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In choosing a therapist for your children or your family, you’re selecting someone who may have a profound influence on your life, either for better or for worse. You’re also selecting someone to whom you’ll disclose many intimate details. So you should take a little extra time in selecting someone who will be the right fit for you. This information is designed to help you do that.

Choosing a therapist checklist: Guidelines about what to look for

  1. Comfort: You want somebody who is easy to talk to and makes you feel at ease; someone who you feel comfortable spilling your guts to. Therapy involves getting up close and personal with someone, so it should be someone you like.
  1. Affordability: We’d like to pretend that money shouldn’t matter, but as those sessions start to pile up, there’s a big difference between $60 an hour and $150 an hour. Above all else, you should find a therapist you can comfortably afford, or else the monetary expense will become an additional stress that will alter the way you approach therapy. It also does no good to start something you’ll have to end before it’s finished because the cost is too much.
  1. Availability: How close is their office to you? What is their policy on patient calls during off hours? Therapists are most beneficial during our times of greatest stress and need, and these times do not conform to an 8 to 5 Monday through Friday schedule. If you’re drowning in anxiety on Saturday afternoon, you may not even feel like talking about the issue during a session next Wednesday. While understanding that the therapist must have a life too, having someone who makes themselves available in times of need can make a big difference in what you get out of therapy.
  1. Training and experience: Can this person prescribe medication? Do they have specific training in this issue? What is their experience in handling similar situations? In many cases, intuition and raw talent will take a person far (many people have had great success through intern programs at colleges for therapists in training, which are cheap and can work just as well if you get a skilled student) but there is also no substitute for experience. You should also make yourself familiar with the different methods of therapy outlined throughout this section, to ensure you’re getting the proper fit for your needs.

Some other tips for choosing a therapist

  • Beware of any therapist who tells you that it will require extensive therapy over long periods of time to help you or your child. Even when it comes to the most traumatic events, some kids can recover in as little as a few weeks whereas others have a more difficult time of it. No therapist can know for certain how long healing will take – it might be dozens of sessions or as little as one before they determine whether you or your child needs to continue therapy.
  • Look for someone who draws from multiple disciplines. Although most therapists will specialize in a particular method, the best therapists are usually those who keep up with every discipline within their field.
  • You should be aware that therapists are mandatory reporters in many states for different things, which means that they may be required by law to alert authorities should a child tell them something that leads them to suspect abuse by any party. Other state laws may ensure complete confidentiality, unless you specifically state you are about to commit a crime.
  • On the other side, you should also know that patient-therapy confidentiality often extends to children, and that a therapist can only disclose information to you with the child’s permission. So you might want to ask about these issues ahead of time.

Questions to ask a therapist:

  • How long before I can expect to see results, and when will therapy end?
  • How many other cases like this have you handled?
  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Where did you start out?
  • Have you had any special training or personal study in other disciplines?
  • How will your therapy produce results (i.e., how will it better my child’s or my family’s life?)
  • Are there any ways in which this therapy might be harmful, and if so, how do you avoid that?
  • Why do you work with teens?
  • What do you find the most rewarding/challenging?
  • How do you see your role as a mediator between child and parent? (This is trick question: you want a therapist who will respect patient/client confidentiality and won’t disclose your child’s secrets.)

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