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What to Look for In A Therapist

If you are considering the idea of therapy, it is important that you understand what to look for in a therapist.

This will ensure you find the right therapist for your needs, whether you are considering individual therapy, marriage therapy, or family therapy. Understanding what to look for in a therapist will also help you filter through the 43,000 marriage and family therapists in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

To help you get started, I have outlined seven qualities to look for when seeking help from a professional therapist.

qualities to look for in a therapist - chris massman.gif

What to Look for In A Therapist

Here are a few qualities to consider when seeking help from a professional therapist.

  1. References & Testimonials

  2. Specialized Education

  3. Specialized Experience

  4. Ethics & Cultural Sensitivity

  5. License & Certification

  6. Techniques

  7. Goals & Treatment Plan

Keep reading for a closer look.

1. References & Testimonials

One of the best ways to find a great therapist is by word of mouth, a reference from someone who has been successfully treated by them.

Personal referrals can offer you insight into how the therapist operates, what they expect of you and your family and assets they possess.

A few questions to consider asking:

  • What is the therapist’s biggest strength?

  • What is something you did not care for?

  • What will be expected during sessions?

  • What style of therapy is used?

Ask as many questions as you need to get the right information from your referral source. You can even ask about length, cost, and preparation for sessions. However, one of the most important questions should focus on how much experience the therapist has in the field of marriage and family counseling.

2. Specialized education

Most therapists will have a masters degree in a relevant field, such as psychology or social work. It is the work they do post degree to obtain extended educational expertise to determine their specific specialty. You may desire a therapist who has taken extra classes or programs to gain specific knowledge in a specialized area.

For marriage and family therapists, many may have attended courses dealing with issues a family may deal with. They may include classes on relationship building, various theories of couples communication skills, anger management, addiction and gambling.

You also want to choose a therapist who exudes professionalism and non-biased treatment for everyone.

3. Specialized Experience

When looking for the right marriage and family therapist, requesting the specialties they have gained throughout their years of experience can be helpful.

When interviewing a therapist, ask them to share their previous work to determine if their experiences relate to your issues. For instance, if you are having marital problems because your spouse cheated, ask the therapist how many couples he or she has worked with in the past on infidelity issues.

If addiction is a problem tearing your family apart, ask your therapist how many cases they have had related to addiction.

The best-case scenario is that your therapist will hold specialty certificates or degrees in your concern.

4. Ethics & Cultural Sensitivity

If you meet with a therapist and they know nothing about your culture, that is okay. You can work together to help them understand.  If your therapist is unwilling to learn about your culture and refuses to adapt their skills to meet cultural needs, this is not the therapist for you.

In addition, marriage and family therapists are required to follow strict ethical and legal guidelines such as no inappropriate touching, adhering to boundaries and keeping defined roles between you.

You want a therapist who understands the importance of ethics and laws related to marriage and family therapists as well as being culturally sensitive, otherwise the work you do in counseling could be useless if rules are violated.

5. License & Certification

Marriage and family therapists are licensed as “Marriage and Family Therapists”. There are times where non-licensed counselors or life coaches will try to act as licensed marriage and family therapists. However, just because someone has a degree and license in a related psychology field, does not make them the best choice for therapy.

A counselor may be licensed as a professional counselor, which can often be seen having broad counseling abilities.  If they have spent most of their counseling hours working with addicts, they have less experience in marriage and family issues and may not be a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

Make sure your therapist has a license in the area in which you need help for best results.

6. Techniques

Good marriage and family therapists will utilize many counseling techniques to help you achieve your goals.

While cognitive behavior therapy is the most popular form of counselling used today, it should be combined with other methods to ensure learning is taking place. Techniques such as role playing, communication building activities, plotting a family history, and family decision making practices should also be used in therapy.

7. Goals & Treatment Plan

Marriage and family therapists should incorporate short- and long-term goals in their plan for treating you and your family.

Short term goals are things you want to see happen over the course of therapy, or more immediately. A short-term goal example could be for you and your family to learn how to talk about a problem rather than quickly resorting to yelling and screaming.

Together, you and your therapist will set short-term goals for improvement. Once established, long-term goals will be created. Long-term goals are things you want to happen in the future, or for the next several years, sometimes longer.

If your therapist is not including you in the goal setting process, or if the goals being set do not really apply to your situation and seem too generic, then you may need a knew therapist. Firstly, I would recommend you speak to your therapist about your concerns.  If she or he does not hear you and shift their behavior you may be better served to locate another therapist. 

Because every family has a unique situation, the treatment you receive should be unique.

Your marriage and family therapist should be able to listen to your needs, assess your family situation, and based on that, create a treatment plan specific to your family. In addition, they should be able to utilize many different counseling techniques to help your family heal and grow.

With the right therapist, you will see remarkable improvements in your relationships.