Tips for Choosing a Psychotherapist:
Where to Begin? Getting Referrals

With so many different therapists practicing such a wide variety of styles of therapy, where does one begin? It may be helpful to start by getting a few names from different sources.

Talk with other people who have been in therapy. Get names recommended from family, neighbors or friends. Also talk with other professionals who may have contact with therapists in the community. Doctors or clergy may also know of a particularly effective and experienced therapist that they refer to. Another good source for referrals may be other mental health professionals you may know socially, who are familiar with psychotherapists in the community and would have nothing personally to gain by referring you to someone.

Do not necessarily rely upon the first recommendation you get. There are other considerations you may want to be aware of that might help you to make a better, more informed choice about who to work with.

For example, take into account who you are receiving the referrals from. Friends, relatives or neighbors may not necessarily be the best judge of competence or be able to determine the right match according to your needs. Selecting a friend's therapist could also raise concerns of loyalty, competitiveness or confidentiality. Doctors or clergy may not necessarily know enough about psychotherapy or the different approaches and practitioners. You might wind up being referred to a doctor's colleague or friend, who is biased towards a particular treatment approach accepted only among a limited professional circle. The same holds true for referrals from mental health professionals.

The Bottom Line: Evaluate for yourself how well the person you are receiving referrals from understands your particular needs. Also, how knowledgeable are they about the varying styles and approaches that may differ from their own. Another precaution, do not choose a therapist who you may already know socially. It is unethical for a therapist to work with someone with whom he or she may have a dual relationship.