(212) 286-8801

How Do I Know If A Therapist Is Right For Me?

Posted on: February 28th, 2020 by Julia Samton, MD

All of us have suffered from negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, regret, or grief. Many have found ourselves stuck in our own thoughts, making it difficult to manage our moods and our behavior. Commonly, we get caught repeating destructive cycles such as overeating, engaging in tumultuous relationships, or obsessively thinking about things outside of our control.

These are the types of human struggle that compel us to seek professional help. Speaking with someone who has the singular motive of offering compassionate support, helping you see the broader picture, and providing tools to build resilience and psychological growth, can bring significant relief and truly help you progress in the right direction.

Different Types of Therapists

Once you are ready to talk to someone, the next task is to find the right person for the job. How can you tell if you should see a social worker, psychologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist? First, let’s clarify the language of the trade.

A psychotherapist is a generic term that describes anyone who treats problems related to mood, behavior, or affect. There are several different types of psychotherapists, including social workers, psychologists, licensed mental health workers, psychiatric nurse practitioners and psychiatrists.

Although all of these professionals can potentially perform “talk therapy,” only psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners have received medical training in order to prescribe medications. Furthermore, some psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners identify themselves as psychopharmacologists. These are individuals who have particular expertise in prescribing medication, and who do not necessarily provide talk therapy. Read about our psychotherapy and psychiatry services here.

If you prefer to address painful emotions, experiences, or self defeating behaviors by speaking confidentially with a professional versus using medication, you will want to find someone versed in psychotherapy. Often, the letters behind a person’s name reflects the type and years of training.

For example, a social worker (LCSW) is someone who has had a two year graduate degree, and hundreds of hours of supervision before they can see patients independently.

A psychologist (PhD) has completed a four year degree as well as written a thesis based on rigorous research. Even after completing comprehensive degrees, many professionals seek even more advanced training in a specific field of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic psychotherapy. Some mental health providers specialize in certain populations, such as children, couples or families.

Dozens of studies have shown that the relationship between client and therapist is the most critical factor in treatment success, more so even than the specific type of therapy employed, so it might be helpful to speak to a few professionals before you choose a therapist.

Find Positive Attributes in Your Therapist

Finding a therapist that is right for you. Some common positive attributes of any mental health professional include warmth, supportiveness, skillfulness, flexibility, and good judgment. Take some time to get a feel of the person before you make a decision, as it can be initially awkward for any of us to share details of our mental life with another individual. At The Midtown Practice, before making a referral we generally spend some time on the phone learning about you before deciding which therapist would fit best with you, so as to improve the goodness of fit and the resulting therapeutic alliance.

You Are Not Alone

Whether you are suffering from chronic feelings of sadness, loneliness, experienced a painful break up or loss, you do not need to suffer alone. Taking the time to understand the different options available can help you find someone whose treatment style and expertise best suits you. Working collaboratively with the right mental health professional will help you to become “unstuck” and move your life forward with greater ease and fulfillment.