Finding the right therapist for YOU


I get all sorts of questions about therapists and the counseling process from friends and family. I am thrilled about the decreasing social stigma surrounding therapy, whether for the individual, couple, or family.

Then, I see an article like this - Marriage Counselors: 10 Things They Don't Want You to Know. Now, there is good advice in this article, but it is unfortunately buried in the 2nd or 3rd paragraphs of each topic. The reader is purposefully drawn to the title and topics, which are negative and misleading. I worry that articles like this one are discouraging people from seeking therapy in an age when there are so many well-trained counselors, therapists, psychologists, and coaches offering many opportunities for, and different paths to, true personal growth.

I'm not saying that there are no bad counselors out there. There certainly are, because along with a growing market comes a greater discrepancy in legitimacy. Finding a good therapist can be difficult, but it can also significantly help your relationships and/or you as an individual. I'm going to offer some advice through a series of posts, the first being on the subject of the initial search for a good therapist.

Where do I look? First, I suggest asking people you know who to contact (or who to avoid). There's no better reference than a first hand account from someone you trust. Ask your family, friends, preacher, teachers, or doctors. I got lucky the first time I went to therapy - I asked my doctor if she knew of anyone and she recommended a fabulous therapist who was a near perfect fit for me. But many counseling stories aren't all that rosy. I know people who have had lukewarm to terrible experiences with therapists, but we'll get to more of that in a later post.

If your contacts are coming up dry or if you're simply too embarrassed to ask about counseling from people you know, there are many places you can find therapists online. Here are just a few:

Psychology Today

For low-cost counseling based on income:

You can also look on your insurance company's website for approved therapists, or look through a professional counseling association's site, like the therapist finder at (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) or the psychologist locator at (American Psychological Association).

Once you think you've found someone, look for licensing or certifications. An LMFT, LGMFT, or LCMFT is a licensed (or about to be licensed) couple and family therapist, LCSW means a licensed social worker, and an LPC is a licensed professional counselor. We all know what M.D. or PhD means, but some might not be familiar with the PsyD moniker, which indicates a "doctorate of psychology." Licensed counselors and therapists have usually all attended graduate school and done a considerable amount of hours (usually around 2000) in order to achieve their status. In addition, most states require that licensed therapists obtain a certain amount of continuing education credits each year. This is to, hopefully, ensure that we counselors are up to date on the most recent research and training in our chosen field (a little secret: most of us do a ton of research and reading on our own because we're really interested in our jobs.)

Look to see if your potential therapist is a member of one or more national or international associations, such as the aforementioned AAMFT, APA, IAMFC (International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors), ACA (American Counseling Association), or AMHCA (American Mental Health Counselors Association). These organizations, of which there are many more, each have their own code of ethics their members must abide by in order to remain in good standing. If you believe your therapist is not behaving ethically, you can report to his or her association and/or to the state licensing board.

If you are seeing a life coach, which I highly recommend if you are looking for someone to help you move forward in your future life or career goals, try to find one that is board certified or has training in a human services field, such as counseling. Being a board certified coach means the person has gone through some training, which is especially valuable since anyone can legally wake up one day and say "I'm a life coach." A note about coaching: your coach should not give you therapy. Even when the coach is also a therapist, coaching and counseling should be kept separate. So, if you're working with a coach and find yourself stuck or wanting more emotionally focused work (ie. you want to work on feelings of anger, anxiety, or depression, or issues in your relationship), ask yourself if perhaps therapy is a better, or an additional, option for you.

Again, finding a good therapist is not always easy. I know this seems like a lot to consider. But take this into account: you (or your insurance company) are probably going to spend a lot of money on therapy. Think of it as a worthy investment. You don't buy an expensive television, computer, musical instrument, or appliance without doing a little bit of research, right? So why wouldn't you take the time to find a good therapist? My best advice: don't give up. Even if you go through a few counselors that just aren't right for you or who are just plain terrible, remember that you and your life are worth it.

Next week: What to expect and what to ask when you've found your therapist.