A Psychologist, Psychotherapist, MFT, LCSW, Counselor or Therapist Can All Provide Psychotherapy
Choosing a therapist can be a scary process. This is the person you plan to trust with your secrets, your money, and your mental health. You want to be sure this person can handle such important and vulnerable parts of you. Here are some suggestions to guide your search:
1. If you are in California and able to pay for a licensed therapist, which will cost about $110-$175 per 50 minute session, you will be getting someone with at least 3000 hours of experience (often much, much more), as well as someone who passed two comprehensive exams, both of which are very difficult and particularly focused on safe and ethical practice. Some of licensed MFT's (Marriage and Family Counselors--who may see individuals, couples, families, groups, or only some of these), licensed LCSW's (Clinical Social Workers, who can do the same as MFT's) and licensed Psychologists (who can also do psychological testing) have sliding scales, and will see people for less money. If you need a much lower fee, you will need to see an intern or a trainee, who is somewhere along the long road of training. If you do choose a licensed therapist, the number of years in practice is generally some indication of skill level. Psychiatrists are MD's and can prescribe medication. They usually don't have sliding scales, cost much more than the other licensed clinicians and some do not do psychotherapy.
2. Trust your intuition. If a therapist feels right to you, they probably will at least do you some good. Therapists should be clear about boundaries (the rules, the limitations of the relationship, what they will and won't do for you, and what they expect of you) either by demonstrating it, or by telling you and demonstrating it. Therapists should never have ANY other kind of relationship with clients/patients except the therapy one.
3. Therapists should keep the focus on you, rather than their own issues. If you have an issue with them, they should not be defensive, and should be able to discuss it (including their own contribution to the problem) in a way that leaves you feeling understood, respected, and satisfied.
4. If you have a particular need for a characteristic of the therapist, or an expertise of a therapist, ask them about their experience in that area. Therapists vary widely in their knowledge of and sensitivity to various mental illnesses, races, religions, sexual orientations, physical illnesses, family backrounds, class backrounds, and so on.
5. Sometimes therapists will reduce their fee, or see you free for the first session while you are shopping for a therapist. Shopping is overwhelming for some, and comforting for others. Do what is right for you, but ask for a reduced or waived fee for the first session if you need it.