Finding a mental health therapist is about as pleasurable as locating a dentist. Should you opt for a counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist or head for a support group? How do you tell a competent mental health therapist from a quack?
Hallmarks of a Suitable Mental Health Therapist
While there are plenty of arguments for and against choosing a particular mental health therapist, two essential ingredients tell you – virtually immediately – if this professional is worth a second session: privacy (when talking to the receptionist, you should not be having to disclose your supposed mental health condition or medications you’re on) and acceptance without judgment. Mind you, while the therapist must make some judgment calls to help you, s/he should not be “sitting in judgment” over you.
Obstacles to Finding a Shrink: Navigating the Letters and Psychobabble
Mental health therapists may be psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors or family therapists. They may have a Psy.D., M.F.C.C., Ph.D. or M.D. on their calling cards; the phone book listings may point out that the mental health professional is licensed, registered or certified. Moreover, there is the preferred direction, which may be a mix of name dropping – therapist A is Jungian as opposed to Freudian therapist B – and specializations, which could include talk therapy, psychoanalysis, behavioral therapy and so forth. Unfortunately, none of these designations have any bearing on actually finding the best mental health therapist for you.
The Best Mental Health Therapist for You Is …
It matters little if you are choosing a psychologist or psychiatrist, Freudian or Jungian, gestalt or cognitive mental health therapist, as long as s/he has earned an advanced degree in a mental health related field, underwent a supervised clinical residency in a mental health setting, and holds a government issued credential. The latter could be a certification or license. Locate a mental health provider with all these in place, and you are ready to make your appointment.
Finding a Therapist You Can Talk To
So you located a mental health therapist and are ready to set up the appointment. If the psychiatrist or psychologist (or whatever other professional you chose) cannot fit you in until next month, this is a bad sign. Be polite and hang up; find someone else who can see you within the next seven days. A mental health professional that cannot fit a new client in quickly may be way too busy to deal with you in case of an emergency.
A ringing cell phone – or worse, one s/he answers while in session with you – or discernable sounds or words coming from adjacent offices are tip-offs that it’s time to move on and find someone else. Having a conversation and pouring out your heart and souls is virtually impossible in this setting.
Last but not least, you know you have found a therapist that is best for you if you do the lions’ share of the talking and s/he verbalizes whether or not s/he can help you. This last item is of pivotal importance, as it clarifies that a) the therapist understands what it is that you need help with and b) the professional commits to teaming up with you in this undertaking.