Friday, April 23, 2010

Finding a Good Therapist: Making the First Contact


"Reckless words piece like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Proverbs 12:18

At this point in the process of finding a good therapist, you have obtained the names of several clinicians from reputable sources. Many of them have credentials you haven't seen before, such M.D., D.O., Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D., LCSW, LLP, and MFCC. What do these degrees mean?

Mental health specialists fall into one of four categories:

Psychiatrists (M.D. or D.O.): These individuals are medical doctors who have specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders instead of another specialty, such as cardiology or dermatology. They have medical training and are licensed to prescribe medication. They assess individuals from a biological angle and provide medical treatment.

Psychologists (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D., or LLP): These therapists have intensive training in psychology. They have studied human behavior and personality development. They provide counseling to help individuals improve their overall emotional functioning. They also can conduct psychological testing.

Social Workers: (MSW or LCSW): These counselors have been trained to understand a person's psychological and social functioning. Like psychologists, they provide counseling to help individuals improve their coping skills and solve personal and family problems.

Licensed Professional Counselors (MFCC): These are counselors who have met state licensure laws to provide therapy. They have at least a Master's Degree in a related field and have completed their state-mandated post-Master's clinical experience. Each state varies on which professional counseling licenses are allowed to practice in that given state. Michigan, for example, does not grant such licenses.

At this point, you know that the recommended therapists have the appropriate credentials or licenses to provide treatment, what do you do next?

Now, it is about finding a good fit between you and your chosen counselor. Each therapist will have a slightly different style and manner. It is important that the counselor you meet with makes you feel valued. You want someone who is objective, yet also is warm, trustworthy, and creates a sense of security and safety. The best way to find this fit is to meet each person for one time. You might find in the first session with the first therapist that you already feel comfortable and won't need to meet the other individuals on your list. Or you might find that none of the recommended clinicians are quite what you are looking for. Nonetheless, you are looking for someone you can trust so that you can talk about the issues that matter the most to you.

Making the first contact is quite easy. It is usually done by telephone. Most therapists are listed in the business pages of the local phone book. You may reach the therapist directly, speak to his or her secretary, or be asked to leave a voice mail message. If you leave a message or speak to the support staff, you should only leave your name, basic contact information, and a request for a first appointment. Some offices ask for a one sentence reason for the visit, but providing such information is not necessary. If it feels uncomfortable explaining the reason for your call, error in the direction of privacy. By the end of the first contact you should have an appointment time for your first session.

Sometimes new clients want to know a few things about the therapist before the first appointment. It is acceptable to ask to speak to the therapist by phone before the first appointment. Please be considerate and keep this phone call brief (5 minutes or less). I have been asked about my treatment style, how long I have been practicing, and my experience with a particular issue or problem. Most clinicians will be comfortable answering such questions. More personal questions, such as age and religious beliefs, however, may receive some hesitation and are less likely to be answered. Therapists will vary in their degree of openness about personal questions. Some clinicians believe that such questions distract or are irrelevant to treatment, whereas others don't mind answering, if it increases the client's comfortableness with treatment. Again, please remember to keep this contact succinct and short.

You have your first appointment! Next week I will discuss what to expect during the first session.

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