Identifying Potential Therapists
One source of potential therapists is word-of-mouth. Knowing that someone you trust has had a good experience with a therapist might indicate that you, too, would benefit from working with that therapist. Another source for identifying potential therapists is your local phone book Yellow Pages. Some of the more likely listings are:
- Counselors - Human Relations
- Counselors - Personal
- Marriage, Family, Child, and Individual Counselors
- Physicians & Surgeons, MD - Psychiatry
Yet another source is professional organizations that may be able to provide you with a listing of its members in your geographic area. Such organizations include:
- American Psychological Association: 800-374-2721; 202-336-5510. TDD/TTY: 202-336-6123;
- American Counseling Association: 703-823-9800
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: 202-452-0109
- American Psychiatric Association: 888-357-7924
In Canada, an additional source is the Spiritual Emergence Service (604-687-4655). Finally, the Association for Transpersonal Psychology (415-561-3382) maintains an ATP Directory of Professional Members. Transpersonal psychology addresses intuitive, paranormal, and mystical experiences, including near-death experiences. By reviewing the Directory, psychotherapists with a transpersonal approach can be identified both from the U.S. and outside it.
Initial Contact by Telephone
It is a good idea to plan to have initial conversations by phone with at least three therapists who in some way meet your broadest qualifications. If you start out with a number of options, you are less likely to feel compelled to pursue a relationship during your first conversation just because you have already spoken with that person. In your initial conversation with a therapist, you will want to assess your compatibility with them as you find out how they respond in three areas: credentials, services, and contractual arrangements.
There are many different kinds of therapy, and there are many different kinds of therapists. The most important part of the healing process is the relationship between you and your therapist. Aspects of a good healing relationship include the following:
- The relationship helps you feel more empowered in accomplishing what you want to accomplish.
- The therapist helps you to accept and understand your thoughts and feelings without shame or blame, while helping you to take responsibility for your actions.
- You are able to talk to the therapist about anything in the relationship that is problematic, so that a solution may be found, even if the solution is that the therapist is not the right one to assist you.
Even in a relatively brief telephone contact with a potential therapist, you will get some initial sense of what it is like to interact with them, and whether or not you could work with them. As you talk with them, assess how safe you feel to disclose yourself to them and how confident you feel about their competence as a therapist. Note your impressions-both first impressions and cumulative ones—and give them credence.
During the initial phone call, explain that you are considering therapy and want to ask about their professional qualifications before making an appointment. You can eliminate a therapist who refuses to answer or who will provide this information only if you make a paid appointment—an expensive way to get public information to which you are entitled.
When discussing credentials, if you are considering a counselor, therapist, or healer outside the licensed professions, there are several questions you should ask:
- Why have they chosen to forego licensure?
- What skills and competencies do they have that could be helpful?
- What kind of training have they had? How much of that was supervised training? Have they graduated from a training program?
- How much experience have they had?
Your intuitive sense of the therapist's integrity is more important than his credentials; your sense of how they handle these basic questions may be more revealing than the actual answers they provide.
Services and Contractual Arrangements
If you feel comfortable pursuing the conversation further with a therapist after learning about their credentials, you will want to learn if their services suit your needs. Without going into every detail, let the therapist know the nature of the problem or issue for which you are seeking help. Would they be interested in addressing this issue with you? Are they accepting new clients? What is their general approach to helping people? The answers should be something you can understand and relate to.
Other things you may want to know about a therapist before scheduling a consultation: How soon could you be seen? Would sessions be on a regular basis? What hours are available? What is the fee? If you have medical insurance, will your particular policy cover the services this therapist provides?
The Office Consultation
If you feel comfortable at the end of an initial telephone conversation, make an appointment for an office consultation. Although some therapists do not charge for the first meeting unless you decide to pursue therapy with them, it is customary for a therapist to charge for a consultation, because they are providing a professional assessment of your situation and formulating an approach to working with you.
The consultation is where you will get the most important information you need about a therapist's competence and suitability, and where they will determine whether they can be of help to you. A consultation gives you and the therapist a chance to "size up each other", and you should feel free to ask questions. Much of what goes on will happen between the lines: your impressions of each other, your sense of compatibility and rapport, your sense of whether you seem able to communicate and understand each other, and whether you agree or disagree on important matters.
By the end of your consultation, you should have covered these important areas:
- defining your problem and your goals
- the therapist's view of your problem
- if you have been in therapy before, what worked well and what did not, and how this therapist would work with you
- any further contractual arrangements (including issues of confidentiality, how often you will meet, how long each session will be, when and how you will be expected to pay, and how missed appointments will be handled).
The most careful professionals summarize this material in a document, such as a Professional Disclosure/Informed Consent form, that the therapist may ask you to co-sign with them to show your understanding of the nature of the psychotherapy process.
It is also important to ask what the therapist thinks about near-death experiences. An honest "I don't know what to think" is often a good place to begin. They should express an attitude that honors at least the subjective reality of the experience and that shows a willingness to explore the meaning of the experience for you. The extraordinary nature of these experiences should not catch the therapist unawares. Understanding how they think about this issue may influence your decision to work with them.
A single meeting may be enough to obtain the information you need to form a definite impression—especially if your impression is negative. You may need more than one meeting to feel comfortable making a commitment to work with the therapist. Consulting more than once with a therapist before making up your mind is a good practice if you are uncertain after the first meeting; unfortunately, financial limitations do not always make this possible. Getting answers to the questions listed above will help you make the most of your initial visit. Overall, you should get the impression that this is a warm, empathic, respectful person who is capable of helping you. If you do not sense these qualities, then this is probably not the therapist for you. A therapeutic relationship based on these qualities will help you to enrich your life in the most important and meaningful ways.