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Choosing a therapist will most likely be one of the most important decision that I make in moving my life in a more permanently positive direction. This time I did not make the choice lightly. In this series of posts I will fully describe the process that I used to find my therapist, and explain why I think it might work for you too.
Read Part 1 of this series, which outlines the different treatment options for PTSD and general research resources to assist in finding a good therapist or counselor.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Mental Health Provider
In the past I had chosen therapists in a very inefficient manner so I am not surprised now looking back that my therapy was somewhat ineffective. After some research and careful reflection I came up with some ideas on what you might want to think about before deciding on a mental health provider.
Factors to Consider First
Here are the factors that I think you would want to consider when choosing a therapist. Some of these may not matter to you at all personally, and others may feel of the utmost importance.
- Gut Instinct – I cannot stress this enough, which is why I am listing it first. Always make a note of anything that your gut is telling you. How often has it lead you astray? That’s what I thought. Learn to trust it.
- General Philosophy – What is the therapists general thoughts about the human condition and therapy? What is their world view?
- Ethics – Do they seem ethical? Do they adhere to a code of ethics?
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Code of Ethics
- American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics
- American Massage therapy Association (AMTA) Code of Ethics
- American Music Therapy Association Code of Ethics
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Code of Ethics
- American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Ethics
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics
- Related Experience and Training – Do they have experience treating others with similar circumstances as yours with success? What specialized training have they undergone or projects have they worked on?
- Approach – What is their approach to treating your specific mental health concerns? What types of therapy do they normally recommend and use? Can they clearly articulate their process and how it will help you?
- Personality – What type of personality would be ideal for you to work with? Is the therapist structured or un-unstructured/organized or disorganized? Are they warm and caring, or cold and calculated? Neither is wrong, it depends on your personal preferences. Do they become defensive when asked questions about themselves, challenged or errors are pointed out? Note if the therapist is personable, seems intelligent and ethical, is supportive and has realistic viewpoints.
- Views on Medication – Are the therapists views on medication in line with yours? Do they heavily advocate the use of medication or do they not address it at all? How do they feel about the use of medication in relation to PTSD? Do they treat medication as a “fix-it-all” cure? (Medication is not a cure, only one of many tools.)
- Views on Alternative Treatments – How does the therapist feel about alternative treatments? Even if they do not have experience with alternative treatments, are they supportive of your use of them? Is this an option you want to look into?
- Religion – Are you looking for a therapist that supports your religious beliefs? Or are you looking for someone who does not focus on religion at all?
- Education and Credentials – Where did they go to school and what type of degree do they have (graduate, post-graduate, in training, etc.)? Have the completed any specialized training or done any research projects? Have they been published?
- Reviews – Look online for reviews and testimonials about the therapist once you have narrowed down your list to weed out any potential “problem providers.”
What would you add to the list?
Factors to Consider Last
- Title – I wouldn’t worry too much about what the title of your provider is, such as therapist, counselor, psychologist etc. What you are looking for is a specific person who meets your criteria, not necessarily someone with a certain type of education.
- Money – Questions such as how much the fee is for each session, how often you will schedule visits, and length of treatment should really come last. How much is your mental health worth to you?
- Insurance – Also related to finance, many people stay strictly within the realms of their insurance. I don’t have insurance so I did not have this blinder. Again, you are looking for the right person, not someone that just happens to be covered by your insurance, however with all luck the person you find will be.
- Location – Having a bit of a drive to see the right service provider seems like a small sacrifice. However, transportation can be expensive and I know that finances are an issue for many suffering with PTSD. If your ideal therapist ends up being a bit of a drive, consider:
- Alternative transportation such as: long bike ride, the bus system, train/trolley system, ride sharing, ask a friend or family member, volunteer nearby (may have a rideshare), etc.
- Consider seeing the provider on a less frequent schedule. A good structured therapist can create the same type of progress this way with homework assignments.
Personalized Factors List
Create a personalized list of factors to consider for the next part of the process based on your notes from above:
- First read over the factors to consider and note which feel important to you and which don’t.
- What additional factors do you feel are important to add to the list?
- Next assign a number from 1-10 to each factor based on how important it is to you.
- Re-order your list based on rating. Voila! A personalized hierarchy of what you are looking for in a therapist.
In the next posts in this series I share my refined step-by-step process for finding a therapist including how to “interview” potential service providers. I will share what I learned about PTSD therapy options during my own process and include a helpful questionnaire with follow up questions that you can print out to bring along to your interviews.