Find Someone Qualified
1. Education and Training
In California therapists must have a state license. This includes a graduate degree, an internship of 3000 hours (2-6 years), and passing 2 comprehensive state tests. Marriage and Family Therapists are trained to counsel individuals (adults/children), couples, and families. They usually specialize in one or two of these. You should ask a therapist about her training and experience, especially in the area you want to address in your therapy, i.e. couples, anxiety, depression, etc. This will help you narrow down who is right for you.
MFT’s do not prescribe medications. If you feel you may want a prescription, i.e. antidepressants etc., a MFT will refer you to a M.D. who can do that.
2. Professional Rules and Boundaries
When you meet with a therapist for the first time, she should discuss with you the “rules” of therapy. For instance:
What is confidential, and what is not.
Confirmation of the fee that was set when you initially spoke on the phone.
What is the cancellation policy.
When and how often you will meet.
What is the length of a session.
What is the policy about talking on the phone between sessions.
A relationship with a therapist is unique. It is different from the usual relationship, i.e. work or social friends. The therapist should be focused on you, and talk very little about herself. Part of her job is to give you some feedback, without being judgmental. Your meetings should be limited to the therapist’s office. The relationship must never involve any romantic or sexual behavior. Each of these is called a professional boundary, and are very important.
Use Your Intuition
After your initial phone call and first session, you should generally feel positive about the therapist. However, you probably won’t know for sure, if she is the best therapist for you. Helpful questions that you can ask yourself:
Does she seem to like me and be supportive?
Is she engaged with me, i.e. ask me questions, make comments on what I say?
Does she answer my questions well, and without being defensive or judgmental?
Is she helping me set goals for my therapy?
Does she have training in techniques that will help me reach my goals?
Later, after several sessions you may want some feedback on the therapist’s observations about the therapy. You should also give your opinion about the direction of therapy. This is a very useful discussion to have, and will help clarify to you if the therapist and you are a good match. You can do a check in like this, as often as you want. It will help both you and the therapist to keep on track towards your goals.