Choosing a Therapist


By Guest Contributor,
Dr. Julia Ahrens

Choosing a therapist can be a challenging process, especially for those who are not aware of the myriad resources and options available. You are not alone in this search. By seeking out this website, and reading this article, you are taking the first step in participating in your or your loved one’s journey.

Most people begin by asking a trusted friend or their Physician for referral sources. This is a benefit since they will know some important background information about you or your loved one and can refer accordingly. With the advent of the internet you can also search for providers who meet criteria that are important to you (for example does the provider accept your insurance, do they file with your insurance company or do you, what conditions do they typically treat, location, office hours, etc.) This can also help you narrow the search.

When you have narrowed down your search to two or three providers, you can call and either speak to the receptionist or ask if the provider will return your call. Most providers are on tight schedules but many will take time to phone or e-mail responses about treatment. Once you have an idea of a provider who fits best based on expertise, location, payment, schedule, etc. you may want to make the first appointment. You have taken the first step in the journey to a healthier life.

In the first appointment you can expect that there will be a lot of paperwork, history taking and questions about past treatment (and its effectiveness). If your child is a minor, professionals will want your input as the parent or guardian and will need your permission for treatment. This may be done separately or together with your child. If your child is an adult, your child will need to sign a release of information to allow you to attend and participate in treatment. Your adult child will determine what amount and type of contact that they want you to have in their treatment.

Let your therapist know that you have questions too-this is a mutual process in which your potential therapist is trying to gather information and you are determining whether there is a good fit. Therapy can be a long process so it is important to find a person you can work with. Questions you may want to ask the therapist are: What is my diagnosis and how is this normally treated? Do you have experience treating people with my issues? How long do you think treatment will take? Are you a licensed provider? What interventions do you usually use for my issues? It may take several sessions for your therapist to formulate the treatment plan based on your presenting issues, this is very normal.

If you feel that therapy is not going a direction that you feel is helpful, please tell your therapist. There are usually many options for treatment and you and your therapist can work to find a better fit, either through trying a different approach, referral for other services (testing, medication), or referral to another therapist. Therapists rely on you to let us know what is helpful and what is not. Of course, this can be difficult, especially for people who seek therapy. Your therapist knows this and wants to support you in your journey. He or she knows that it is difficult to ask for help or a change in therapy. Sometimes it can be easier if you write down your feelings and thoughts and give them to your therapist.

For children, a parent may want to talk to the therapist if you feel that enough time has passed and there appear to be few benefits from therapy. Usually if children look forward to therapy it suggests that there is a good relationship and that therapy is progressing. As an adult, asking for what you need in therapy can be a very helpful stepping stone to asking for things in other areas of your life (i.e., a raise, help from your partner, etc.).

Julia Ahrens, Ph.D
Licensed Psychologist
Responsive Centers for Psychology and Learning
7501 College Blvd
Overland Park, Kansas