In our stressful world, people are utilizing mental health therapists more than ever.
But how do you weed through the hundreds of treatment professionals out there to find the Great Therapists? With the explosion of online-based therapy, the options have grown exponentially. Add to this the fact that there is a dizzying array of professionals offering therapy, including counselors, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.
As a PhD clinical psychologist and seasoned Tucson based therapist, I hear this common complaint from many potential new clients: “I have not been able to find an effective therapist.”
You can easily burn through $1,000 going through the intake process with a series of “bad fits.” And because the best therapists in any community are extremely overwhelmed and often have waiting lists, it often takes a very long time to find a truly helpful therapist.
Clients who come to see me often say they began looking for a therapist about 8-10 months before they approached me.
Narrowing down Your Therapist Search
Unfortunately, most people do not even know the criteria they should use to narrow down their list of potential therapists. After providing evidence-based therapy and counseling to over 1,000 children and adults during the last 15 years, I have identified some key elements to look for to maximize the return on your health care dollars.
I have based my list of counseling criteria below on 1) my daily in-the-trenches therapy work; 2) my published research on what makes therapy effective, and 3) my work as an expert witness when I have been repeatedly asked to review the work of therapists of all training levels (LPC, LCSW, PhD, MD).
I can honestly say that great therapy is rare. Most therapists vastly overestimate who and what they can actually treat.
How to Find a Really Great Therapist
1) Carefully interview the potential therapist. Check out this viral blog I wrote “12 Questions to ask a counselor, therapist, or mentor you are considering”. One of the questions is to ask how a therapist decides what techniques or treatment to use.
2) Look for a therapist who has a track record of rigorous, methodical assessment. Great therapy is based on great assessment. Period. One of the most common flaws of therapists is they do not conduct thorough assessment. Rather, they overvalue their own charisma and personal skills, thinking if they care enough they can help you.
A therapist’s level of caring is not a predictor of who will get better. Support and caring is not enough! A therapist who will be able to help you has the skills to nail down the key factors up front.
As a Tucson based therapist and personality expert, I know that a comprehensive psychological profile must be carefully identified before treatment begins. For example, I always start with assessing not only symptoms, but also general personality dynamics. Look for a therapist who richly integrates both interview data AND psychological measures. An important question to ask a potential therapist is “How do you assess my personality beyond interviewing me?”
3) Look for a therapist who integrates information from a wide variety of reporting sources. People often behave very differently depending on who they are with. They can have conflicting behavioral patterns—and even different personalities! You need to find a therapist who accounts for your diversity of behavioral patterns.
Therapists don’t have a crystal ball to see your different sides, so one way to tell how thoroughly the therapist will assess you is to ask them who they will collect information from. The best therapists know everyone lives in a bubble, and to break through your bubble they need to integrate multiple perspectives. That’s why I obtain in-depth information from those who know the client best. This can include a spouse, roommate, parent, long-term friend, teacher, past therapist, tutor, trainer, or coach. The more sources of information, the more well rounded our understanding becomes. In addition, using collateral sources of information can save a huge amount of time and money.
4) Look for a therapist who is measurement based. At the beginning of every meeting, I have my therapy clients fill out a form to assess key metrics, allowing us to carefully monitor progress. You want to find a therapist who will quickly develop key metrics they will continually measure over time. What is being measured can change as some symptoms get better, requiring focus on different symptoms. There should be a vigilant focus on monitoring progress every meeting. Too much of therapy is conducted too casually, leading to wasted health care dollars.
The bottom line is that the field of behavioral health is full of people who will tell you they can help you, but only a very small fraction of them will be able to provide great therapy. Buyer beware!