“A friend of mine told me that he was tired of hearing me complain all the time about the same problems over and over and that I should see a therapist. I’ve never gone to a therapist: what exactly do you do?”
I recommended that he consider therapists as personal trainers for the mind. For example, when you work out at the gym, hit a plateau and can’t progress any further, if you’re smart, you stop doing the same old unproductive routine and get a trainer to help you move to the next level.
A therapist does similar work for your mental state: when you’re “stuck” and can’t progress mentally, you need some expert help. Friends, relatives and lovers can be helpful, but they have neither the training nor the objectivity and confidentiality that a good therapist does.
Therapists (psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists) are regulated and licensed by the rules and regulations of your state. They usually have rigid continuing education requirements and can lose their licenses if they misbehave (e.g., have sex with a client, violate your rights to confidentiality. etc.). If you have a problem that is not going away, for example, your self-esteem continues to be low after years of trying to feel better about yourself, or you can’t get over your ex, or you feel depressed or panicky and often anxious, a therapist may be helpful.
There are different types of therapists. Your State may have a different title for them than the State next door. Keeping that in mind, here is some general information:
A psychotherapist is specifically trained to do psychotherapy, that is, talk therapy for your psychological issues. They do not issue prescriptions for any medications and rarely do psychological testing. Psychologists are usually to do talk therapy (like psychotherapists), but may do psychological testing as well. These folks often have the initials Ph.D. after their names.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in mental health. Their primary focus is usually in doing psychological evaluations and dispensing medications (antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, etc.).
You can go to any of these for “therapy”, but note that each has their own specialty. Psychiatrists are usually the most expensive, psychologists and psychotherapists usually charge less.
How do you find a therapist that you like and is able to help you with your problem(s)? Well…how did you find your doctor, dentist or chiropractor? Most of us ask our friends, family and co-workers for recommendations. Once you have some potential therapist candidates, I recommend that you come up with a list of questions to ask them before you call them up.
Some therapists will speak with you on the telephone before your first appointment, others will not. If this is your first time in therapy, I recommend talking with a therapist on the phone before you make an appointment; here are some questions to consider asking them:
“I am looking for help with ——————–“. Do you have experience with this?” “If not, can you recommend someone who specializes in this area?”
“How would you help me?”
“How often would you want me to come in?”
“How long would our sessions last?”
“How many times do you think I’d need to see you?”
“How much do you charge for your sessions?”
“Do you have evening/weekend/early morning appointments?”
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. Interview several therapists over the phone before you choose one to see in person. Remember, this is how they make their living, so keep your telephone interviews as focused as possible…ask your questions but don’t waste their time.
Once you have done your telephone interviews, pick one or two therapists and schedule an appointment. Tell them during your appointment that you are looking for a therapist and may see another therapist (or two) in order to find a therapist that you really click with.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t click with the first (or second) therapist you meet. You may need to meet with two or three to find the right one. It’s your time and money, so make sure you feel comfortable with who you choose. Then, get ready to face your problems and change your life!