Finding a Therapist

Excerpts from The Courage to Heal

Your prospective counselor should:

  • Never minimize your experiences or your pain
  • Be knowledgeable about the healing process for adults who were sexually abused as children
  • Keep the focus on you, not on your abuser
  • Give you room to explore your own history without trying to define it for you
  • Not push you to reconcile with or forgive the abuser
  • Not talk about his or her personal problems
  • Never be sexual with you, now or ever in the future
  • Should respect all of your feelings
  • Not force you to do anything you don't want to do
  • Encourage you to build a support system outside of therapy
  • Teach you skills for taking care of yourself
  • Be willing to discuss problems that occur in the therapy relationship
  • Be accountable for mistakes that he or she makes

Tips on Finding a Therapist

  • Ask for recommendations from your physician, health care provider, other survivors, friends, or trusted family members.
  • Seek referrals from battered women's shelters, rape crisis centers, support group facilitators, educational facilities providing counseling programs of study, etc.
  • The therapist shouldn't be friends with you outside of counseling.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Therapist

  • Are you a licensed psychologist? If they say that they are, look up their license and make sure. There are people who don't have a license and they are practicing. Don't trust someone who would work outside of the law. Once you are sure that they actually have a license, look on the state licensing boards to see if there are any infractions against their license.
  • How many years have you been practicing psychology?
  • I have been feeling (anxious, tense, depressed, etc.) and I'm having problems (with my job, my marriage, eating, sleeping, childhood sexual abuse, etc.). What experience do you have helping people with these types of problems?
  • What are your areas of expertise — for example, working with children and families, trauma, eating disorders, etc? Confirm the therapist has significant education and experience in sexual abuse and trauma. Be wary of people who specialize in EVERYTHING. One can't be all things to all people.
  • Have they worked with people with your issues? Share a little on the phone about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds.
  • What kinds of treatments do you use, and have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue?
  • What are your fees? (Fees are usually based on a 45-minute to 50-minute session.) Do you have a sliding-scale fee policy?
  • What types of insurance do you accept? Will you accept direct billing to or payment from my insurance company? Are you affiliated with any managed care organizations?
  • Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid insurance?
  • Where did you go to school? The best schools don't necessarily make for the best therapists. When asking this, you're not looking for a certain answer. You just want to know for sure that it is an accredited school and not an online coaching certificate.
  • What is your training? If they say they are trained, find out if it was a one day seminar in EMDR and/or if they took a three-hour online course in psychoanalysis - if they call themselves an expert in a modality after such a short training, hang up and move on to someone with a little more experience.
  • Are you now or have you ever been in therapy? This is a BIG one. Seriously, do not, repeat do not, get into therapy with someone who hasn't done their own work.

Counselor Definitions

Counselor - a human services professional who deals with human development concerns through support, therapeutic approaches, consultation, evaluation, teaching, and research. Specializations include, but are not limited to, community counselor, gerontologic counselor, spiritual counselor, grief counselor, marriage and family counselor/therapist, mental health counselor, school counselor, and student affairs practitioner. Licensed Professional Counselors. These counselors are required by state licensure laws to have at least a master's degree in counseling and 3,000 hours of post-master's experience. They are either licensed or certified to independently diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders.

Mental Health Professional - A person offering services for the purpose of improving an individual's mental health or to treat mental illness. These professionals include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses as well as other professionals. They often deal with the same illnesses, disorders, conditions, and issues; however their scope of practice often differs. The most significant difference between mental health professionals is education and training.

Therapist - a person with special skills, obtained through education, training, and experience in one or more areas of health care.

Psychiatrist - Doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They have medical training and are licensed to prescribe drugs. They may also go through significant training to conduct psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to change a person's behaviors or thought patterns.

Psychologists - These are doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) experts in psychology. They study the human mind and human behavior and are also trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing -- which can help uncover emotional problems you may not realize you have.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - The psychologist's main treatment tool to help people identify and change inaccurate perceptions that they may have of themselves and the world around them. Psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medications. However, they can refer you to a psychiatrist if necessary.

Psychotherapy - Uses a wide range of techniques to change thoughts, feelings, or behaviors in service to enhancing subjective well-being, mental health, and life functioning.

Social Workers - These are specialists that provide social services in health-related settings that now are governed by managed care organizations. Their goal is to enhance and maintain a person's psychological and social functioning -- they provide empathy and counseling on interpersonal problems. Social workers help people function at their best in their environment, and they help people deal with relationships and solve personal and family problems.