By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
What To Look For
If you or a loved one is looking for a therapist, look carefully over the checklist below. If you are already in therapy, consider going over the list with your therapist as a way to evaluate your progress. Remember, there is a dangerously wide range of psychotherapists in practice. While many are competent and ethical, many more are injured people who enter the profession for the wrong reasons.
Be sure that 21 of the 22 items are checked. If not, engaging this particular therapist may be costly to your pocketbook and hazardous to your mental health.
Checklist for Choosing a Therapist
- Seems warm and accepting. Has a sense of humor, however willing to challenge you when necessary.
- Is emotionally healthy. Seems to feel at ease with himself/herself. Does not seem anxious, arrogant or depressed.
- Does not suffer from a God complex. Decent, respectful, not condescending. Neither shows off, belittles nor demeans. Check walls for over-abundance or certificates, awards or prizes. Check for excess of jewelry, silver, or gold.
- Is trained in talk therapy, not just in “pill therapy. ” Watch out for someone who offers medication (e.g., Prozac) as the solution to your problems.
- Accepts and encourages the idea that clients are entitled to shop around for a therapist before they commit. Is willing to talk to you on the phone for at least 10 minutes so you can interview him/her thoroughly.
- Accepts the idea that consultation or second opinions may be helpful in the course of therapy.
- Lets you explain your problems, doesn’t tell you what they are prematurely or try to fit you into a standardized box (e.g., co-dependent, you have been molested, etc).
- Is active and engaged. Quit right away if the therapist avoids discussions, does not answer most questions, or pretends to be a “blank wall. ” Successful therapy needs ongoing dialogue and authentic relationships.
- Has more than one clinical orientation and promises to fit his/her approach to your specific problems and not impose his/her pet approach on all patients.
- Is flexible in terms of what is appropriate and helpful. Contrary to common practice, some clients can benefit from a walk in the park or a home visit; and a touch still has more healing power than volumes of words.
- Is not rigid or paranoid about seeing you or engaging with you in the community. Accepts that you may bump into each other during religious services, your children’s school or on the basketball court. Does not hide behind the professional persona.
- Presents you with clear office policies, including limits of confidentiality, clients’ rights, etc. Read the contract carefully before you sign.
- Talks to you on the phone in between sessions if necessary.
- While flexible in many ways, still maintains clear and healthy boundaries. No hugging unless you initiate it, no sexual innuendo, no business offers.
- Seems professional, knowledgeable, and an expert (writer, teacher, supervisor) and above all competent, human and experienced.
- Communicates well with parents when treating children and adolescents. A delicate balance must be reached between respecting adolescents’ privacy and not keeping parents in the dark.
- Does not focus exclusively on your childhood or inner life. Make sure that the effects of real-life pressures, such as long commute, children or harassing boss, are dealt with.
- Shares your basic moral and political values but does not work hard to prove to you how much they are like you (e.g., “I was molested too “). It’s okay to ask about the therapist’s values.
- Is flexible about who can be part of therapy. At times, it is helpful to bring your friend/lover, child, or parent with you to therapy.
- Conducts regular evaluations of progress in therapy, including discussion of treatment plans. Listens to your assessment of what is helpful and what is not during the course of therapy.
- Takes responsibility for not being effective when therapy does not progress over time. When therapy has not yielded any significant results for a long time, neither blames you nor continues to take your money.
- Is willing to go over this list with you without being offended or defensive.