession; however, picking the right psychologist can be tricky. There are people who label themselves as “therapists” who may not have the appropriate training and credentials to best help others.
To help you find the right psychologist and to protect you from potential harm, here are 8 questions you should ask any psychologist you are considering:
1. Are you a licensed psychologist in this state? Is your license active and in good standing?
While certain titles, such as “psychologist” or “psychiatrist” are protected terms that can only be used by a person with that specific advanced degree, anyone, regardless of training or lack thereof, can call themselves a “counselor” or “therapist”. So, it’s important to make sure that the person you are seeing is a licensed mental health provider (e.g. Licensed psychologist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Professional Counselor, etc.) Having an active professional license means not only that the person has an advanced degree and training in providing therapy services, but it also means that their professional activities are regulated by a state Board that ensures adherence to local, state and federal legal and ethical standards.
2. What are your areas of expertise/specialization?
Many therapists are generalists; they see folks struggling with a wide variety of different types of difficulties. Other therapists tend to have a particular area of specialization or expertise. You may want to get more information about this from potential therapists.
3. “I am here because X (e.g. I am feeling stressed, I’m having panic attacks, I lost a person close to me, I think I might be depressed) , and I’m having trouble (at work, at home, in social situations, sleeping). What type of training or clinical experiences have you had in treating the kinds of problems I am having (mood problems, anxiety, sleep difficulties, etc.)?
4. How many years have you been seeing clients?
Asking how many years a therapist has been seeing clients versus how many years they have been “in practice” or “working” can be helpful because of the difference in length of training for the different disciplines. For example, while a psychologist resident may have only officially received their doctorate recently, because of how long the training is for psychologists, they have likely been seeing clients for at least 4-5 years already, which may actually be much more clinical experience than someone with a different degree who finished their official training several years ago.
5. What is your approach to therapy?
There are many different theoretical orientations from which therapists practice. Some focus more on helping the person gain insight through exploring the past. Others focus more on helping individuals make concrete behavior changes in their life now. You can learn more about this by asking a potential therapist what their approach to therapy is.
- What is the evidence for your particular type of therapy with situations similar to mine? How do you know if treatment is working, and what do you do when it doesn’t work?
No one wants to be in endless, ongoing therapy if it’s not helpful. So, it is important to ask a potential therapist from the outset to talk about the evidence (hopefully scientific, empirical evidence, not just anecdotal) there is that the approach they are taking with you is actually effective. This is what is known as evidence-based therapy or science-based therapy (for more about the difference between those terms, see https://portlandpsychotherapytraining.com/2011/06/23/evidence-based-psychotherapy-versus-scientifically-oriented-psychotherapy/)
7. What type of treatments do you use? How effective are they in dealing with situations similar to mine? How do you know if treatment is working, and what do you do when it doesn’t work?
8. How much do you charge? Do you accept my insurance (be sure to clarify if they will be submitting your insurance billing or if you will be required to do that on your own) ? Do you have availability in the (mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekends)? When’s the earliest date that I can see you for our first appointment?
9. Does your work in therapy tend to be more focused on the past or the present? Do you tend to see people for long-term therapy or for shorter-term therapy?