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3 Steps to Finding a Good Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Therapist

therapyby Steven E. Fox, Ph.D.

Q. What’s the best way to find a psychiatrist?

A. Finding a psychiatrist or psychologist is one part of the equation; finding the right mental-health therapist for you is the equally important second part. Here, I’ll walk you through both sides of the quest.

STEP 1: Ask for Referrals

Looking up “therapist” on the Internet or in the phone book may not lead to the best results. I recommend using one of two approaches: personal or informational.

  • Personal: As therapists, we may underestimate the stigma that can remain about asking around for a good mental-health professional—but this is often a very effective means. Your trusted friend, health-care professional or clergy member may know someone whom they can ensure will be respectful, competent and trustworthy. And your confidant will not judge you for asking.

Irrespective of approach, make sure you get several names, and crosscheck them with people you know, if you're comfortable doing so.

STEP 2: Call the Therapists
People will sometimes wait a long time before making the call, and when they do they’re often met with an answering machine or service. Then, after a frustrating game of phone tag, they may be informed that the therapist has no openings or is only able to meet Sunday morning at 6 a.m. So it’s important to have several names, and it’s the therapists’ responsibility to suggest others if they aren't able to see you. I will routinely offer to go through the provider list on someone’s insurance plan until we’re able to generate a set of workable options. Call, and call soon, because it may take a while to find a therapist.

newsletter-graphicSTEP 3: Visit the Therapist
You need to feel comfortable with the person with whom you’re sharing personal and emotional experiences. The first session should be a collaborative effort, and the therapist should make you feel respected, understood and not judged. He or she should be a good listener and be able to make sense. A term we use to capture these essential characteristics is “accurate empathy.”

During this first session, ask about the therapist’s training, background, experience and specialties. He or she should answer in a professional, non-defensive manner.

After the session, set up a second appointment if you like, but make sure to take some time to reflect on your experience. If it was positive, that’s great, and it often is, but if there were some parts that were uncomfortable make sure to address them in the second consultation. And if you decide your needs weren’t met, don’t feel locked in.

It’s our job to make the passage from distress to relief a smooth and unfettered journey, and offer you a safe haven where you can and will be heard. When you find a good match, look forward to reaping important benefits for yourself and your family.

With over 20 years of experience, clinical psychologist STEVEN E. FOX, PH.D., counsels patients at Northeast Psychological Associates in Albany, N.Y.

Last updated and/or approved: April 2010. Original article appeared in September/October 2007 former print magazine. Bio current as of September 2007. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.


Comments (1)add comment
Calling A Therapist
written by Blog Specialist , August 01, 2011

Picking a good doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist can be hard. There are lots of factors that play into picking a good one that, for obvious reasons, can be difficult. I always suggest people call a psychiatrist and speak with them vaguely before submitting to their services.
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