Choosing A Therapist

By Deborah Reeves, MGPP, BCPC, CGP, (2013)

Deborah Reeves is a psychotherapist in private practice in Philadelphia. She is on the faculty of Drexel University as an assistant professor teaching psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Finding a trained therapist is an excellent investment in one’s future. Effective psychotherapy can bring understanding and relief to emotional conflicts.

Making a decision to be in psychotherapy is the first step and perhaps not such an easy task because it often brings to mind the awareness of uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and ideas about the problems at hand and about ‘being’ in therapy. It is a good idea to take the time to choose a therapist thoughtfully and with care. Why? Because it is essential that you feel comfortable enough and sufficiently confident with the therapist you select. It is important that your therapist is compassionate and sincere but these attributes are not sufficient in and of themselves. A certified psychotherapist and or psychoanalyst is trained to work with all emotions for example, feelings such as jealousy, love, disgust, hate, dread, rage, anxiety, shame and more. Working with a therapist who has good listening skills and who responds in a nonjudgmental manner is paramount to good treatment.

In choosing a good fit for your choice of therapy it can be useful to know the difference between ‘counseling’ and ‘psychotherapy’. Counseling is most often symptom-focused with suggestions and sometimes homework with an aim to re-establish a familiar ‘modus operandi’ that is singularly supportive in approach and useful when an in-depth approach is overly bodeful. This is very different to a ‘less limited’ exploratory insight-oriented psychotherapy and/or psychoanalysis where factors of consistency and frequency are to be very carefully considered by the clinician for the most optimal outcome.

More often than not people seek therapy when they are struggling with difficulties and feel pain. Underlying emotional issues and conflicts that are out of awareness can take a strong hold. Meaning, that repeated patterns of behavior and responses stop emotional needs from being met affecting psychological growth and development. This is universal to all people. Psychotherapy assists in helping with the understanding of conflicts that are often hidden, out of awareness so that old familiar ways of coping can be better recognized, acknowledged, and understood.

Determining the treatment most likely to be useful and effective to you is by asking questions you may have about the therapy that is practiced. It is important for therapists to try to avoid the temptation to impose bias in any type of talking therapy. This ensures that the treatment will be about your issues and not the therapists. Similarly, in the offering of opinions or advice which may appear warm and welcoming, may have seductive and exploitive results. The very nature of an in-depth psychotherapy requires courage in dealing with all that which is counterproductive. Through a complex and subjective way of learning about the self(s) internal and relational world, the experience of a psychoanalytic psychotherapy and or psychoanalysis has often been described as bringing a sense of relief in living life. Through a collaborative and dynamic process in a psychotherapy where the therapeutic space is carefully attuned to, transformation can shed light through increasing a sense of ‘self’ and ‘other’ and in an in-depth psychotherapy an awareness that unabashedly fits with one’s innermost self. This then opposes any sense of isolation or alienation. Difficult feelings can be understood, painful feelings can be helpful in understanding, all of which bring a deepening of experience that encourages further growth.

Over the past decade many academic programs in the mental health field stopped the requirement of students experiencing their own course of psychotherapy. Academic education into insight-oriented psychodynamic individual and group therapy lays a foundation from which to build. License to practice and ‘academic’ training is not synonymous to a post-graduate training in psychotherapy. Today, most therapist’s who practice psychodynamic psychotherapy have usually gone through an accredited post-graduate training program which mandates personal psychotherapy and/or psychoanalysis with an average of two to seven additional years in training.

The term ‘therapist’ and ‘psychoanalyst’ are not legally defined in the majority of the states in America. Anyone can give themselves these titles. There are many professionals who carry a licensed professional title who opt to acquire extended training in psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis from accredited organizations and do excellent work.

Scheduling several consultations can be useful so you can get a sense of the therapy and how you feel about working together. Recommendations from those you trust in and taking your time to find a good fit can be of service to you in getting the most optimum treatment. If you are seeking to utilize the system of managed care, they can only assign to you someone from their ‘sign up’ list. Managed- care does not know any of the therapists with whom they send you too so be careful. ‘Mental-health’ is simply afforded the least within a huge ‘health system’ and has done for years and years. Those wishing to preserve full privacy, full control and full protection of their treatment often elect to pay out of pocket.

By reading this paper, and perhaps recognizing more of what may or what may not be useful to you, I hope you will be better equipped in finding a good therapeutic match.