When I originally set out to find a therapist for myself, I figured that it would be complete luck if I managed to find someone good. I thought that since the odds could go either way, I may as well choose someone close to my home. I choose a therapist only a few blocks away. When I went to see him, he asked me strange questions such as, 'Do you think it is better to be a lover or a fighter?' I answered, 'It depends on my circumstances.' He seemed to like the answer, but we were no closer to working on my issues.

What I discovered was that a good therapist for one person is not necessarily the right therapist for another person. You have to find a good match for your personality. Once you do find that match, there is no better feeling than knowing you have an ally to help you through the tough times that we all inevitably face.

I feel blessed to have found the right therapist and I do not mind driving over an hour each way to see her. The drive becomes a part of the therapy--a time I can use to reflect on the upcoming session, and as I drive home, a time to reflect on what I learned.

If you too are looking for the right therapist, you could run into unnecessary time and expense going to therapists who are not right for you. I hope that I can pass along some information to make your matchmaking process more successful.

THE PROCESS

First, and most importantly, start by finding three therapists to interview for the position of 'your therapist.' I will tell you how to go about doing this: If you have a close friend who has a personality which is similar to yours and who is facing issues such as the ones you are facing and this person is seeing a therapist who is being helpful, what better recommendation could you receive for the beginning of your search? I would say, 'Start with THAT therapist.' However, the chances are that you are not in that position--if you were, you probably would not be reading this article.

Let's say you decide to ask your family doctor for a recommendation. Your doctor probably has one licensed therapist in the office building who he or she uses for cross-referrals. This therapist most likely sends all the medical evaluations back to your doctor. Your doctor may have never been to this therapist and may or may not understand the type of therapy practiced, but let's say that you use this source for one therapist to begin your evaluation list. If you do not feel comfortable calling your doctor or making an appointment just to ask for a name of a therapist, then you have to start elsewhere.

If you are going to interview 3 therapists, where do you begin to find these people? You could go to the phonebook and choose 3 therapists at random, but with such an important decision, I have a better idea. First, learn all you can about the type of therapists, therapies, and the issues you are facing. If you are an informed consumer, then you will be a smart consumer and your process will be more effective.

Another way to develop your list of three interviewees is to call a referral service. You may come across a number of referral organizations and there are some criteria you can use to narrow down your choice of services. Ask how long the service has been in business. Ask if the referral service has a choice of therapists. Many individuals will use the name of a referral service, but the individual running the service is the only 'choice.' Find out if the service has a choice of licenses. Are you talking to the Psychological Association who can only refer you to psychologists? Can they help you to choose the best possible type of therapist such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, licensed professional counselor, or marriage counselor? How large is the organization? Do they only have 3 therapists in their group, or can they provide referrals internationally? Large referral services which have been around for a long time will not only have a large pool of experts to choose from, but they will also be very concerned about their reputation and therefore will take great care in choosing the therapists to whom they refer. (Unsuccessful, small referral services can just close their doors and no one will notice a disreputable service that closes with no accountability.) A large referral service will be very responsive to complaints and will work to remove any 'bad apples.'

You may want assistance to help you through the maze of licenses, degrees and types of therapy. Do you know the difference between an LPC, CHT, PsyD, and an LCSW? What about the difference between EMDR, psychopharmacology, transactional analysis, or gestalt therapy?--A referral counselor will personally help find the RIGHT therapist for you.

Also try to get a feel for the type of organizations that feel comfortable doing business with this referral service--this should add confidence to your choice.

THE REFERRAL PROCESS

At this point, you could consider the reasons you may feel uncomfortable about starting therapy.

You have chosen to find a few names of therapists to begin your interview process. Next, call the referral service and tell the referral counselor a bit about your situation and what you are looking for in a therapist. For instance, do you want help with depression, couples counseling, or stress reduction? (if you are not sure, that is not a problem--the referral counselor will help you). Then you will have your list of therapists--or potential interviewees. Note: I would not rule out therapists who are even an hour drive away. Remember, it is more important to find a good match for this life-enhancing process, than it is to find a short driving distance.

MAKING THE CALL

Next, call your three therapists and say, 'I am considering becoming a new client of yours, is there a time we could discuss this for five minutes?' The therapist may be busy at the time you call but this allows him or her to set up another time to have a short phone call with you. Do not expect a full counseling session on the phone, but do expect to be able to say, 'Here are the issues I have been facing--do you have any experience in this area?--How would you approach such issues?--What would you consider your therapeutic approach to be?' These questions will help you prioritize your list of three therapists from most to least favorite. If a therapist is not willing to take 5 minutes of time to talk with you over the phone, then you have an easy decision to cross that name off the list.

Next, make an appointment with the therapist with whom you felt most comfortable on the phone. If after the first session, you feel you may have not chosen wisely, do not continue. Instead, go to the second therapist on your list. Remember that you are making a choice for a life-long companion and guide. Do not take this decision lightly.