Don't just pick a name from an ad or the yellow pages. Difficult as it may be when you're in distress, try to approach therapy as an active consumer, prepared to do a little comparison shopping.
Many therapists favor a particular theoretical approach, although they often use a combination. No one type of therapy is best for all patients; however, certain individuals may respond better to particular methods. In psychoanalysis, descended from Freud's technique employing free association and dream interpretation, patients are encouraged to recall and confront troubling childhood experiences. In psychodynamic therapy, the emphasis is on discovering unconscious conflicts and defense mechanisms that hinder adult behavior. The goal of interpersonal therapy is to enhance relationships and communication skills. Cognitive therapy is aimed at helping people recognize and change distorted ways of thinking. Behavioral therapy seeks to replace harmful behaviors with useful ones (Consumer Reports, 1999).
What do Mental Health Professionals do? Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Clinical Social Workers, Therapists, and Counselors who specialize in psychotherapy and other forms of psychological treatment are highly trained professionals with expertise in the areas of human behavior, mental health assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and behavior change. They work with clients to change their feelings and attitudes and help them better develop healthier, more effective patterns of behavior (Higgins, 1998).
Psychotherapy is a collaborative effort between a client and mental health professional. It provides a supportive environment to talk openly and confidentially about concerns and feelings. Maintaining your confidentiality is extremely important and you will be informed of those rare circumstances when confidential information must be shared.
To find a practitioner who's right for you, start by collecting the names of several therapists in your area. Ask your doctor for a referral, making sure to specify if you have preferences regarding your therapist's gender, academic background, therapeutic approach, or other characteristics. Other good referral sources are national professional associations as well as local universities, hospitals, and psychotherapy and psychoanalysis training institutes. Family or friends may be able to recommend suitable therapists as well.
Speak to each potential therapist over the phone or in the office. (Many will meet with you briefly without charge.) Talk about your problem and ask how the therapist would approach solving it - and how many sessions might be needed. Even a brief interview should tell you if you'd be comfortable sharing your most intimate thoughts and feelings.
In most states, even people who haven't had proper training can legally call themselves psychotherapists. So make sure your therapist is licensed or certified as one of the following:
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