A brief guide by a licensed psychologist on how to find a therapist that is right for you.
I never did like the phrase “therapist shopping.” It makes me think of commodities, which I like to think we therapists are not. However you are seeking a service – psychotherapy – A very special kind of service where you are investing not only your time and money but also your emotions, your thoughts, and perhaps most of all your trust. This does, or should, require a very careful selection process on your part.
Your evaluation of your potential psychologist should begin before the initial contact: What does the website reveal about him/her? Is it sparse and minimal, undisclosing? Or is it full from top-to-bottom-side-to-side with a lot more information than you really need? This is not to say that either of those styles is wrong. You just have to decide if it might be wrong for you. Look at the picture. Does s/he convey a sense of professionalism and warmth? How easy does the therapist make it for you to contact him/her and to get some feedback and more information? And finally, was your email responded to promptly?
Now the phone call: And yes, there absolutely should be a phone call. A lot of this ultimately boils down to the interpersonal chemistry between you and your therapist. You absolutely cannot discern this in cyberspace. Think of all the misunderstood emails you have experienced yourself. You just can’t tell much about someone in emails alone. Was your call returned shortly? Did you find the voice welcoming? Genuine? Was the psychologist willing to spend a few minutes talking with you and answering your questions nondefensively? Does s/he have experience treating your specific problem (anxiety, depression, addiction, relationships, stress, etc.)?
Finally, if you are still unsure, try to narrow it down to two or three psychologists and meet each of them. This step just may not be practical for everyone, or you may just “click” with the first one you meet. Ask yourself what it might feel like to be in psychotherapy with this person. Feel free to continue your evaluation in person without feeling like you have to make a commitment right away. If you feel pressured to do so then I suggest you head for the door.
I am realizing writing this that the process of choosing a psychologist can seem overwhelming. But consider all that you are about to invest in your therapy and well-being. A little careful evaluating on your part can save you a lot of time, trouble, money and pain in the future. And it can bring about a productive, supportive, and even enjoyable relationship that will help you overcome your problems and achieve your goals most effectively, efficiently and comfortably.