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Choosing
a Psychologist

 

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Page Contents: Getting a Referral / Leaving a Message / The Telephone Interview / Shopping Around

 

 
MANY persons have written to me asking for advice on how to select a psychologist. The worst mistake you can make would be to get one referral and then start seeing that person—unless the referral comes from someone you trust. But if it comes from Aunt Sara’s neighbor’s manicurist, watch out.

So, unless you can identify someone with clearly demonstrated competence and who has the skills to work with your particular problem, you will have to “shop around.”

Check the Internet, look in the Yellow Pages, or talk to friends to get a few names of psychologists who are in your area. Then call several names. But don’t just start seeing the first person who answers—if anyone answers at all.

 
Leaving a Message

If you get an answering service or machine, leave a short message to the effect that you’re looking for a psychologist and would like to speak in person with someone. Briefly describe your reason for seeking psychotherapy. Be sure to leave some good times to reach you over the next several days. Then sit back and wait. (If you call on a Friday afternoon, however, don’t expect a call back until the following week.)

 
The Telephone Interview

Once you get to speak with someone, remember that as a consumer you have the right to interview the psychologist thoroughly. You should begin by describing your reasons for seeking psychotherapy so that it can be determined if your needs fit with the psychologist’s practice. Following are some other issues about which you may want to inquire.

The psychologist’s fees

Current openings in the psychologist’s practice

The psychologist’s theories of practice

The psychologist’s specialties

The psychologist’s length of experience

The psychologist’s academic degrees

The psychologist’s training

The extent of the psychologist’s personal psychotherapy

Look for a breadth to the psychologist’s education and training. Also, be sure to evaluate the degree of honesty and candidness with which you are treated. You can really put the psychologist’s honesty and candidness to the test by asking about various personal and moral issues. Remember, unlike a physician or dentist, your psychologist’s personal values will have an influence—whether openly or unconsciously—on your own values. For example, if you are trying to heal difficulties in your marriage and your psychologist has been divorced five times, you face the risk that your psychologist will be inclined to influence you to get a divorce. Therefore, you may ask whether the psychologist is married or not, and why; whether the psychologist has any children or not, and why; whether the psychologist has been divorced or not, and why; what religion, if any, he or she practices, and why; and what sexual orientation he or she follows, and why. If you get defensive answers or a cold, clinical response, well, let’s just say you are being forewarned about how you will be treated when you have doubts or questions during the on-going psychotherapy itself.

 
Shopping Around

Select at least two candidates who seem favorable and set up an appointment to discuss things in person. Ask any questions you did not ask over the telephone. But make it clear that you are “shopping around” and want to interview several candidates. Then let the psychologist take it from there. A competent psychologist will do his or her best to help you in that session and won’t feel at all uncomfortable in letting you walk away. After all, if he or she has done a good job, you might be back. You should, of course, expect to pay for that session because it really is a psychotherapy session.

Don’t jump to any conclusions. Someone might seem like the best psychotherapist in the world, but someone else further down your list of candidates might be even better. You never know, so see everyone on the list. And remember that this interview process, however long it takes, is really part of the process of getting help. You will learn many things about yourself just in this initial selection process.

After you’ve seen everyone, select the best pick of the lot. And then contract to see that person for about six sessions to see how things go. If you feel comfortable, you can continue for as long as you need.

  

If for any reason you do not feel comfortable with the psychotherapy, be sure to tell the psychologist exactly what you are experiencing. Quite often, psychotherapy provokes uncomfortable feelings, known as a transference reaction, and the whole point of treatment is to deal with these feelings in the treatment, not to run away from them.
 
Now, at this point, one of three things could happen. First, your talking about your feelings could deepen and enrich the treatment.
 
Second, after talking things over, you might both agree that you should see someone else; in that case, terminate psychotherapy politely and reconsider one of the candidates you have previously interviewed.
 
Third, the psychologist might get annoyed with you, and you might be left feeling very foolish. In that case, you may have stumbled across a psychotherapist who—to say it politely—is less than competent. So terminate psychotherapy politely, don’t look back, and reconsider one of the candidates you have previously interviewed.

  

 

Note that though I have referred throughout this page to “the psychologist,” the same suggestions can be applied to any other person performing psychotherapy.
 
 
For information about various types of practitioners,
such as Psychologist, LCSW, MFT, and Counselor,
and what all those letters mean,
see the page of this website called
Psychology: Clinical, or Counseling, or...?

 


 
For more information about the actual process of psychotherapy,
see the section of this website called
Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy.

 


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Additional Resources

Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:

Confidentiality
Consumer Rights and Office Policies
Legal Issues
The Limits of Psychology
Psychology: Clinical or Counseling or ...?
Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Reasons to Visit a Psychologist
Termination of Psychotherapy
Types of Psychological Treatment
 
CONTACT ME
 
INDEX of all subjects on this website
 
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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
 
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Psychology is a complex subject, and many issues are interrelated. And so, even though you may find a topic of interest on one particular page, an exploration of the other pages will deepen your understanding of the human mind and heart.

Psychological Practice
To Become a Psychologist
Choosing a Psychologist
Confidentiality
Consumer Rights and Office Policies
Honesty in Psychological Treatment
Legal Issues
The Limits of Psychology
Managed Care and Insurance
Other Applications of Psychology
Psychology: Clinical and Counseling
Psychology and Psychiatry
Questions and Answers about
   Psychotherapy

Termination of Psychotherapy
Types of Psychological Treatment
 
 
Clinical Issues
Becoming a Nonsmoker
Depression and Suicide
Diagnosis in Clinical Psychology
Dream Interpretation
Fear
Fear of Flying: Information
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Medical Factors Affecting Psychology
Medication Issues
Psychological Testing
Questions and Answers about
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Reasons to Consult a Psychologist
Repressed Memories
The Psychology of “Stress”
Trauma and PTSD
Types of Psychological Treatment
The Unconscious
 
 
Social Issues
Adolescent Violence
Anger
Family Therapy
Forgiveness
The Psychology of Terrorism
Sexuality and Love
Spirituality and Psychology
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Personality and Identity
Death—and the Seduction of Despair
Identity and Loneliness
Personality
Sexuality and Love
Trauma—and PTSD
 
 
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Autogenics Training
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The Psychology of “Stress”
Systematic Desensitization
 
 
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Fear of Flying: Information
Fear of Flying: Treatment
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Systematic Desensitization
 
 
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Anger
Autogenics Training
Becoming a Nonsmoker
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Questions and Answers about
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Throughout this website, my goal is simply to help you realize that although life can be painful, unfair, and brutal, it doesn’t have to be misery.
 
The practice of good clinical psychology involves something—call it comfort—which does not mean sympathy or soothing, and it certainly doesn’t mean to have your pain “taken away.” It really means to be urged on to take up the cup of your destiny, with courage and honesty.

 

 

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A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

www.GuideToPsychology.com

 

Copyright © 1997-2014 Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
San Francisco

 

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