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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Smeller

Finding the right therapist

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

You have the right to ask lots of questions before hiring a new therapist. Here are some ideas for things to ask.

Ask for information about the therapist

Is the mental health professional a psychologist, psychiatrist, family therapist or counselor? You need to know because there are advantages and limitations for each credential. You can find a great introduction on these differences at What is the name of their therapy? Many therapists use an eclectic approach. If that is the answer you are given, pry a little more and find out why they chose this path. How did they learn their form of therapy? Do they have specialized training? If so, are the certified? This information will often be listed on their website.

How does their therapy work?

What percentage of clients improve? What percentage get worse? Are there any risks associated with the form(s) of therapy they use? How long does it normally take? This can be tricky because everyone is different; which is why most therapists utilize an eclectic approach tailored to each individual. Your therapist cannot be held solely responsible for meeting timeframes because there are many factors that can contribute. However, your therapist should be able to provide a guide during review of your treatment plan. Will you be required to do homework? If so, what kind? If you are unwilling to do homework, you are severely limiting progress. However, homework doesn't have to be reading, journaling or traditional school type homework. You may be able to negotiate this point and choose homework that has you practice certain new skills rather than something that is time-consuming. Either way, remember, you get out what you put in.

Where is the therapist located and can they do Telehealth?

Most therapists have at least one office and many have multiple offices. In addition, COVID-19 has pushed many reluctant therapists to move their practice online. There are rules for how to do this properly because there are legal implications. You can look for a Certified TeleMentalHealth professional. This is usually someone who has received training and passed an exam. TeleMentalHealth opens doors that were otherwise closed due to location. However, your therapist will likely only be able to practice within your state. If you choose this option, make sure that your therapist is using HIPAA compliant video conferencing solution like

How does the therapist handle appointments?

How are appointments arranged? How often will you meet? How long are the sessions? Some therapists have longer sessions when working with couples and families or when performing complex trauma treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). How much time prior to the appointment do you have to cancel? What happens if you cancel the day of? This is where many relationships faulted because we all have emergencies. However, an emergency can be subjective. It is important to understand that your therapist has blocked this time specifically for you. Without notice, the therapist has no way to fill in the time slot. Many therapists waive the first last minute cancellation but charge afterward. When the therapist does charge, it is reasonable to expect that they will do something to your benefit, such as review and update your treatment plan or identify resources that could be of use during your treatment.

Does the therapist take insurance?

You may think that because you have insurance, you should use it. However, there are some important details to consider. When an insurance company pays for all or a portion of your sessions, your therapist is required to provide a diagnosis. For many therapists, especially marriage and family therapists, this may be counter to their ideology. What if you seeking therapy for personal growth? Does the therapist invent a diagnosis? Is that ethical? How could that impact you, the client. Also, your therapist will likely be required to provide the insurance company with your psychotherapy notes; something that is stated in the HIPAA policy but is usually glossed over by the reader. And finally, your insurance company may dictate what treatments are available to you despite your therapist's recommendations. If the therapist doesn't take insurance, ask about sliding scale based on income. Many therapists do on an individual basis but do not necessarily advertise.


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