“Only the development of love and compassion for others can bring us
the tranquility and joy we seek."
― Dalai Lama
At conferences, people have asked me, "How do I find a good therapist?" I hope that a little information below will help inform the process.
Research studies suggest that people who use insurance-provided therapists are less satisfied than people who find therapists for themselves. I encourage consumers to think of therapy as an investment in wellness and future happiness. It might take a bit of time to find the right therapist. Below will give some general guidelines:
1. Personal Connection
One of the most important things to consider is how well you connect with your potential therapist. I would argue this is more important than any of the other criteria listed below. Therapy is a place to feel heard, validated, and esteemed. A good therapeutic process feels open, nonjudgmental, and genuine. I believe people should get something more from therapy than just talking, however. A good therapist is trained to provide new insight, skills, or awareness to explore and understand issues in a meaningful way. A good therapist will listen, reflect, and not talk extensively about their own lives. Quality therapy will feel like a supportive, personalized, sometimes challenging but ultimately enriching experience.
2. Licensure, Training, and Experience.
I recommend that consumers work with a licensed professional. Therapists who are licensed are required to pass a written examination and must have completed hundreds of clinical hours to receive licensure so they have a basic level of knowledge. They must also follow the legal and ethical guidelines put forth by the State of Colorado.
Next, consumers need to choose between types of therapists: a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Licensed counselors receive a two-year Master's degree (in counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy). There are a number of MA degrees: LPC, LSW, LCSW, LMFT, etc. I encourage you to make sure a potential counselor has attended a quality University-based program (accredited, not online). It is also important to consider a therapist's years of experience in conjunction with their degree. Some therapists have additional specialized training and experiences that make them unique.
Psychologists obtain a Doctorate degree, need to complete five to six years of advanced training, and well over a thousand hours of administering psychotherapy. Some psychologists also finish a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship after their degree. In sum, psychologists often receive seven or eight years total of training, supervision, and education. These training programs should be accredited by the American Psychological Association and from an established University (not an online degree). Psychologists receive specialized training in a variety of areas and have considerable knowledge about the science behind issues and how to apply different interventions. I received both a Master's and Doctoral degree from different Universities, which helped me develop a well-rounded base of knowledge and experience.
Psychiatrists receive an MD degree and should be licensed and board-certified in their specific area. Although psychiatrists do not receive training in psychotherapy, they receive extensive training in medical disorders, physiology, and pharmacology. Therefore, most psychiatrists oversee medication management exclusively. There are exceptions. Some psychiatrists receive post-education training on how to conduct psychotherapy and typically provide classic psychoanalysis (usually sessions several times per week). Most psychiatrists charge more per session due to their medical training.
I encourage people to also ask about a therapist's orientation. If you have a specific problem, a good therapist has an approach (like a road map) and several different tools to potentially help. One approach does not generally work for everyone. A professional with more tools can provide more options. If a potential therapist discusses only one tool/method that they use, this might suggest some limitations.
Finally, I encourage you to trust yourself! If a therapist seems to feel right, that is generally a good sign. I wish you luck and wellness in your search!