Selecting A Therapist

Margaret Neal, LCSW | Riverside, CA

The process of selecting a therapist can be daunting. Even if you have been in therapy before, it can be difficult to figure out which therapist can best help you with the issues that are now troubling you. Here are a few ideas that can make the selection process a little easier.

What is the difference between a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Clinical Psychologist? [ Top ]

Therapy is a cooperative process between you and your therapist. Therefore, the most important aspect of solving your problems through therapy is the relationship that you and your therapist develop together. The therapist needs to have education, training and experience to be a therapist. But more importantly, who is that person as a therapist? Do you have a sense of rapport and connection with him or her? This relationship with your therapist is a major factor in the growth and healing that takes place. When you can develop trust in your therapist, you can open up and honestly share your emotions and thoughts, as well as discuss information about your past and your behavior. When you feel understood and accepted by your therapist, you can move ahead together to solve the issues that have been troubling you.

LCSWs, LMFTs and Psychologists are all qualified to provide psychotherapy; however, their education is different. LCSWs have a masters degree in social work, LMFTs have a masters degree in marriage and family therapy while psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology or a related field. 

The differences in education lead to slightly different skills and points of view. A social worker focuses not only on individuals, couples and families but also on community resources that can bring about improved functioning in society. Marriage and family therapists work not only with families and couples, but also with individuals. Psychologists are trained to do psychological testing as well as providing therapy to individuals, couples and families.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker is different from county employees with the job title of "Social Worker." These county employees in Child Protective Services or other departments usually do not have a masters degree and usually are not trained or licensed to provide psychotherapy services.

How can I find out if a therapist is licensed? [ Top ]

Go to the website of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, here. This link will allow you to check licenses for Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Marriage Family Therapists as well as other types of therapists. You will be able to find out whether a person has had any citations, accusations or disciplinary actions for misconduct as a therapist.

If you want to check a license for a Licensed Psychologist in California, go to this link and click on "License Verification."

How do I know if a therapist is the right person for me? [ Top ]

By visiting a therapist's website and by talking to them on the phone, you will be able to get an initial sense of whether that person is right for you. Notice how you feel as you speak with her or him on the phone. After your first session, reflect on some of the questions listed below.

What kinds of questions should I ask when I call a therapist? [ Top ]

Here are a few that you may want to ask:

  1. Are you accepting new clients?
  2. How long have you been a therapist?
  3. What areas do you specialize in? (i.e. marriage counseling, child therapy, depression, etc.)
  4. How much experience and training do you have with my type of problem?
  5. How would help me with my problem?
  6. How long would therapy take?
  7. Do you accept my health insurance?
  8. How much does a therapy session cost if I do not use my medical insurance?

Then find out if the therapist has appointment times available that suit your schedule.

What questions should I ask myself after the first session? [ Top]

  1. Am I comfortable with this person?
  2. Did she seem at ease with me?
  3. Did the therapist seem to understand me and appreciate my point of view?
  4. Was he willing to answer my questions?
  5. Was she comfortable if I disagreed with her?
  6. Did she have experience with the problems and issues I want help with?
  7. Did he seem genuinely concerned about me?
  8. Were you given information about the therapist?s impression of your difficulties and a tentative plan for reaching your goals?
  9. Did you get the impression that the therapist would treat you as an individual and tailor the treatment to your specific needs?

If you answer "yes" to most of these questions, schedule another appointment and begin the process of working together to solve your difficulties. But if you get "no" to most of the questions, contact another therapist and schedule another appointment.

Margaret W. Neal, LCSW
3400 Central Ave Suite 310
Riverside, CA 92506
Telephone: 951-275-5200

CA License #LCS9622