How to Find a Good Therapist

 Posted by on 1 December 2009 at 8:00 am  Advice, Psychology
Dec 012009

I’m a philosopher, not a psychologist. Yet often the moral advice I offer touches on matters of psychology. My policy is that I’ll offer advice based on common sense psychology, albeit only in general terms. I don’t wish to act as anyone’s therapist; I’m neither qualified for nor interested in that.

Often, a person needs only moral advice, with a dash of common sense psychology. That’s what I can offer. Yet sometimes, a person has deeper psychological problems: to live well, he needs therapy.

That raises a question: How can a person find a good therapist? That’s a tricky question. A less-than-good therapist can be a waste of time and money, if not positively damaging.

Happily, psychologist Ellen Kenner offers some helpful on choosing a therapist in this article on her web site. If you’re looking for a therapist, I recommend reading the whole article. Here, I’d just like to comment on some highlights.

Dr. Kenner recommends asking three preliminary questions:

  1. What is your background and experience with my problem?
  • What are your credentials?
  • What type of therapy do you offer?That’s just the initial evaluation. Dr. Kenner emphasizes that the patient must continue to judge the therapist and his advice. She writes:

    In the early stages of therapy, observe the following: Is your therapist goal oriented? Do you work on specific goals? Does your therapist focus on solving problems? Is he or she a careful listener… rather then jumping hastily in with an agenda that seems off base? In therapy, do you look back at your past purposefully… or do you spend oodles of time rehashing your past with very little application to present or to the future[?]


    Again, as you start therapy with the person you choose… ask yourself — “Does the therapist’s advice make sense to me?” Are you becoming more hopeful that your life can improve — not based on floating wishes, but based on facts and skills you are learning that help you cope better with your world? Do you regularly experience “ah-ha — now I see the picture more clearly”? Or do you shake your head and wonder where therapy is headed? Always give yourself permission to ask your therapist his or her reasoning for any advice you are given. You want to grasp first hand why you should follow any advice.

    That’s very good advice! The critical point is not to lose your basic confidence in yourself as a rational, thinking person, just because you happen to be in therapy.

    If you’re seeking psychological help, you might feel very confused and burdened and uncertain due to your psychological problems. You’re seeking help from a stranger. Your mind isn’t working right, and you don’t know how to fix the problem yourself. That’s not going to bolster your confidence in your own judgment!

    So you might be tempted to cede your authority to any half-way decent therapist you can find, on the assumption that he/she must know better than you. Or you might be reluctant to seek therapy at all, thinking that you’d have to cede your authority to that therapist.

    That’s a mistake. Unless you’re delusional, you can judge whether your therapist seeks to help you live more rationally, more purposefully, more honestly, more independently, and so on. If not, then you need to seek a better therapist, using Dr. Kenner’s advice. You can do that — and you should do that.

    In short, you should think of your therapist as you would think of a plumber, mechanic, or doctor. You’re hiring the person because he/she has expertise that you lack — not because you’re a moron. You need to be sure to choose the person wisely, based on reasonable criteria. Then you need to judge the quality of their work, seeking someone better if you’re not satisfied. If you do that, you can find yourself a good therapist.

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