Everyone does say that laughter is the best medicine. Your medications are just a supplement.
Disclaimer: we are not medical professionals- we cannot give you a diagnosis or medication advice. Please speak to a health professional for this. If you are in crisis please contact one of the hotlines on our page.
Sorting It Out
When you start your search, keep an open mind. A therapist does not need decades of experience — or a sheepskin from an ivy-league school — to be helpful.
It used to be that a psychiatrist was considered most qualified because he or she had more education, but that’s not true anymore. Some psychiatrists got their licenses 25 years ago and haven’t kept up. Many psychiatrists who are trained today just handle medications. You can have a primary care doctor do that — it’s not like psychiatrists are indispensable!
Credentials aren’t everything. Even people with great credentials aren’t necessarily great therapists. They may be smart, but that doesn’t mean they have good common sense.
Where to Start?
[NOTE: depending on where you live, you may need a doctor’s referral to see a therapist/counselor]
Don’t start with three names from your managed care company.
- Avrum Geurin Weiss, PhD, author of the book, Experiential Psychotherapy: A Symphony of Selves.
Very likely, you don’t have the company’s entire list of providers. “Insist on getting the whole provider list. Then ask friends and colleagues if they know a psychologist or psychiatrist who could make recommendations from that list.”
Weiss gets plenty of calls from people who say, “I have Aetna insurance. I know you’re not an Aetna provider, but can you look at my list?”
"They fax it to me, and I make recommendations. I do it all the time," he says.
If you’re embarrassed about asking for help, get over it. Get past the stigma. The outcome’s too important.
Also, check with professional associations to learn about a therapist’s expertise — whether they provide psychotherapy, if they treat children, etc. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both provide such lists for people wanting to find a therapist.
The First Appointment
Ask questions: How long has the therapist been in practice? How many patients have had your problem? What were the results? Ask about policies, fees, payment. But don’t bargain hunt for mental health care.
You find a therapist in the same way you choose any health care professional. They must be professional, credentialed, and competent, with no lawsuits against them. And they must be an intuitive fit — you can’t underestimate the absolute value of feeling a good intuitive match with somebody. Also, if you ask them questions about themselves, and they get defensive, go somewhere else.
If you and your therapist are not a good fit and do not “connect”, do not hesitate to find a new therapist and continue looking for new therapists until you find the right one. Any therapist worth their degree/certificates will understand.
Another important point: Has your therapist been in therapy? They have to have resolved their own issues, or they will steer you away from things they are not comfortable with. They may also bring their own issues into your therapy.
Baker says patients don’t always like his suggestions — yet he knows from intuition and experience that its good advice.
Example: Your husband uses profanity constantly when talking to you; you want him to quit. Baker suggests that you mirror your husband’s behavior — you use profanity the next time he does — a technique he knows will work. “People are always resistant to that, they don’t want to ‘sink that low,’ but then they’re amazed at how well it works,” Baker says. “It’s not that you should take up bad habits, but that he stop his.”
It’s tough finding a good child psychotherapist. Not many people have much experience working with adolescents. You can end up with a therapist trained to work with adults, but they work with adolescents because they have an adolescent or because they like working with adolescents.
A pediatrician can often make a referrals.
"I warn people about school counselors making referrals; they are overwhelmed and busy, don’t follow up to see if good work is happening." - Weiss
Also, check with other parents. “I recommend that parents identify two or three therapists that they find acceptable, then let your kid pick from among them. That’s so they have a voice in this,” Weiss advises.
Eugenio Rothe, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami and director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at Jackson Memorial Hospital, offered his insights.
Pediatricians and professional counselors should not be treating a child for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he tells WebMD. “More than 75% of children with ADHD are treated by a pediatrician or primary care doctor. But studies show that 40% to 60% of those children have another psychiatric diagnosis. How can a pediatrician [or counselor] diagnose that?”
"Professional honesty is very important — referring patients to other professionals when you’re not trained to handle the problem," says Rothe. "Many psychologists feel very threatened by psychiatrists, that they will lose the patient if they make a referral. But they’re doing a disservice by not getting patients get the help they need."
Psychiatrists understand both the body and the brain, and that’s a critical difference, he explains. “Depression may begin with a situational problem in your life, but that event causes chemical changes in your brain. Once those chemical changes are established, you have a chemical imbalance. If you treat depression as something abstract, you won’t get to the fact that it’s a chemical imbalance that needs be treated.”
He retells one landmark court case: A man with what’s known as “agitated depression” wore out three pairs shoes from pacing for more than six months in a mental health facility. Talk therapy was not helping, so he signed himself out, went to a psychiatrist, got medications, and got completely better in six weeks.
"He sued the hospital, said he hadn’t received appropriate treatment, and he won," says Rothe.
The lesson for therapists: You are making a patient suffer unnecessarily if you don’t treat the depression effectively — or if you don’t help them find a therapist who can.