The Therapist — How to Choose The One for You

Monday, October 22nd, 2012, Written by jackrosenberger

How much does the patient need to know about a therapist in order to hire him or her?

I frequently address this question in many different forms. (Since we will be using myself as an example in this blog, we will defer to the masculine pronoun when referring to ‘therapist’.)

This can be a tricky subject, as initiating a relationship with a therapist or analyst is not like buying a toaster.  If you don’t like the toaster or if it doesn’t work, you can simply return it, get your money back and buy one more to your liking. Very little time and energy is wasted. However, finding the right person to accompany you in the vulnerable process of transformation—which therapy can be, is not as simple.

It can take years before one discovers they do not genuinely share a “meeting of minds” with their analyst. This is largely due to false paradigms and metaphors that people use to pick one’s therapist.

Oftentimes people make the mistake of thinking they need to know everything about their therapist. In extreme instances, people become a form of the “birthers,” convinced they need to learn every detail of their therapist’s personal lives before they could trust him to themselves or their children. Now of course, it’s a good idea to get a general background check (visit sex offender registry website here). But otherwise, personal lives are called that for a reason. Everyone should be allowed to have marriages, children, partners, etc, and even have these not go so well, as this is part of the journey we call life. To not allow a therapist this room to live, might give some insight as to why you or your loved one might be struggling. Sometimes we struggle just to have room to struggle.

Equally misleading can be colleagues inclined to provide all “the dirt” on the therapist you are interested in hiring. In some cases, making sure the therapeutic alliance is a “good fit” in the “guise of professionalism” can be disingenuous. If the fit isn’t right, that will naturally come to the fore soon enough. In the Jewish tradition, there is the danger of the ‘loshon hora’— or the ‘evil tongue.’ The old fashioned word is ‘gossip.’ It’s generally a good idea to be cautious of colleagues whom relay distasteful views with no real merit. Inevitably, one has to wonder what is their true motive for this behavior?

Not that we’ve discussed what not to do when seeking a therapist… what should one do before choosing a professional that is a good match? 

To start, visit the state website that registers licenses to (1) verify if their license is current and (2) no disciplinary action has been taken against them.

Secondly, go the clinician’s website to see what the therapist communicates about himself and his philosophy of practice. If you agree with his ideologies, then that is a fairly good sign.

Thirdly, ask former and current patients, as well as parents of patients what their experience has been. Keep in mind each person has their own set of expectations of therapy and analysis going into the experience. For example, if a parent expects analysis to change their philosophical child into the quarterback of the football team, and are disappointed when this does not happen, then perhaps this says more about the parent than the clinician.

What is the best way to get an accurate impression of the therapist/analyst? Book a session to interview him! Meet him in person. Get a feel for his office. The way his office is decorated (or not) will say a lot. Ask him about all things relevant: his training, his past experience with this kind of patient and symptom picture, his history in the industry community. Get a sense of how he listens. Does he seem empathic? Does he seem distracted, disinterested? Does he seem to care? Does he seem warm? Do you get a sense that you or your child might want to see this person for a second session?  Especially for teenagers, is he able to effectively engage a conversation? (A therapy dog is always a positive thing! But, then I’m biased about therapy dogs (See

At the end of the day, it’s always better to form your own opinion before trusting rumor or word of mouth. I bet most big decisions made in your life were not made based entirely on logic, but by following your gut or your intuition. We were all born with an emotional compass that points us in the right direction. I would think that ability would serve you well in choosing a therapist that serves you best.



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