How to find the best therapist for you

If you’re looking for help with depression or other emotional issues, visiting a therapist for counselling is a proven option. Here’s how to find the best psychiatrist, psychologist or other professional to meet your needs

How to find the best therapist for you

Source: Web exclusive: April 2009

Over one million Canadians will experience a depressive disorder at some point in their lives. Psychological counselling is a proven successful treatment for these disorders, but making the decision to see a professional is only the first step in overcoming an emotional problem’finding the best therapist for your needs is key to the recovery process.

If one therapist doesn’t work for you, there may be somebody who going to be a better fit. “Don’t give up on therapy if you don’t like the first person you see,’ says Catherine Lee, president of the Canadian Psychological Association in Ottawa.

Here are some tips to help you find the right therapist for your needs.

Psychiatrists vs. psychologists

The first step in seeking help from a mental-health professional is to determine which type of treatment would work best for you. ‘Some people would be very happy to take medication. Other people hate taking medication and would like to have new skills,’ says Lee.

If you’re among the former, discuss your symptoms with your family doctor and ask her for a referral to a psychiatrist’a physician who is able to prescribe medication. If medication isn’t what you’re looking for, though, you have a wider range of options. Registered psychologists, for example, aren’t able to prescribe medications. But they are trained to assess mental-health problems and provide treatment, using techniques such as talk therapy and activities, to change habits and behaviours. You don’t need a referral to see a psychologist, but you will need to do some research in order to find the right practitioner.

Determine your budget

While psychiatrists are covered by provincial health insurance plans, most psychologists are not. The exception is if you see a psychologist through a hospital, but the wait for an appointment can be quite long.

Fees to see a psychologist in private practice can vary greatly, so figure out how much you can afford before beginning your search. Some employee benefits packages include coverage for psych treatment, so it’s a good idea to look into the details of your plan. But, if you’re stuck paying fees on your own, it’s worth doing some research to determine what discounts might be available. Some community centres and health clinics offer psychological services on a sliding fee scale, meaning the amount you pay is based on your income. University training clinics are another good low-budget option. Many clinics offer supervised treatment from psychology students with fees based on a sliding scale. ‘What students lack in experience they will make up in motivation,’ says Lee.

Shop around

Lee points out that choosing a therapist is no different from selecting any other kind of service. ‘Just as if you wanted a massage, there are certain places that fit your style and others that don’t,’ she says. So be prepared to spend some time looking for a practitioner who makes you feel comfortable and fits your price point.

Look for regulated health-care professionals who are registered with a provincial association’these practitioners are bound by a code of ethics. ‘Anybody can put themselves in the yellow pages and call themselves a therapist,’ warns Lee. Start your search by visiting the member directory on the website for your province’s college of psychologists. Community centres, family doctors, and family and friends are also good resources for referrals. And some community organizations, like the Women’s Counseling, Referral and Education Centre in Toronto, offer a free service to help match clients with psychologists.

Start dialling

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential therapists in your area, it’s time to start calling around. ‘You should be willing to check [a psychologist] out on the phone and they should be willing to answer your questions,’ says Lee. As most psychologists won’t charge for an initial phone call, it’s a good opportunity to get a feel for a therapist’s style and whether you’d like to spend the money on a first appointment.

Ask questions

Think of that first session as an opportunity to gather information. Prepare a list of questions to ask, including:

‘ How long will my therapy take?
‘ Do you have experience treating my kind of problem?
‘ What are my rights as your client?

And don’t be timid about asking the psychologist for evidence that the treatment they offer actually works. ‘A common mistake is to say, ‘this is an expert, I’ll just do whatever they say,” Lee says.

Go with your gut

After you’ve done all your research and asked all your questions, the rest is up to your own intuition. ‘You might say, ‘[this psychologist] looks fine and she’s got all the right certificates, but somehow her style bugs me.’ Then that’s not the right person for you. You’ve got to feel comfortable,’ says Lee.

Have you visited a professional for therapy services? What was your experience?

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