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A To Your Q: What should I look for when choosing a therapist

Experience and credentials aren’t the only things to consider when choosing a therapist. There are other key factors to take into account. The connection between you and your therapist can be just as important as the type of treatment they provide.

Your first sessions with a therapist can be kind of like a first date or job interview. You want to find someone who is a good fit for you, and you should ask a lot of questions. It’s better to know sooner rather than later if your therapist is the right person to be working with.

Oak Park Behavioral Medicine is dedicated to people living with chronic illness, so these questions are specific to this:

1. What is your approach to treatment?

There are many different approaches to psychological treatment. Your experience will be different depending which one you choose, so it's important to know what “theory” your therapist works under.

Common methods include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Psychodynamic or Psychoanalytic
  • Humanistic/Existential
  • Family Systems
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Mindfulness Therapy
  • Client-Centered Therapy

Some therapists might say they're eclectic or they use multiple approaches. While this is relatively common, you want to know what their primary approach is.

2. How many clients have you seen with my condition?

The therapist should be able to give you a ballpark estimate, not just "several." Ask for some specific examples about how they worked with someone with your condition. If they don't have experience with your illness, that may not be a deal breaker if the person has extensive experience with other illnesses (see next question).

3. Do you have any specialty training in chronic illnesses?

If a therapist is advertising that they work with people with chronic illness, they should have some specialty training in this area. This means they took extra classes on physical illnesses, working in medical settings, and specific treatments for chronic conditions. They may also have experience working in medical settings, such as hospitals or outpatient clinics, or have attended professional conferences. Ask about all of this.

4. How many sessions do you think we’ll need?

There is no way we can predict how long treatment will take for each person, but we can give a range of how long most clients work with us. This may also depend on the treatment approach of the therapist. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is generally designed to last up to six months where Psychoanalysis is designed to last several years.

5. Do you accept insurance?

There's a bit of a debate in the mental health world about accepting insurance. Some do, some don't. This has a lot to do with the red tape often associated with working with managed care companies as a mental health provider, as well as sometimes-severely discounted fees that we're paid by the insurance companies.

If the therapist does not accept insurance, ask how they work as an out-of-network provider and will work with you to obtain reimbursement for fees you'll be paying out of pocket.

6. How will you work with my physician?

Most good therapists working with people with chronic illnesses will want to be part of the treatment team. If it’s important to you that they work with your physician, ask how they typically do this. Most will, with your permission, contact your doctor and discuss your treatment without going into great detail. I typically send updates if anything major changes and a treatment summary when your sessions have ended.

7. What are your fees?

Fees that therapists charge vary, and will differ depending on what part of the country you live in. Ask if they charge for the first visit/consultation or if this is provided free of charge. This will also vary by therapist. If you have limited finances, ask the therapist if they offer a sliding fee scale or reduced fees based on your income and family size.

8. Do you have any references?

Ask to speak to some of their other professional colleagues. They can't give patient references because of confidentiality rules.