A Handy Guide To Choosing A Shrink

Family and Kids, Goals and Dreams, Relationship Design


When I look at the world I’m pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic. ~Carl Rogers

As you may or may not know, my paying gig is as a marriage and family therapist. I’ve had a private practice in the town where I live for 12 years now specializing in working with married couples.
I’m a big advocate for the counseling profession and believe everyone can benefit from counseling at some point in their life.
Mainly due to the fact that each one of us was born into a family and every family is dysfunctional. While the degrees of dysfunction will be as varied as the families in the world, every one of them passes on their dysfunction.
That being said, there are some things you should be aware of and ask before you begin the journey into the therapy world.
The first step is to make the decision to seek professional help.
There are many different types of professionals to choose from and it’s important to know a bit about each of the choices.
From pastoral to professional

Most ministers/pastors/clergy offer some type of counseling service. While many of these services can be beneficial, if the person providing the service is not licensed, be clear on what you are expecting to receive from their counsel. They can not offer professional services without proper training.

Licensed Psychologists. With this license you will find a professional qualified to work with most any diagnosable disorder and life issue. Many times psychologists are the ones working with those that suffer from major disorders, manic depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, and the like.

Licensed Professional Counselors. Qualified to work with many types of life issues and disorders, depending on their schooling and specialty training. Most LPCs are trained to work with individuals. Even though many will work with couples and families, their training often will not be specifically geared for more than one client in the counseling room at a time. If you are seeking marriage or family counseling, be sure to ask your LPC how much training and experience they have with this specialty.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. Trained to work with couples and families, MFTs are also able to work with individuals and various life issues and disorders. The main difference will be the manner in which a MFT approaches these issues. MFTs will often focus more on the inter-relational patterns of their clients while LPCs often focus more on the internal thought and emotional processes of the client.

Licensed Social Workers. Often LSWs are trained to work more specifically with the inequalities among people, often the poor and the sick. LSWs are qualified to work with individuals and families in the same way as LPCs.

Psychiatrists. Specialize in prescribing medication and managing patients while they are on their meds. Psychiatrists go through medical school to obtain their degree, whereas all the others require at least a Masters degree in their specific field.

How do I choose?
The choice of therapist varies depending upon the issues you are seeking to address. While any of the services listed above could assist you adequately, it is important to ask a few questions in order to find the best fit. A few things to ask either over the phone or during the initial session:

What types of clients and issues do you specialize in?
How much experience do you have working with your particular issue?
What is your view of the counseling process?

Locating therapists. These are in rank order.

  1. The best way is to ask friends and family members for personal referrals. I realize this means you must admit you are seeking help, but when you get right down to it, we all need help at some point. Get over the stigma attached to going to counseling and ask for referrals from others.
  2. If you don’t get any good referrals from friends or family members, ask your primary care physician if they know any quality therapists.
  3. Go through your insurance provider. Often times insurance companies can offer you a list of approved providers. Going this route can be a bit of a crapshoot. But with proper screening and questioning, you can find a good fit. Be sure to ask the above questions over the phone with a therapist you are cold calling.
  4. Internet search/yellow pages. There are many clients that find me via the Internet. If you choose this route, seek the ones with a website full of good information about themselves and their services. It will save you some time up front.

After your initial screening of therapists over the phone, schedule your first session. Treat the first session as an interview of the therapist as well as the therapist getting to know you. One of the things I would encourage you to ask at some point is:

What is your therapist’s view of the human?
How do they view relationships and families in general?

Their answers will help you discover how in line they are with your philosophy of life.
Throughout the entire therapeutic process, keep in mind that you are largely responsible for the outcome. If you are unhappy with the service provided, bring it up with the therapist. If they are unable or unwilling to address your concerns, find another therapist. Take charge of yourself during this process, it will speed the entire process up tremendously.
Sadly, there are many therapists that should be “on the couch” rather than “in the chair.” Most often this is seen when the therapist shares too much about themselves and the focus of the sessions are more on them than you. If this happens to you, bring it to the attention of your therapist and then seek another therapist if necessary.
The final issue most people face in the therapy world is the cost. Fees range from free to several hundred dollars per hour. Obviously training and experience will raise the cost, but this is often worth the extra expense due to the quality of service provided.
Look at it this way, you are investing in your own life. How much is that worth? Your marriage? Your children? One of the best things you can do for yourself and those you care about is better handle your own crap.
If you would like more assistance with this process, feel free to drop me an email. I will be happy to discuss this in more detail if you are interested.

(photo source)