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How To Choose a Therapist

Getting psychotherapy is not cheap, so take the time to find someone who will do more than ask, "And how did that make you feel?"


  • Step 1: If the initial phone conversation goes well, make an appointment. During your first session, think about your comfort level with this therapist. Are they someone you can confide in? Do they do enough, too much, or not enough talking?
  • Step 2: Call the therapists on your list and ask about their fees. Most therapists offer free phone consultations, in which you briefly explain what's bothering you and they explain how they might treat you.
  • TIP: If you don't start to feel at ease with a therapist during the first two or three sessions, move on. You don't want to get bogged down with a therapist you don't fully trust.
  • Step 3: Give the treatment at least a month before you start to expect results. A lifetime of hang-ups can't be fixed overnight.
  • FACT: According to one study, one in every 10 people has a diagnosable mental illness, but only 20 percent of them seek professional help.
  • Step 4: Before calling a therapist, check with the state licensing board to verify their credentials and to see if they've ever had complaints filed against them.
  • TIP: Ask friends, family members, and your primary-care physician for recommendations.
  • Step 5: Think about what kind of therapist you want. Most therapists specialize in a specific mental-health issue, and offer initial telephone consultations free of charge. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and as such are the only therapists who can also prescribe medicine.
  • Step 6: Mental-health professionals also specialize in specific therapy methods, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and life coaching. Read the American Psychological Association's web site devoted to the topic,, and determine which method you'd like to try.
  • TIP: Short-term therapy (six weeks to a few months) is often action-based – encouraging the patient to overcome a phobia or addiction – while long-term therapy is for those who want to figure out why they feel and act as they do.
  • Step 7: Once you have an idea of the type of therapist you're looking for, make a list of ones in your area who offer the services you need and accept your insurance.
  • Step 8: Ask yourself why you want to see a therapist. Is your problem general (anxiety or depression for no particular reason) or specific (you need help getting over a divorce)? Are you hoping to be prescribed medicine for what's bothering you?

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