John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Finding a therapist

On Finding a Therapist

It takes a bit work to find the right therapist, doesn’t it?

Do you go with a psychologist (PhD), social worker (MSW), or counselor (MS or MA)? Do you search for a therapist who is the same gender as you, or who is about the same age? Can you rely on your insurance company to point you in the right direction, or should you ask around to find out who’s good? Or do you just figure they’re all pretty much the same, so why not hunt for the therapist with the lowest rates?

Well, folks, here’s what the research says.

Age, gender, and academic degree have not been show to be strong predictors of therapist effectiveness. In other words, men can do effective work with women (and vice versa) and young therapists can work effectively with older clients. Moreover, psychologists tend to be just as effective as social workers or practitioners with other degrees.

What does matter is whether your therapist has had experience with your type of problem, and how comfortable you feel when you talk to him (or her). These are the two things you should be looking for.

It’s relatively easy to determine the therapist’s level of experience (you can do this from a website, or a quick telephone conversation). But the only way you can truly figure out how comfortable you feel talking to the therapist is to make an appointment and try him out for a session.

So much of what happens in therapy depends on the therapy relationship itself. Our dentist or physician may work on us, but our psychotherapist can only work with us. We must trust her enough to disclose highly personal and private information, and we must rely upon her support as we confront those aspects of ourselves that we feel least proud of.

Don’t pick your therapist on the basis of gender, age, credential, race, reputation, or price. Pick him (her) on the basis of his experience and how comfortable you feeling sitting across from him in his office.