Choosing A Therapist and Common Mistakes

What are the common mistakes people make when choosing a therapist?

One of the most common mistakes is choosing a therapist without researching their credentials. There are many different types of providers, with greatly varying types and amount of education. Another mistake is choosing the first available person. Many providers who have a great reputation are busy, but it may be worth the wait. A common mistake is going to a provider without asking them about their specialties and how many people they treat with your particular diagnosis. Ask them about who they see and how often. Finally, if you are looking for a particular treatment approach, ask that provider if they provide the “manualized” or “formal” version of that treatment. Many treatments are delivered in a structured way, whereas some providers will use a variety of approaches at the same time.

How do I choose the right type of therapist for me?

Choosing the right therapist is a daunting task. Before you contact the therapist, look at their credentials and the types of therapy that they offer. Look to see if the person appears up to date on the latest therapies. Don’t fall for general promises of feeling better. Do some research on the types of treatment that have been shown to work for your symptoms.

Second, after you have verified that they have the educational background and therapy techniques that are a good fit for you, find the therapist that makes you feel comfortable. Finding someone who is a good fit with your personality is the most important part, as you will be sharing very personal parts of your life. Email or call them. Do they sound approachable? Are they professional? Do you feel that this is someone you could talk to?

That being said, you should also educate yourself on the training of different types of therapists that are out there. Often, the more extensive the training of the mental health professional, the more their services will cost. However, the copay for a psychologist and a counselor will usually be the same with insurance.

Psychiatrists (M.D.)- They start out as medical doctors and complete a rotation and additional training in mental health. Psychiatrists prescribe mental health medication and some do therapy, as well.

Psychologists (Ph.Ds)- They have training in psychological assessment, theories and practice of different types of psychotherapy, research and statistics, and assessment (psychological testing). The average length of a Ph.D. program is 6 to 7 years, in addition to 4 years of college in psychology. Clinical psychologists have training in serious mental illness (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc.), diagnosis and treatment. They do not provide medication.

Psychologists (Psy.Ds)- Training is of similar length to a Ph.D., but more focused on practical training in psychology, than on research and statistics, as in the Ph.D. programs. They are trained in therapy and assessment. The average program length is 5-6 years.

Counselor/Therapist (MA, MS)- Master’s level therapists are usually trained in therapy techniques, but may have less training in psychological assessment, theory, and research. Many Master’s students go on for their doctorate or become general therapists. Some may work under someone else’s license.

Social Workers (MSW)- Social work programs range from 2 to 3 years, and include some practical experience in dealing with clients. Like the masters degree, social work students are trained in therapy and social work techniques, with an emphasis toward helping people within the community. Social workers can spend additional time specializing in an area and become licensed.

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